9 Life Lessons – Tim Minchin UWA Address

Ladies and Gentlemen please welcome Mr Tim Minchin (applause) In darker days I did a corporate gig at a
conference for this big company who made and sold accounting software in a bid, I presumed,
to inspire their salespeople to greater heights. They’d forked out 12 grand for an inspirational
speaker who was this extreme sports guy who had had a couple of his limbs frozen off when
he got stuck on a ledge on some mountain. It was weird. Software salespeople I think need to hear
from someone who has had a long successful career in software sales not from an overly
optimistic ex-mountaineer. Some poor guy who had arrived in the morning hoping to learn about sales techniques ended up going home worried about the blood flow
to his extremities. It’s not inspirational, it’s confusing. And if the mountain was meant
to be a symbol of life’s challenges and the loss of limbs a metaphor for sacrifice, the
software guy is not going to get it, is he? Because he didn’t do an Arts degree, did
he? He should have. Arts degrees are awesome and they help you
find meaning where there is none. And let me assure you there is none. Don’t go looking
for it. Searching for meaning is like searching for a rhymes scheme in a cookbook. You won’t find it and it will bugger up your soufflé. If you didn’t like that metaphor you won’t
like the rest of it. Point being I’m not an inspirational speaker.
Iíve never ever lost a limb on a mountainside metaphorically or otherwise and I’m certainly
not going to give career advice because, well I’ve never really had what most would consider a job. However I have had large groups of people listening to what I say for quite a
few years now and itís given me an inflated sense of self importance. So I will now, at the ripe old age of 37-point-nine, bestow upon you nine life lessons to echo of course the nine lessons of carols of the
traditional Christmas service, which is also pretty obscure. You might find some of this stuff inspiring.
You will definitely find some of it boring and you will definitely forget all of it within
a week. And be warned there will be lots of similes and obscure aphorisms which start
well but end up making no sense. So listen up or you’ll get lost like a blind man clapping
in a pharmacy trying to echo-locate the contact lens fluid. (audience laughs) – Looking for my old poetry
teacher. Here we go, ready? One: You don’t have to have a dream. Americans on talent shows always talk about their dreams. Fine if you have something you’ve always
wanted to do, dreamed of, like in your heart, go for it. After all it’s something to do
with your time, chasing a dream. And if it’s a big enough one it’ll take you most of your
life to achieve so by the time you get to it and are staring into the abyss of the meaningless of your achievement you’ll be almost dead so it won’t matter. I never really had one of these dreams and
so I advocate passionate, dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals. Be micro-ambitious. Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you. You never know
where you might end up. Just be aware the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in
your periphery, which is why you should be careful of long-term dreams. If you focus
too far in front of you you won’t see the shiny thing out the corner of your eye. Right?
Good! Advice metaphor – look at me go. Two: Don’t seek happiness. Happiness is like
an orgasm. If you think about it too much it goes away. (audience laughs) Keep busy
and aim to make someone else happy and you might find you get some as a side effect.
We didn’t evolve to be constantly content. Contented Homo erectus got eaten before passing on their genes. Three: Remember it’s all luck. You are lucky
to be here. You are incalculably lucky to be born and incredibly lucky to be brought
up by a nice family who encouraged you to go to uni. Or if you were born into a horrible
family that’s unlucky and you have my sympathy but you are still lucky. Lucky that you happen
to be made of the sort of DNA that went on to make the sort of brain which when placed
in a horrible child environment would make decisions that meant you ended up eventually graduated uni. Well done you for dragging yourself up by your shoelaces. But you were
lucky. You didn’t create the bit of you that dragged you up. They’re not even your shoelaces. I suppose I worked hard to achieve whatever
dubious achievements I’ve achieved but I didn’t make the bit of me that works hard
any more than I made the bit of me that ate too many burgers instead of attending lectures when I was here at UWA. Understanding that you can’t truly take credit for your successes
nor truly blame others for their failures will humble you and make you more compassionate. Empathy is intuitive. It is also something you can work on intellectually. Four: Exercise. I’m sorry you pasty, pale,
smoking philosophy grads arching your eyebrows into a Cartesian curve as you watch the human
movement mob winding their way through the miniature traffic cones of their existence.
You are wrong and they are right. Well you’re half right. You think therefore you are but
also you jog therefore you sleep therefore you’re not overwhelmed by existential angst.
