She started off her address to the world’s future writers, journalists, reporters, and speakers with the bad news: A lot’s going on in the world, and it’s not all great. The good news, she joked: “Many of your parents are probably taking you somewhere special for dinner tonight.”
Of course, the real good news she had for everyone in the audience was that “there really is a solution” to all our problems, and the solution is “each and every one of you.” (What else would you expect from the woman who, off-handedly, mentioned she’s been speaking to audiences for 25 years, ran the highest-rated daytime talk show, and has never missed a day of work in her life out of 4,561 episodes.)
But the meat of her speech—the part that had me thinking about my own career—was about old lessons becoming new again.
“I was a little intimidated coming here,” she said. “It’s hard trying to come up with something to share with you that you haven’t already heard,” she added. “I don’t have any new lessons. But I often think that it’s not the new lessons so much as it is really learning the old ones again and again.”
She goes on to list things we’ve all probably heard time and time again but still hold true. Eat a good breakfast. Pay your bills on time. Recycle. Make your bed. Say thank you and actually mean it. Put your phone away at the dinner table. Invest in a quality mattress.
And then she said this:
Your job is not always going to fulfill you. There will be some days that you just might be bored. Other days, you may not feel like going to work at all—go anyway…The number one lesson I can offer you is…to become so skilled, so vigilant, so flat-out fantastic at what you do that your talent cannot be dismissed.
The point: Become so good you can’t be ignored.
This isn’t a new concept, but you should never forget it. Having a good work ethic matters in your career. Not just because it’ll take you far, but because it’ll make you unforgettable. Being reliable, being driven, striving to learn more and do more and be more is what will ultimately make you successful. If that’s the lesson Oprah learned on her path to becoming who she is today, you probably want to put it in your pocket to take with you in your own career.
And it’s not about being perfect—it’s about having enough passion, motivation, and dedication to something that you come to excel in it. In the long run, that is what you can control in your quest to land you the job, the promotion, the project, or the recognition you covet.
Want to watch some more inspiring commencement speeches? Check out:
- L.L. Bean’s CEO and President Stephen Smith explaining the importance of slowing down in your career.
- Apple’s CEO Tim Cook at Duke University talking about speaking up at work.
- Hillary Clinton explaining the importance of resilience in your career to Yale graduates.