My commencement address: Enthusiasm as competitive advantage


Harbour Space University describes itself as “The State of the Art University for Technology, Entrepreneurship, and Design.” But over two years, when I taught online classes for them, I also learned that it is home to some of the hungriest, most ambitious, and brightest students anywhere.

I was delighted and honored to be invited to provide a short commencement speech for the students at their Bangkok campus. It’s the first time I’ve ever done a commencement speech, and I provided some advice I’ve never mentioned before. It is certainly advice that’s especially relevant today …

Hello to my friends at Harbor Space, and congratulations on this special day.

100 percent human contentI get to know quite a few university students around the world. My books are used as textbooks at more than 70 universities, and I am often invited to give guest lectures or Zoom in for Q&A sessions. But any time I start talking about students around the world, I always say that the students at Harbour Space are my favorite.

But the reason for that characterization might be something that is unexpected. Sure, you’re smart. You’re ambitious. Many of you are even a lot of fun. But look, there are smart, ambitious, and fun students everywhere.

The thing that distinguishes you is enthusiasm. I saw it in your work in class and the questions that you asked. I saw it in the interactions you have with each other, and how you worked together on projects.

And today, I’d like to tell you a personal story about how I learned that this is such an essential quality in the workplace.

A cold, lonely job!

When I graduated from college, my first job was in the marketing department of a big Fortune 100 company. But I had the worst job in the department! My job was to get to the office before 7 a.m. each day and go through business publications, looking for news about our customers and our competitors and summarize these findings in a document for our executives before they arrived at work.

That might not sound too bad, except when you realize this was before the internet. This was before Google. I was literally looking through paper publications.

But it gets worse. I was a young guy who didn’t have any money. So I couldn’t afford to park in the city. I had to park outside the city and walk about 20 minutes to work each morning in the freezing cold and dark. I had to walk alone across a very long bridge and the wind would just cut right through me! I would get to work so early that I’d be the first one in the building. I’d be all alone in the dark with the only office lit up in the office tower and I’d plow through these journals to create my summary.

In my first performance review, my boss said, “Mark, everyone knows you have the worst job in the whole department. But you’re doing great because you’re always enthusiastic. When you’re enthusiastic, you make the people around you better — they’re enthused about your enthusiasm. It spreads. it’s contagious. You make people better colleagues, better team members, even better leaders.”

He said. “This quality that you have, this enthusiasm, will serve you well throughout your life. It makes you special. It makes you different. It helps you stand out.”

Learned enthusiasm

And here’s one of the things I learned through the experience. Sometimes, even when you do jobs that you don’t like, even when you have the worst job in the department, you can kind of trick yourself into having a positive energy and pretend to be enthusiastic. And if you pretend long enough, the energy kicks in, and you start to believe it because you see the positive effect on others.

Gratitude triggers enthusiasm. I would remember that cold and lonely trudge across the bridge was not a forever thing. I was lucky to have an opportunity to prove myself. I was making new friends and business contacts. My work was appreciated. And even though the job meant early mornings, I was learning a lot about our company and its competitors that would help me be a better marketer in the future.

Enthusiastic leaders dispense hope. Even when you’re in the middle of a terrible job, even if you’re at a time that might seem bleak. Leaders dispense hope. And that is especially important in the world today.

Congratulations to all of you. Go forward with enthusiasm and best wishes on your career journey.

Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions. He is the author of some of the world’s bestselling marketing books and is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant. The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak at your company event or conference soon.

Follow Mark on TwitterLinkedInYouTube, and Instagram.

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