Charlie Day: Fail, Pick Yourself Up & Fail Again (Full Transcript)

A college degree does nothing. It collects dust. It does however mean something. It tells something to your community, it says “I have expanded my mind and destroyed my liver but I didn’t give up.”

And although 44 of you today took more than 4 years to accomplish that goal, you don’t have to tell anyone that.

Think of the plus side, you bought your parents a few extra years of nobody living in their basement.

Now all jokes aside, you should be very proud. This is an impressive chapter of your lives. And I know you are curious of what will happen from here. So let me tell you, Dr. DJ is here to help.

I have been in your shoes. Not literally of course. I wouldn’t go anywhere near your shoes. I’m sure they all reek of beer and vomit.

But my point is this. I was in this room and this is a rare opportunity for me to say something to myself 20 years ago.

Here is my advice: “Charlie, lay off the dark beer and the bread. You’re getting puffy. Don’t worry about that girl. I mean she’s not into you. Let her go. She’s going to regret it.” That’s right. “There is going to be a whole Y2k thing; don’t worry about it, like nothing’s going to happen.” All right.

Now I realize this isn’t the most useful exercise for you but I am pretty happy with the choices I made after Merrimack. My life is pretty sweet.

So I’d like to tell you three quick stories about some of those choices I made when I left here, some of the things that led me from that chair to this podium. And I hope in some way you can draw parallels from it; they can help guide your own experience. If not, feel free to tune out. If you’re anything like I was, I lost you at “Good morning Merrimack.”

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When I left this school, I was presented with two options. I could move to New York City and begin my acting career, a city where I knew next to on one, or I could take the entry level position that had been offered to me by Fidelity Investments.

Now I know what you are thinking. “Why would a major financial services corporation offer this numbskull a job?” The answer is simple, because I tricked them.

Merrimack’s business program was offering interviews with the company. The students would be given a score on their interview. I had never been on an audition. It seemed like it would be a similar experience. And I liked the role of aspiring banker. Or whatever they do at Fidelity.

I had a game plan. Deflect from me. Get this guy to talk about himself. I wasn’t going to lie. I was just basically going to interview him. If I recall correctly we talked at length about the intricacies of water skiing, an activity I know nothing about.

Now had the man asked me what eight times seven was, there would have been an unbearable pause in the room. But he didn’t. And the interview went so well that they offered me a job. And this was a real job. I am sorry I am making your children cry.

This was a real job. This was a big boy job. And this threw me for a loop…”Should I take this job? Is this my destiny? Am I the next great financial genius? Should I come up with a plan B? Should I work in Boston for a few years and make enough money to have a cozy transition to New York?”

Well, I’ve always had a half baked philosophy that having plan B can muddy up your plan A. I didn’t take the job. I moved to the city. I bussed tables. I lived in a basement apartment next to a garbage chute that was filled with cockroaches. And I could not have made a better decision.

Well maybe not the apartment thing. I think I could have looked a little longer. You’ll find better apartments. Stay away from the trash area.

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Now there is an obvious lesson here about believing in yourself, for the plan A, plan B stuff, excuse me while I navigate this thing.

But I think the lesson is this. Had I worked at Fidelity I’m sure they would have fired me eventually. I can barely do long division.

But I didn’t want to fail at Fidelity. And I did not want to fail in Boston. If I was going to run the risk of failure I wanted it to be in the place where I would be proud to fail, doing what I wanted to do.

And let me tell you something… I did fail over and over again. I was too short for this or too weird for that. I had one casting agent say “This main will never work in comedy.”

But I was in the fight. I was taking my punches but I was in the fight. That’s a metaphor of course, I don’t think I have any actual ability to take a punch.

Now my second story is about creating your own opportunities instead of waiting for them to be handed to you.

After a few years in New York, my foot was in the door. I was doing pretty prestigious parts like Mailroom Kid #1 and Junky #2. But after many failed attempts of getting cast in a television show something popped up. It looked as though I was going to be offered a job on a big network television program called “Life on a Stick.”

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