INSIGHT AFTER MY SIGMA CHI KEYNOTE: A NOTE TO EVERY 22 YEAR OLD IN AMERICA:

“Promise me you’ll visit the Sigma Chi house during rush week,” my grandfather asked me.

“Ok,” I said.

I had no intention of becoming a Sigma Chi. I was a football player and was going to join the football fraternity.

But I promised my grandpa I’d stop by, and I did.

Then I became a Sigma Chi. For a lot of reasons. And it was one of the best decisions of my college years.

A funny thing happens when you stop putting yourself in the jail of “I will never….” Because sometimes you do. And sometimes it changes your life.

Sigma Chi, the football field, and the English department was were I learned to lead from ages 18–22.

Last weekend, at age 37, I had the opportunity to deliver a keynote address, along with my brother and dear friend Thomas Cook, to 100 Sigma Chi’s from across the Northwest province at Colombia University (great job organizing a total success, James Heffner).

Here is my attempt to actually bring some value to you instead of just posting a picture of the group with the typical “So grateful to speak at blah blah blah.” I am sick of those vanity posts that bring no one else any value. So here we go.

If you are 22, I hope you read this carefully. If you are 42 or 62, I’d love you to read it, too.

LOVING YOUR PARENTS DOES NOT MEAN LIVING YOUR LIFE ACCORDING TO THEIR EXPECTATIONS:

I love my parents with my entire being. My biggest fear in life is them dying. There isn’t even a close second. Not even close.

But around age 20, I decided I was going to live my own life. My dad would have been thrilled if I was a lawyer in Chicago. But I didn’t want to be a lawyer in Chicago. If I was a lawyer in Chicago right now, I am almost certain I’d resent my father and hate my life. Instead, I have an amazing relationship with my dad and love him with every cell in my body. I am a global entrepreneur with no permanent home mailing address. I love my life more than I can explain in words.

That sounds nice, but listen, because this part is important: When you tell your parents that you are not going to do what they want you to do, it’s probably going to be tense. You are going to feel like you are letting them down, or don’t love them. You may feel guilty. But these feelings are happening for now. It is far better to face the short term tension now to do what you want, so you can have a long term loving relationship with them over the next several decades.

You do not want to wake up at 40 and realize you have not yet lived your own life. If that happens, you will hate your parents. The faster you can face the friction now, the faster you can build long term with them. Trust me on this one.

It doesn’t mean you don’t love them. It shows how much you do. And eventually, they will see it and thank you for your courage and vision.

GET OFF MOMMY AND DADDY’S PAYROLL:

If you take money from your parents, they control you, and somewhat have the right to tell you what do to. So many 22–26 years old messaging me or coming up to me and talking about how much pressure they get from their parents. Then I ask them if their parents are funding their life, and the answer is yes.

You have 2 options when you are on your parents’ payroll. You either A) listen to what your parents want you to do and stop crying, or B) get off the payroll and start living your life. Those are your options. I’d recommend the second.

STOP TRYING TO BE POPULAR AT THE EXPENSE OF YOUR INNER TRUTH:

There were so many opportunities that I could have won the audience over this weekend with “fratty jokes,” but I resisted. Because I refused to gain popularity by saying something that didn’t feel aligned with my current truth. So many people are trying so hard to be liked by people by saying things they think those around them want to hear.

I will give you an example. I was at a wedding last year and sitting at a table of guys that I perceived to be not at all interested in hearing about why I am vegan. But one of their girlfriends asked me about my journey and I shared. I shared my exact reasons — mainly my belief in complete animal liberation. I was firm and unwavering in my truth. No way this was going to make me a popular dinner guest, I thought.

Until after the dinner — one of the guys approached me thanking me for sharing my truth, and told me how he has been really wanting to give this a try for years.

“I respect you,” he said.

Lead with your truth and the right people follow. Stop being a robot or parrot of all the people around you. Appeasing people is weak. You want to be strong. People respect strong. At least the kind of people you want in your circle.

KINDNESS VS. MANIPULATION:

So many people trying to get ahead, to master networking, to hustle. I am hearing and feeling a lot of “how can this person help me” energy out there right now. I want to remind you of something.

When you are nice to someone because you want them to do something for you, that’s not nice — it’s manipulation.

Stop doing it. It never wins in the end. Genuine kindness always wins in the end. Do that.

I’m flying down to Uruguay as I write this. Before I left JFK, I called my best friend from college, and my first roommate at Sigma Chi. We shared a few special stories about Sigma Chi and he said to me,

“Wow, feels like a lifetime ago.”

And then I thought about it.

And while it does feel like a lifetime ago, it also feels like yesterday.

Then I thought about yesterday. Like, actually yesterday.

As I looked at 100 sets of eyes on 116th street, I realized what I really missed about the fraternity.

Coming together every week to share our dreams and fears and successes.

Coming together every week to make statements in front of a group of people about ways we wanted to do better and hoping we’d hold each other accountable.

Coming together every week to break bread and laugh and make mistakes and try to figure it all out and do the best we could.

And maybe that’s the key to making a lifetime ago feel like yesterday.

Coming together every week.

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