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An excerpt from Tim Smithe’s Illinois Institute of Arts graduation speech

Professor Timothy J. Smithe

Professor Timothy J. Smithe

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Updated: June 16, 2013 8:45PM



On my 40th birthday, I decided that I wanted to compete in the Ironman Triathlon, a race that starts with a 2 ½-mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bike ride and then a marathon.

There was just one small problem … I didn’t know how to swim.

But I did successfully finish the Ironman. I’ll walk you through the process in order to illustrate how I bring my ideas to life. And because it’s based on universal law, it will work for you, too.

Step 1: Dream. One of you may be standing up here in 25 years. What are you going to boast about? Sit in a quiet place, meditate and consider what you want to be, to do and to have in your life.

Do you want financial abundance, a happy relationship? Good health? To travel the world? I dreamed of the Ironman, and what would it feel like to cross the finish line, alive.

Step 2: Find an inspirational image. Print out a photo of your dream, and tape it to your mirror. Look at this photo and ask, “Why not me?” In fact, anytime you see something you would like to have, but feel intimidated by it, ask yourself that question.

Step 3: Ask for what you want. Life is just like a GPS: Ask for direction. I plugged in, “I will compete in the Ironman Triathlon by the end of this year, and I will enjoy the race.”

Step 4: Imagine how it feels to already be there. Then desire it. Desire is your fuel. Ask, “How badly do I want this?”

I felt the cold water filling my wetsuit. I felt the warm wind in my hair on the bike. I felt the burn of my legs and the exhilaration of crossing the finish line. I was an Ironman in mind, even before I was one in reality.

Step 5: Mentor. You know that old saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears?” Be open to people showing up to help you.

The day after I decided to compete, I was lifting in my gym when a new trainer was hired. He was an Aussie named Michael, and he had competed in seven Ironman Triathlons. I hired him that day, and it changed my life.

Step 6: Study. The first line I wrote down for this speech was, “Do what you love as a hobby, and find people who are making a living doing it.” But I missed the most important step: “Do what you love as a hobby, and then get really good at it.”

I know it’s the last thing you want to hear today. But become a lifelong learner. Search, read and watch everything that you can get your hands on regarding your newfound passion. Become an expert.

Step 7: Flirt. Flirting with a new topic is a way to test something out without fully committing. I watched you today in the hallways, and some of you are already really good at this.

I flirted with the Ironman by first competing in local short triathlons. My first was slow and painful, and I was terrible — but I learned more each time. And if you decide at this point in the game to quit, it’s OK. No harm, no foul.

Step 8: Work. Thomas Edison said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Work hard. Once you’re sure you want something, get obsessed. This is where imagination meets initiation. List all of the actions you need to take. Then give yourself deadlines.

It’s funny — I find that the harder I work, the luckier I get. Once I decided to do the Ironman, I worked out six days per week from 6-7 a.m. for six months. I changed disciplines each day.

Step 9: Focus. For six months, all I thought about was the race. And napping in the afternoon.

Step 10: Visualize. Now your idea has manifested. At check-in the day before the race, pick up your bib and swim cap.

Step 11: Serve. I was raised to believe in serving others. Service is love made visible. Doing good feels good. Pick one cause that stirs your soul, and give it time and money. Use your ability to help advance the causes that you believe in.

Congratulations everyone. I wish you an adventure.



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