16 Motivational Speeches On Success To Turn Your Life Around

There is always a moment of truth in our lives when we suddenly realize that things aren’t really going the way we planned. We don’t have our dream car, we still haven’t bought a house and are stuck in a dead-end job that pays low and gives you no time to breathe. You realize you have hit absolute rock bottom and nothing is the way it should be. Well, that’s brilliant! No, but seriously. It might sound like a cliché when we say this but if you really have hit rock bottom, the only way left is up. But if you still are not quite convinced, these motivational speeches on success should help you to get up, brush yourself and start building again:

1. Steve Jobs’ Speech at Stanford’s 2005 Commencement

“… I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So, I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.”

A year after he was first diagnosed with cancer, Jobs gave this speech at Stanford. His point here is simple and he uses simpler words, stories to explain it. Our time here is limited, he points out, so we must struggle to make the most of it. If we don’t, we might forever end up regretting it.

2. Bill Gates’ Harvard Commencement Speech

“I’ve been waiting more than 30 years to say this: ‘Dad, I always told you I’d come back and get my degree’”, he says.

This is interesting because, as we all know, Gates never did get his degree but might easily be one of the most successful of everyone who has ever walked the hallowed halls.

This drives home a point. Education might be a privilege that not many of us may have been able to partake of. However, it is not always education that determines success but our will to do something important.

3. Sheryl Sandberg’s Harvard Business School Class Day Speech

Success doesn’t come easily even for successful people, like Sheryl Sandberg. There are moments of doubts that you’ll have to take your chances with. Sandberg says:

“After a while I had a few offers and I had to make a decision, so what did I do? I am MBA trained, so I made a spreadsheet. I listed my jobs in the columns and my criteria in the rows.  One of the jobs on that sheet was to become Google’s first Business Unit general manager, which sounds good now, but at the time no one thought consumer internet companies could ever make money. I was not sure there was actually a job there at all; Google had no business units, so what was there to generally manage? And the job was several levels lower than jobs I was being offered at other companies.”

4. Al Pacino’s speech in Any Given Sunday

Sure, this one is from a movie and, to be more precise, about football, but that does not mean that every word that Al Pacino so beautifully states does not shake one to their core.

He goes, “… In either game, life or football the margin for error is so small. I mean one-half step too late or too early you don’t quite make it. One-half second too slow or too fast and you don’t quite catch it. The inches we need are everywhere around us. They are in every break of the game, every minute, every second.”

After all, what is life if not a game of football? You run, you practise, you fight and you may as well beat the odds to reach your goal. In every step of the way, there will be someone who tries to stop you. But only when you kick past them, do you win.

5. Joanne K. Rowling’s speech at Harvard’s Commencement

Everyone knows the story of how 12 publishers rejected Harry Potter before Bloomsbury finally agreed to publish it. Rowling was a struggling single mother at that time. She, like many of us, felt that this might be the end, this is what we are stuck with forever. But she is living proof that things do not have to be that way. Yes, we are struggling now, but the light at the end of the tunnel might be closer than you think.

She says, “I have asked myself what I wish I had known at my own graduation, and what important lessons I have learned in the 21 years that have expired between that day and this.

I have come up with two answers. On this wonderful day when we are gathered together to celebrate your academic success, I have decided to talk to you about the benefits of failure. And as you stand on the threshold of what is sometimes called ‘real life’, I want to extol the crucial importance of imagination.”

6. Oprah Winfrey’s Commencement Speech at Harvard

“This too shall pass”, goes Oprah as she addressed the Harvard graduates of 2013. She lists a hundred trials she had to go through before the little girl from rural Mississippi made it up to that stage.

“…as I was in the shower the words of an old hymn came to me. You may not know it. It’s “By and by, when the morning comes.” And I started thinking about when the morning might come because at the time I thought I was stuck in a hole.” And she turned things around indeed.

7. Neil Gaiman’s Commencement Speech at University of the Arts

“Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do. Make good art.”

Neil Gaiman’s awe-inspiring speech has gone on to inspire hundreds and thousands of people and, even over half a decade after he originally delivered, it continues to influence and encourage one to do what one loves, and not just for the money.

8. Ellen DeGeneres’ Tulane University Commencement Speech

Funny Ellen DeGeneres may look a bubble of happiness but she never had it easy. She says in her commencement speech at Tulane University:

“Really when I look back on it, I wouldn’t change a thing. I mean, it was so important for me to lose everything because I found out what the most important thing is, is to be true to yourself. Ultimately, that’s what’s gotten me to this place. I don’t live in fear, I’m free; I have no secrets and I know I’ll always be OK, because no matter what, I know who I am.”

