Failure & Self-Respect Speech

Today, I delivered a speech to over 2,000 high school students. Several requested it in a written format, and I’m happy to provide it. Here is the transcript. ❤

My name is Abigail, but when I was a freshman, I was just “A.” That A – that single letter – was everything to me. I didn’t see myself as a person as much as I saw myself as a walking report card.

I had lofty aspirations. I wanted to go to the nation’s most prestigious writing school, study English, and become a bestselling novelist. So I worked hard and held myself to a high standard. That healthy motivation, however, quickly spiraled into an obsession with perfection. Seeing anything less than one hundred percent was despicable. If I got a perfect score, I’d berate myself for missing the bonus point. There was always something to criticize, something that would make me raise the bar even higher, into the realm of the unattainable.

I got my wish. I had A’s, and I appeared successful and studious. But I’d completely lost sight of why I was driving myself so harshly in the first place. I wanted to go to college and pursue my dreams, because I wanted to be satisfied and happy. But I wasn’t. It took a lot of time to realize that, and to get to a more peaceful state of mind.

I mention my freshman year because it is what motivates me to inspire all of you. A’s, B’s, and F’s are just letters. Standards to which we adhere and work towards, but not to shackle our identities to. How can one letter define who you are? You have years and years of stories behind you. You aren’t a letter, or even a sentence. You’re a novel.

And just as we treat books with respect – you know, by not dog-earing the pages or defacing them – be kind to yourselves, as wonderful novels, by setting goals that you can actually achieve. Find peace by understanding that failure isn’t the end of the world. Failure is how we learn. It’s okay. It really is.

This isn’t a call to not try. You have to try in life, you have to make an effort and work hard.  This is a call to acceptance. This is a call to love yourself not for what you achieve, not for what you earn—but for who you are. And if you don’t know who you are yet, that’s okay, really. Just let me start you off with something, and I hope you remember this every single time you feel like insulting yourself or treating yourself harshly.
You are loved.
You are worth it.
You are enough – failures and all.

Thank you.

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