The Power of the Pause

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Remarks delivered on Friday, May 11, 2012 at University of Southern California's Annenberg School Commencement Ceremony

Good morning, Annenberg graduates — and congratulations! You’ve made it through one of the most prestigious universities in the world. You are accomplished — and, yes, you are blessed.

Blessed to be stepping out into the world with your degrees in journalism, PR, and Communication — right at the moment when it seems like everything in the world is about communication.

We’re communicating like never before — across borders and time zones — on platforms, devices, computers, tablets, phones, apps, games, you name it.

Communicating 24/7– wired and wirelessly — talking, texting, and tweeting — trending and friending — to the other side of the room and the other side of the planet — spitting out the old, in order to consume the new.

Every minute you’re awake, you’re reaching out beyond yourself — waaay out beyond. It feels like the entire universe is an extension of your own nervous system.

You communicate instantly, automatically, and effortlessly. For you…communicating is like breathing.

And today, you’re rarin’ to go. Rarin’ to out into the “real” world — to get a job and transform the world of communication yet again. It’s a race to be next, to be first, to be new. Sorta scary, isn’t it.

I get that — because when I close my eyes, it feels like just yesterday that I sat where you are, and I remember exactly how I felt.

My boyfriend had hidden a bottle of champagne under his graduation robe for the celebration afterwards. But me? I was anxious, and I was scared.

I had applied for a job in TV news, but I hadn’t heard back. And I remember everybody was asking me, “What are you going to do after graduation? Do you have a job? What’s your job?” — and I felt so bad about myself, because I didn’t have the answer.

I graduated in May, and for months I was asked “What are you gonna do? What are you gonna do?” — which got me beating the living daylights out of myself, all the way until I landed a job in October.

Back then, I didn’t realize that that question — the “What-are-you-gonna-do?” question — dogs us all our lives:

When you get that assignment desk job in local TV, everyone asks you, “When are you going on The Air?” And then it’s “When are you going to the Network?”

After you meet that special someone, people ask you, “When are you going to get married?” Then right away, it’s “When are you going to have a kid?” After that: “When are you going to have the next one?”

I remember when I wrote my first book, people would come up to me at book-signings and ask when the next book was coming out.

Right in the middle of the Women’s Conferences I produced, people would ask me, “Who are you gonna get to speak next year?”

Even today at my age, people come up to me all the time asking, ‘Maria, What are you doing? What’s your job? Are you going back into television? Are you writing another book? Are you gonna run another women's conference? What are you doing?’

It’s like what we’re doing at this precise moment doesn’t even exist. Everyone is focused on the next thing. Everyone is racing to the Next Thing.

Well, I got caught up in that for a really long time — so much so, that I could never really enjoy what I WAS doing, because I was always worried about what I was going to be doing.

I tell you all this, because I know right now everybody’s asking you those same questions: “What are you gonna do after graduation? Do you have a job? Where will you be working? How much are they paying? Where are you going? Where will you be living? Who are you seeing?” Oh, my God — so many questions!

And here you are: sitting there ready to hit the Fast Forward button and find out the answers. I get that. I was just LIKE you: I lived on Fast Forward.

But today, I have one wish for you. Before you go out and press that fast foward button, I'm hoping – I'm praying – that you’ll have the courage to first press the pause button.

That’s right: the pause button. I hope if you learn anything from me today, you learn and remember — The Power of the Pause.

Pausing allows you to take a beat — to take a breath in your life. As everybody else is rushing around like a lunatic out there, I dare you to do the opposite.

I'm asking you to do this, because I believe yo