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Jim Carrey’s commencement speech

Father, it’s been 3 weeks since my last confession…

I’ve been pretty busy the last few weeks, but I’m glad to be back.

A friend of mine mentioned that Jim Carrey’s commencement speech was going around on social media:

He says a few interesting things in this video. (There are other versions; this particular version is edited down to hit the high points.) But I want to concentrate on the quote from the YouTube page:

I learned many, many lessons from my father, not the least of which is that you can fail at something you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance doing what you love.

It sounds good, but I’m the logic guy, so let’s take a look at it.

Lots of coaches are promising to help you reach your goals; almost by definition that is what a coach is supposed to do. But are we all supposed to become actors or rock musicians? Where do we draw the line between becoming failed accountants (like Jim Carrey’s father) or failed artists (like your deadbeat cousin that won’t get a job)?

Let’s start with Mr. Carrey’s argument:

Consider my dream,
I should follow it,
Because I might fail at a more conservative choice anyway.

Stated that way, it sounds pretty defeatist. But that’s essentially what he’s saying. If you’re going to fail, you might as well do it doing what you love. True or false? The only way to know is to run the tests. Test #1: Could you fail at following your dreams? Yes, that’s possible. So let’s run test #2: if you might fail, must it be the case that you should do something else? No, because you might succeed, also. Or test #3: if you might succeed at a more conservative choice, must it be the case that you should not follow your dreams? No, you might still want to try.

Which sounds okay, but what if you have responsibilities? What if you have kids to take care of, and your dad offers you a part of his business. Must you follow your dream of being an actor/rock musician? Or could you work in your father’s business and play guitar part time?

Of course, as we all know, there are no sure things. But if people are counting on you, is it okay for you to risk everything pursuing your dreams?

Not really.

But of course, that’s a diamond deal. What’s a diamond deal? A false choice, a setup. Do you want A or B? Maybe instead, the best choice is option C.

So here, let’s rethink Mr. Carrey’s assertion a bit. Should you pursue what you love? Of course; again, that’s the whole goal of getting coaching. But what should that look like? Well, actually Mr. Carrey gives us the answer (at 2:50):

I can tell you from experience; the effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is.

So taking this into account, what should our original syllogism look like? Maybe something like:

Consider my dream,
I should follow it,
Because I will help others achieve their dreams.

True of false? Again, run the tests.  Test #1 is an easy pass. Test #2: if I help others, must I get it myself? The laws of seeds say yes, although you’re welcome to debate it.

But don’t fall for the diamond deal (or any false dichotomy); get what you want out of life and take care of yourself and those around you.