Advice for life: be punctual!

Editor's Note: ATB Chief Economist Todd Hirsch received an honorary degree from Mount Royal University in Calgary. In his inimitable style, Hirsch shared this advice with the Class of 2017: 

It’s an honour for me to address the MRU graduating class of 2017. I've been given a few minutes to offer some words that, I trust, will be helpful for you as you leave this chapter of post-secondary education and look towards new beginnings.

You might expect an economist to offer insights into what we can expect for our economy, or maybe some ideas about the hot jobs of 2017. 

Instead, I'm going to speak on punctuation. 

The secret to a successful career can be summed up in three simple pieces of punctuation common in the English language. It’s how we end our sentences.

The first is the period, or as the British say, the full stop. A period comes at the end of a sentence and signals the completion of an idea. It is time to stop. Pause. Rest.

In your careers and in your life, remember to take the occasional pause. Do nothing. Put away the phone. Be still and mindful. Just. Stop.

You might do this with the occasional vacation or retreat. You may practise daily meditation, prayer or reflection. Whatever you do, do it intentionally. A pause is beautiful when you embrace it.

The second piece of punctuation you'll need for a successful career is the question mark, that curly little squiggle that suggests inquiry. Wisdom is not measured by the answers we give, but, rather, the questions we ask.

Never stop being curious. Explore ideas. Be creative. Conjure your inner three-year-old self by asking, "Why? Why? Why?"

Most importantly, remember to ask questions of yourself. Question your motives, your assumptions, your actions. Are they beneficial to everyone involved? Do they lift up others as they lift up you? Self-awareness requires a steady use of the question mark.

Finally, a successful career employs the exclamation mark. Now, the exclamation mark has changed in our language in a subtle way. It used to be reserved for angry directives. When you employed the exclamation mark, you were shouting—and not always kindly.

Certainly, there’s a time for anger and shouting. But even this negativity can be harnessed to bring about a positive outcome.

More contemporary English, however, uses the exclamation mark less as anger, and more as enthusiasm. This has been spurred on in our use of social media. You might tweet LOL! Or text your friend "Looking forward to seeing you Friday!" It implies a positive and enthusiastic tone.

Success in life requires enthusiasm. It demands we live our lives each day aware of the possibilities and opportunities—and those situations require the exclamation mark.

So, this is the secret to success in the careers that lie ahead of you, boiled down to three simple bits of punctuation.

The period, which reminds us occasionally to pause, stop everything and be still.

The question mark, which requires of us an inquiring and curious mind.

And the exclamation mark, which literally punctuates our lives with enthusiasm, positivity and joy.

Yet, there remains a fourth piece of punctuation we must bear in mind. The ellipsis, the three little dots that trail off at the end of a sentence implying that there is something more, something that, for now, is left unexplored.

There is always more to the story. When you dig in your heels on some issue, or harden your political or religious belief, remember the ellipsis as used in these sentences:

"Have you considered..."

"There are other perspectives..."

"I've given this more thought..."

This isn't to say it's wrong to hold strongly to your convictions. But the ellipsis reminds us that there is always something yet to be considered.

The period, the question mark, the exclamation mark and the ellipsis. Use these liberally as you start your careers and life journeys. All the rest— the dash, the semi-colon, the possessive apostrophe—are just details. They’re important, too, but if you get the others right, they fall into place on their own.

Thank you, and congratulations to the MRU Graduating Class of 2017!

Todd at MRU

June 2nd, 2017

ATB's Todd Hirsch receives honorary degree

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