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College of Business

Keynote Speaker, Jenny Cravens

Jenny Cravens has over 20 years of industry leadership experience. Most recently, she served as Chief Financial Officer of Cashmere Valley Bank, the 9th largest bank headquartered in Washington. Jenny will be joining our Accounting Department fall quarter 2016 as a professor. She was asked to be the keynote speaker at the 2016 College of Business Honors Banquet, her speech is one that many will never forget.

Fear & Failure

"This room is full of 200 very important people. About 50 of those are high-achieving honors students. And it is to those students I am addressing my talk.

But I didn’t make a mistake when I said the room was full of 200 important people. If you are here tonight, you are very important.

And that’s my first message to our 50 honors students: YOU ARE NOT HERE ALONE.

I tell you that not to diminish your accomplishments, which are truly worthy of our praise. I tell you that because of FEAR and FAILURE.

You see…each one of you either has or will encounter very important situations some day. If you haven’t faced those moments yet, I guarantee you, some day you will.

And…if they are truly the kinds of moments I’m talking about…when they happen….you will experience a biological response: Your heart rate will elevate. Your digestion will change. Your breathing will become more rapid and shallow. Your pupils will dilate. Your body temperature will increase. You will start to perspire. That will be your first clue that the situation is important.

That biological response has a name: FEAR. And Fear will be followed by its mangy little siblings: doubt, frustration, anger, worry, anxiety, stress. Fear’s got a big, ugly family. When those moments happen (and the more remarkable you are, the more you will have), you will feel very alone. You will be in a dark, ugly, scary place…and (this is key) YOU WILL NOT KNOW HOW TO GET OUT.

One of the reasons you will feel alone in this ugly, scary place is that many people think that this – this here tonight – is what success feels like. They’re wrong. What you are doing here tonight is not success. What you are doing here tonight is celebrating. You are acknowledging successes that have occurred in the past. It’s like a birthday party. The event that’s being celebrated has already transpired.

You see, in our country we’ve really mixed up our ideas of success. We only see it when it’s over. It’s like we watch the Olympics and we somehow think that the success of a gold medalist is made up of two things: climbing a couple of fancy stairs higher than two other people and 2) owning a big, round shiny object.

That’s wrong. Success looks like the Olympian who loves his sport so much that he chooses to do that instead of other more comfortable options. Success at the Olympics looks like long, hard workouts and saying no to cheesecake and following through on all kinds of commitments that very few people are willing to follow through on. That, and only that, is what success looks like. Our TV cameras don’t film successes. They film outcomes.

Please keep this in mind as you all go forth to conquer your next challenges: when you are at the peak of succeeding in something, it does not feel good. It is scary. And very, very uncomfortable. Success is that place you get to when the number of reasons for giving up your path equal or EXCEED the number of reasons for staying on it.

It’s the decisions and actions you take in EXACTLY that moment when all of those biological functions kick in. That moment, when your pupils are dilated and your pits stink. That is the moment of success.

Now, some of you are probably saying, “Hey! Wait a minute. That CANNOT be what success looks like.” Then you look around this room and you see all the pomp and circumstance and you say to yourself, “That woman is crazy. She’s got it all wrong. This is what success looks like… because this is where the successful people are! AND this is also where the UNSUCCESSFUL people ARE NOT. Besides,” you say to yourself, “success cannot look like a dark, scary, ugly place, because (and this is the main premise of your theory) because dark, scary and ugly is what FAILURE looks like.

And so I say “hmmmm. You have a point. That IS what failure looks like. You are right.   But so am I.”

And the reason I’m right is that failure and success are the same thing. In the moment they are actually happening, they FEEL exactly the same way. They are the two sides of the same coin.

Failure and success are the moments when you have a choice, and you make a decision and act, and then there is an outcome. And the only difference between “failure” and “success” is HOW YOU RESPOND TO THE OUTCOME. That’s the only difference.

"But Hey!" you say "That’s not true! Don’t successful people take that feeling of fear and convert it into a Feeling of Courage. Don’t they somehow take the ugly coin…the one that has only one side labeled “failure” and somehow, with their amazing alchemy, that only THEY have, turn that ugly coin into a pretty coin of “Courage.” Aren’t successful people the ones who refuse to look pain and fear in the face. They say: YOU TWO DO NOT EXIST. I WILL NOT ACKNOWLEDGE YOU AT ALL. Don’t successful people somehow ,through their amazing personal powers, magically convert a terrifying, lonely situation into a brave, courageous, triumphant one?"

My answer is “That is complete and total Hollywood hogwash.”

When successful people do what is necessary for success against all odds, there is absolutely no inspirational music that slowly starts, then gets louder as our hero take each step towards her goal. There is no angelic choir of support that magically drowns out all the other voices (the voices of reason) that say, “Quit! GIVE UP!”

You see. And this is a very common misconception: At the defining moments of your life, there is no such thing as a “feeling of courage.” Courage is only an action that is taken DESPITE the FEELING OF FEAR. ONLY FEAR will be your closest, most constant companion in the most defining moments of your life.

And you don’t need to take my word for it:

M. Scott Peck: The absence of fear is not courage…the absence of fear is some kind of brain damage.

General George S. Patton: If we take the generally accepted definition of bravery as a quality which knows no fear, I have never seen a brave man. All men are frightened. The more intelligent they are, the more they are frightened.

Eleanor Roosevelt: You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.

So that is my main point tonight. Fear is a feeling that, if you life a life extraordinary, you will experience time and time again.

And your successes, your meaningful, profound, life-changing successes, will be the decisions you make and actions you take when failure is sitting right on top of you. When all seems lost. When you’ve already gotten to know the feeling of being sunk. Only at that moment, which will feel just like failure, will you have an opportunity to be a phenomenal success.

Which brings me back to my very first point, which will be my last. The point I made about the other 150 people here tonight. This last point is for them.

Wild animals do one of three things when they are afraid: They take flight, they fight, or they freeze. Every single time.

It’s not just wild animals who are still programed that way. We humans do the same thing: Look at our worst world situations. We’ve got humans running all over this planet fighting, fleeing or doing absolutely nothing. When we experience fear, anxiety, stress, our bodies are pre-programmed to respond like wild animals.

But there is one, very, very important difference between mankind and the rest of the animal kingdom. It’s one of the reasons we humans are so incredibly powerful. In the split second we are deciding whether to follow our instincts and either go all in – with freezing or fighting – or all out – by fleeing…we humans look around. We look to the left and to the right…for another human being.

In those moments where success and failures are defined, humans have the capacity to reach out. To connect – mentally, physically, spiritually or emotionally – with one another. And that capacity is what makes all the difference.

So our job, the job of the 150 of us, is simple: Our job is to continue to support our honorees as they go forth. And our honorees’ job is to remember our support and remember they are not alone, and, if needed in those moments of fear, to reach out.

Thank you."

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