Designing Your Dreams

I was invited to give a speech to ~300 University of Waterloo soon-to-be engineering graduates on March 30, 2016. Despite feeling very under qualified I proceeded to deliver the following speech.

At 27, I wouldn’t say that I’m particularly wise. I’ll also admit this is one of my first attempts at public speaking in quite a few years. However, the opportunity to share with you one lesson that I have found to be incredibly fulfilling is one I knew I could not pass up.

This lesson is about designing your dreams. And I will explain it through the telling of three very personal stories each with a tactical takeaway:

The first story began not 10 years ago, as I was entering my first year at Waterloo. I remember vividly the excitement of moving into residence, ready to discover the world as a independent university student. In fact, having never had a girlfriend before, I had resolved to introduce myself to every girl in my residence. Low and behold, upon moving into UWP, I realized I now lived in an all-male residence.

However, I didn’t let that or my 95% male engineering class stop me. I went on throughout Waterloo, seeking out friends I not only got along with, but ones that I knew I could grow with. At the end of first-year my new friends and I decided to buy and move into a 7-bedroom house, where we lived throughout university. I’ll attest that it was the best of times. Those times included dozens of hosted gatherings, and the very first one is where I’m proud to say I met my very first girlfriend.

Takeaway #1: As you go out into the next stages of your life carefully choose who you surround yourself with, they make a big difference

My second story, really started to take off just 5 years ago, in my final year of engineering. It had come time to apply to jobs for after University, but few opportunities seemed right for me. This is when I made the decision that I’d stay an extra year at Waterloo to pursue an additional minor in economics, but really for the entire year my focus would be on a longtime hobby of mine. Poker.

To make a long story short, that ended up being the best year of my life. I did well financially, I travelled the world and I even lived in Las Vegas for two summers just like the many poker stars I idolized. I grew an incredible amount, and every time I think about this time in my life, I can’t help but smile.

Takeaway #2: Don’t be afraid to take some chances, but try to have a good plan B.

My third story, is not yet complete. It is the story I live today, but it began when I was a child. Growing up, I dreamt of building companies. It just seemed like this great way to live a great life, and have a huge impact. I didn’t know exactly how I’d achieve this, but the plan was always engineering, then a MBA.

Fast forward to today and as you know the engineering part I completed. The MBA, well not so much. But that is by design. See between the time when I was a kid and now, a lot has changed. And as I’m sure you all know, an MBA is not at all needed to start a company. And so today, as you might expect, I work in Toronto at a 6-person start-up working on and learning about all the things it takes to build a company.

Takeaway #3: Deviate from the plan when the situation warrants it

Now after reading back to you the highlight reel of my life, it may sound like everything I’ve done has turned out successful. Let me assure you it most certainly has not. I have sometimes failed. There were times when I have been lost, and scared. You will likely have these times too, and that’s normal.

You nor I can control everything that happens in life. But, we are lucky enough to be born in a country and graduating from a school where great opportunities are afforded to us, and that means there is a great deal which we can do to control our life outcomes. Surrounding yourself with good people, taking smart risks and having flexible plans are tactics to increase your chances of success but most important, is having the right end goal in mind. And so what I encourage you to do is carefully design what it is what you want out of life. Being Waterloo engineers, I’m sure you’ll be able to figure out how to build it.