TODAY I HAD THE HONOR OF DELIVERING THE ARGOSY UNIVERSITY, HAWAII COMMENCEMENT SPEECH!

Check it out for a different kind of inspiration that includes Post Malone, Gandhi, AND Michael Jackson quotes!

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Good afternoon Argosy graduates and faculty, family and friends. I am honored to be here on this momentous occasion. And thank you for that kind introduction, President Guerrero.

We’re all gathered here today to celebrate these outstanding Argosy graduates. Congratulations to you all in the various areas of study!

You know, as I was writing this speech, I kept hearing the Post Malone song Congratulations in my mind’s ear. Some of you know the lyrics. Worked so hard, forgot how to vacation…look we made it. And yes, graduates, you made it!

Argosy has nurtured you with an excellent education, immersed you in diversity, and provided you a safe community. In return, you’ve made the university proud. And let’s not forget all the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, grandparents, uncles, aunts, spouses, kids, and friends, who’ve supported you on your journey to this moment. This is a great moment. Relish it like the wonderful meal I hope you are treated to tonight.

You’ve worked hard to get to this point. And there will be more hard work in your future. There will be bills to pay, maybe mouths to feed, or other circumstances that require hard work and money. But I’m not going to talk about hard work.

I’m going to talk about you. Well, your life. More specifically the journey of your life. For it’s your journey, with all its varying stretches of smooth roads, potholes, and epic cracks, that tells you who you are. It is the journey that unlocks your true potential.

But graduates, beware on your journeys! Because society, whether it’s on television, in magazines, on social media streams, in the honeyed words of some well meaning people you know, or in the lingering mist of the fear of missing out, society tells you that success and achievement define you. That you are most worthy if you have a great career, or wealth, or a fancy car, or a perfect body. “Success makes you great,” society whispers while sucking you dry of your soul.

Don’t take the bait, graduates, because there is danger lurking in the shadows of this type of success. This type of success, you see, is a drug and society is the dealer. Society it brazen. It stands out in the open as it slips you free samples of success. One or two hits might be all it takes to get you hooked. Then you might crave the intoxication. Too much and you might overdose with privilege and entitlement. I am special. I deserve this. Privilege and entitlement can be taken to the extreme and people who purport to serve others can end up serving only themselves.

Just turn on the news. It’s full of examples of these success junkies. They lie, cheat, steal, evade taxes. Whatever it takes. Some of these people lead our nation. Many of them take what they want, the way they want it, when they want it—women, votes, campaign funds, etc.

Most of us don’t engage in this kind of extreme behavior to achieve our success. Still, it’s easy to get swept away in mainstream society’s success messages and lose sight of who you really are and what you really stand for. It can happen to anyone. It can cross all political, racial, and religious lines. In all sorts of professions. On all sorts of scales from the White House to more humble homes.

I hear about it all the time in my office when smart, hard working people tell me their stories. Many of these good people have tons of higher education but that doesn’t make them immune to seduction by success goals. Many of them end up ignoring their life journeys and they make poor decisions in the moment that hurt either themselves or others.

There was this attorney who wanted to succeed in advancing his career to partner and earn the biggest bucks to support his family and send his kids to private school. But he became blind to his marital struggles and ignored his children. He and his wife fought all the time and their kids began acting out to the point where one was kicked out of the very private school he was working so hard to pay for.

Then there was this physician who was driven by the goal to be voted by her colleagues onto Honolulu Magazine’s Top Doctors list. She spent her time networking and made the list. But she didn’t spend enough time with her patients and some of them ended up hospitalized for things that could’ve been easily treated in her office.

And for some of the teens I see, there’s that success goal of straight A’s and a prestigious college. They study, study, study without sleeping or eating enough. Their parents allow it because hey, their kids are studying in their rooms, not out shooting up heroin under dark bridges. Some of these teens develop depression, anxiety, eating disorders. They hate themselves. They hurt themselves. They hurt their peers by withdrawing without explanation. But they get straight A’s and great SAT scores.

In all these cases, were the end goals of success worth it? One thing’s for sure, their day-to-day journeys were painful and harmful.

And then there’s me. I know all too well the downsides of focusing on success. But how could I not focus on it? It was, is, the American dream after all and my parents were immigrants from Gujarat, India on a quest for this dream in the land of endless opportunity. From the outside they achieved the sweet American dream of success. Their child was born and raised in the stars and stripes and they owned two businesses and a house. I had more opportunities than they did, the most important being access to great education. My parents worked hard. I worked hard. I graduated valedictorian of Molokai High, went to Stanford for my B.A., got my M.D. at U.H. then did residency and became a child & adolescent psychiatrist. Bam! My parents couldn’t have been more proud of their “successful” doctor daughter.