The key to success is to learn from your mistakes, experiences and use them as leverage to charge forward. But most important of all is to trust yourself to do it.

9.  Will Smith’s Speech from The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

“Hey. Don’t ever let somebody tell you, you can’t do something. Not even me. All right? You got a dream? You gotta protect it. People can’t do something themselves, they want to tell you you can’t do it. You want something? Go get it! Period!”

That’s all there is to it. What you want is within your power. All you have to do is reach out and grab it.

10. Jim Carrey’s Speech at MUM’s Commencement

“… You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”

This is perhaps the greatest takeaway from Jim Carrey’s beautifully inspiring yet strangely witty speech at the 2014 MUM commencement. There is not much that can be added to what he has already established in that one sentence, so let’s skip and watch the man.

11. Les Brown’s Georgia Dome Speech

Who doesn’t know Leslie Calvin “Les” Brown and his inspirational lessons to the masses. When he speaks, it’s mesmerizing, like in this motivational speech at Georgia Dome:

“See, sometimes we can’t say I can do that. But what we can say that it’s possible, that I can have my dream, as we run toward it, as we work on it day-in and day-out. No one, ladies and gentlemen, could have convinced me when I started out just over six years ago, working on my dream. And I want you to think about whatever your dream is, because I was willing to take a chance, and most people won’t do that. Most of the people that you talk to, to try and bring them into the business, these are not risk-takers. Most people have done all that they’re ever going to do. They raise a family, they earn a living and then they die. But people who are running toward their dreams life has a special kind of meaning.”

Ask yourself, what is your dream, and pursue it.

 12. Denzel Washington’s “Fall Forward” Motivational Speech

“I’ve found that nothing in life is worthwhile unless you take risks. Nothing.

… I’m sure in your experiences—in school… in applying to college… in picking your major… in deciding what you want to do with life—people have told you to make sure you have something to “fall back on.” But I’ve never understood that concept, having something to fall back on. If I’m going to fall, I don’t want to fall back on anything, except my faith. I want to fall… forward.”

What we learn from this charismatic actor is that when you have faith in what you do, you don’t need to be afraid of falling forward or backward. You only have confidence to move forward.

13. Elizabeth Gilbert Ted Talk on “Your Elusive Creative Genius”

“…people would say, “Aren’t you afraid you’re never going to have any success? Aren’t you afraid the humiliation of rejection will kill you? Aren’t you afraid that you’re going to work your whole life at this craft and nothing’s ever going to come of it and you’re going to die on a scrap heap of broken dreams with your mouth filled with bitter ash of failure?”

And her answer will surprise you. This successful author has a twisted idea that everyone is a genius. Genius people are not out of this world; they’re pretty much every other person. You just have to discover your talent in yourself.

14. Charlie Day’s Merrimack College Commencement Speech

“Well, I’ve always had a half-baked philosophy that having plan B can muddy up your plan A. I didn’t take the job. I moved to the city. I bussed tables and answered phones. I lived in a basement apartment next to a garbage chute. The apartment was filled with cockroaches. I couldn’t have made a better decision. Well maybe not the cockroach part. I should have found a different apartment. You’ll find better apartments. Just avoid the trash area.”

Day’s motivational speech makes us question our decisions, the wisdom used in making them and the results of those decisions. At the end of the day, success lies in your hand.

15. Kal Penn’s DePauw University Commencement Speech

“You obviously know you have the power to do good things in this world. That’s no ground-breaking, sage commencement advice…and I’m not just referring to just say going out and doing good things like doing well in business or making a million dollars or making it rain at the club.”

The power to succeed is nothing compared to do good. While you contemplate on success always think about doing good along the way too. This is Penn’s message in the motivational speech he delivered at DePauw University.

16. Meryl Streep’s Bernard Commencement Speech

Success may sound like an elusive idea but it’s not actually. You don’t have to rely on successful people to learn from them. Instead, you just need to reach inside and find your own version. Streep says:

“If you have been touched by the success fairy, people think you know why. People think success breeds enlightenment and you are duty bound to spread it around like manure, fertilize those young minds, let them in on the secret, what is it that you know that no one else knows, the self-examination begins, one looks inward, one opens an interior door. Cobwebs, black, the lights bulbs burned out, the airless dank refrigerator of an insanely over-scheduled, unexamined life that usually just gets take-out.”

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