You can’t be can’t and you don’t want to be. Play a sport. Do yoga, pump iron, and
run, whatever but take care of your body, you’re going to need it. Most of you mob
are going to live to nearly 100 and even the poorest of you will achieve a level of wealth
that most humans throughout history could not have dreamed of. And this long, luxurious
life ahead of you is going to make you depressed. (audience laughs) But don’t despair. There
is correlation between depression and exercise. Do it! Run, my beautiful intellectuals run. Five: Be hard on your opinions. A famous bon mot asserts opinions are like assholes in that everyone has one. There is great wisdom
in this but I would add that opinions differ significantly from assholes in that yours
should be constantly and thoroughly examined. (audience laughs) I used to do exams in here
(audience laughs) – It’s revenge. We must think critically and not just about
the ideas of others. Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out onto the verandah and hit them with a cricket bat. Be intellectually rigorous. Identify your biases, your prejudices, your
privileges. Most of society is kept alive by a failure to acknowledge nuance. We tend
to generate false dichotomies and then try to argue one point using two entirely different
sets of assumptions. Like two tennis players trying to win a match by hitting beautifully
executed shots from either end of separate tennis courts. By the way, while I have science and arts
graduates in front of me please don’t make the mistake of thinking the arts and sciences
are at odds with one another. That is a recent, stupid and damaging idea. You donít have
to be unscientific to make beautiful art, to write beautiful things. If you need proof
– Twain, Douglas Adams, Vonnegut, McEwan, Sagan and Shakespeare, Dickens for a start.
You don’t need to be superstitious to be a poet. You don’t need to hate GM technology to care about the beauty of the planet. You don’t have to claim a soul to promote compassion. Science is not a body of knowledge nor a belief system it’s just a term which describes human kinds’ incremental acquisition of understanding through observation. Science is awesome! The arts and sciences need to work together to improve how knowledge is communicated. The idea that many Australians including our new PM and my distant cousin Nick Minchin believe that the science of anthropogenic global warming is controversial is a powerful indicator of
the extent of our failure to communicate. The fact that 30 percent of the people just
bristled is further evidence still. (audience laughs) The fact that that bristling is more
to do with politics than science is even more despairing. Six: Be a teacher! Please! Please! Please
be a teacher. Teachers are the most admirable and important people in the world. You don’t
have to do it forever but if you’re in doubt about what to do be an amazing teacher. Just
for your 20s be a teacher. Be a primary school teacher. Especially if you’re a bloke. We
need male primary school teachers. Even if you’re not a teacher, be a teacher. Share
your ideas. Don’t take for granted your education. Rejoice in what you learn and spray it. Seven: Define yourself by what you love. I
found myself doing this thing a bit recently where if someone asks me what sort of music I like I say. Well I don’t listen to the radio because pop song lyrics annoy me,
or if someone asks me what food I like I say, I think truffle oil is overused and slightly
obnoxious. And I see it all the time online – people whose idea of being part of a subculture is to hate Coldplay or football or feminists or the Liberal Party. We have a tendency to define ourselves in
opposition to stuff. As a comedian I make my living out of it. But try to also express
your passion for things you love. Be demonstrative and generous in your praise of those you admire. Send thank you cards and give standing ovations. Be pro stuff not just anti stuff. Eight: Respect people with less power than
you. I have in the past made important decisions about people I work with agents and producers – big decisions based largely on how they treat the wait staff in the restaurants we’re
having the meeting in. I don’t care if you’re the most powerful cat in the room, I will
judge you on how you treat the least powerful. So there! Nine: Finally, don’t rush. You don’t need
to know what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. I’m not saying sit around
smoking cones all day but also don’t panic! Most people I know who were sure of their
career path at 20 are having mid-life crises now. I said at the beginning of this ramble, which
is already three-and-a-half minutes long, life is meaningless. It was not a flippant
assertion. I think itís absurd the idea of seeking meaning in the set of circumstances
that happens to exist after 13.8 billion years worth of unguided events. Leave it to humans
to think the universe has a purpose for them. However I’m no nihilist. I’m not even a
cynic. I am actually rather romantic and hereís my idea of romance: you will soon be dead.
Life will sometimes seem long and tough and God it’s tiring. And you will sometimes be
happy and sometimes sad and then you’ll be old and then youíll be dead. There is only
one sensible thing to do with this empty existence and that is fill it. Not fillet. Fill it.
And in my opinion, until I change it, life is best filled by learning as much as you
can about as much as you can. Taking pride in whatever you’re doing. Having compassion, sharing ideas, running, being enthusiastic and then there’s love and travel and wine
and sex and art and kids and giving and mountain climbing, but you know all that stuff already.
Itís an incredibly exciting thing this one meaningless life of yours. Good luck and thank you for indulging me.

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