But that was all a paper-thin guise. Under the veil of good intentions, the American dream didn’t erase the toxic stains of my parents’ very different and difficult upbringings. In fact the American dream turned out to be my mother’s personal nightmare. Our seemingly happy family was a lie. Their arranged marriage was a pernicious sham where my father treated everyone else better than he treated my mother yet she just took it because she couldn’t forget the lesson her own father had taught her—that husband is god. What made it worse was that she had no voice. I watched and learned the underlying message their actions taught me—Shut up, smile, look pretty, and do as you’re told. My stifled voice only found release in the safety of the classroom. No where else. The boundaries at home were blurred and, without going into the icky details that my father vehemently denies, my mother and I were ultimately reduced to nothing more than objects for him, while he was out “saving the world” with his activist goals.

To survive in that traumatic environment my developing brain became hardwired with anxiety, I’d over-think everything to avoid rocking our family’s already leaky boat. My thoughts became negative and sometimes turned into depression, suicidal urges, and poor decisions.

And the “successful” physician who helped youth and adults all day in the office ended up making some terrible personal decisions that hurt herself and the people she loved the most.

Graduates, success in and of itself isn’t worth it if you end up hurting yourself or others along the way. It seems obvious. Especially when most of us, including me, never intend to hurt anyone while aiming for success. But it can and does happen.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying forget your dreams. I’m saying what matters is the journey. The journey defines us. Not the end goal. The journey is about right here, right now and that’s where the magic is.

Before I really understood this, I was future tripping and past living. I was anywhere but right here, right now. I was future tripping hard on my goal of being a physician so that my self-worth was completely attached to achieving that goal. But at the same time I was past living by recreating my family relationships with everyone else in life. My distant relationship with my mother and her inability to be assertive to protect herself or me turned into difficulties in forming female friendships and my own voicelessness. And the role I had as my father’s object, I continued with other older men.

And it’s not uncommon to future trip or past live. Most people don’t realize they’re doing it. My therapeutic work with patients often focuses on identifying and changing these patterns. I challenge you to take some time one of these days to think about it. Are you future tripping or past living? Are you letting fear of not achieving or fear of some horrible future drive your actions? Are you repeating old patterns that are not serving you well?

Dare to fix these things so that you can stride nobly on your journey.

I wish I’d figured that out sooner. Before I blew up my life. So I was in this deep, dark pit of shame, anxiety, and depression. I didn’t know how to get out. One day I picked up a pen and pad and wrote what was in my head. That was the start of being in the moment for me. I wrote and wrote and wrote. It happened to be rap and spoken word poetry that flowed onto the pad I think because I had the good fortune of growing up during the golden age of hip hop. I rhymed about issues important to me and my patients in the moment—the detrimental effects of patriarchy, misogyny, abuse, the beauty myth. I wrote about empowerment, voice, feminism, courage, friendship, and love. Whatever was going on in the moment. I performed my pieces. The confidence and power of my delivery formed new connections in my brain and quieted the anxious pathways. I was letting go of my painful past by speaking up and realizing that my worth was not based on achievement or attention from men. That helped me set boundaries. I wasn’t living in the past or trying to control the future anymore. I was in the moment. I was right here, right now. I was becoming the real me. And it felt so good.

I ended up with a binder full of rap and poetry. At some point I was flipping through the pages and I found that if I put them in a certain order it turned into a young woman’s story! My story plus that of some young women I’d treated. The story got published as a young adult novel. I was, am, humbled and inspired. But what’s most humbling and inspiring is when I receive emails that express gratitude from young women and teens who’ve been sexually abused or grown up in dysfunctional families, I cry tears of relief and hope. I’ve realized that I can live the words of one of my heroes, Mohandas K. Gandhi: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

Be the change that you wish to see in the world. Eleven powerful words that beseech you to be on a noble journey so that you will be part of a positive ripple effect. Eleven words that don’t care what your career is, how much money you make, how much recognition you have. Eleven words that don’t care if you’ve achieved. Eleven words that don’t judge you. Eleven words that are a cool, gentle breeze caressing your face on a hot, humid day whispering, “The journey is the great equalizer.”

Live for the journey and watch the beautiful ripple effect in the lake of your life. Your noble journey will change the world. So, graduates, congratulations on this step. Now, how will you continue your journey from this day forward?

Let me end with one more story. When I was in elementary school, I lip synced and danced to Billie Jean at a talent show—curly hair, jacket, sequined glove, moonwalk, and all. It was cool but I wish I’d understood the deeper meaning of the words I was lip syncing, especially the line: Be careful of what you do because the lie becomes the truth. That line was like a personal gift I didn’t, couldn’t, unwrap until I was an adult. I’ll leave you with another set of Michael’s lyrics—a gift to you that I encourage you to unwrap and use now. I'm starting with the man in the mirror. I'm asking him to change his ways. And no message could have been any clearer. If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and then make a change. Thank you and congratulations!