The one thing I wish I had known at 22 that would have changed my life

Graduation season brings with it a flurry of inspiring commencement speeches designed to open our eyes to what the future can hold if we let it. One of my most favorite of these speeches is Steve Jobs’ 2005 commencement address at Stanford University, highlighting how we can connect the dots of all that we are and all that we care about, and learn to truly live before we die.

One of the many powerful messages he shares is this:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” 

(Here’s the transcript of the full speech.)

In the past 12 years (after 18 years in corporate life, then 5 years as a therapist), I’ve worked as a career and personal growth coach, writer, speaker dedicated to helping women live, lead and love bravely. I hear from literally thousands a people a year who have fallen off (or never really gotten on) the path to living bravely, or learning to fully live – with their whole hearts, souls and minds engaged – before they die.

In thinking back to my younger self, as I was just graduating from Boston University as an English Literature major, I can say with complete certainty that, while there were some very important things I did know, there was one essential, life-changing fact I didn’t. And because of my lack of understanding of this fact, I suffered, floundered and wasted 18 years in a professional life that made me sad, sick and searching desperately for life purpose and meaning.

That one fact I failed to understand was this:

Each and every one of us can make a true difference in the world, and change it for the better.

In watching yesterday the inspiring wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, and hearing their interviews recorded before the wedding, a picture emerges of Meghan that she understood at the very young age of 11 the fact that we can make a difference in the world, if we stand up for what we believe is right. (Here’s that inspiring story).

I wasn’t raised to think this. Instead, my upbringing taught me to make sure not to shine my light too brightly or speak up too loudly, for fear of looking like a braggart, or not becoming someone who is “too big for my britches.” I was taught somehow to dim my light so I wouldn’t make anyone jealous or angry. I was even taught that if I didn’t do the right things in life, the “evil eye” could get me. (I was never sure what the “evil eye” was, but I was afraid of it nonetheless, and it kept me toeing the line for years.)

I wasn’t taught nor did I understand until much later in life that each and every one of us has a kernel, a powerful seed, inside of us that if we nurture it, we can become more than ourselves. We can make an important, positive difference. We can advocate for others, take a brave stand, and reshape life and the world around us.

I’m not blaming my parents for not teaching me this fact. They absolutely did the best they could with the knowledge they had about life and how to live it. And they showed me great love and kindness.

But I can say this – going forward, as parents, the single most important thing we can teach our children is that they DO matter, and to fulfill their destiny, they need to be brave.

They can indeed change the world for the better. That their voices and ideas are powerfully important and impactful.  And they need to be encouraged every day to become a braver, stronger and more empowered version of themselves so that they can accomplish the amazing things they dream to achieve and create.

Some will say , “Oh yeah, Kathy, but you have to be a celebrity, or rich, or a royal to have that type of impact.”

I’ve personally seen over these past 12 years that that’s not correct. And it’s clear that the world is seeing just how “every day” people young and old, rich and poor, educated or uneducated, of all races, with means or not, are making a difference.  People just like you and me — from all walks of life, with all levels of education, financial means, and access to power — can make a difference, and make the world better.

The key is to nurture those vitally important seeds inside of you, and stand up for who you are and what you believe. If we commit to that, we’ll truly live before we die, and change the world around us in the process.

To learn how to live, lead and love more bravely, join me in my Finding Brave Life Mastery coaching program today. And to create a more fulfilling career, join my 16-week online course The Amazing Career Project, starting June 4th.

This article was originally published on