What advice would you give to the students of your high school?

Recently, I was invited to speak to the students of my high school nearly 20 years after my own graduation.  My first thought was wow!  It seemed not so long ago, that I patiently  sat in the auditorium and listened to others and now it was my turn.  It was not so much the teaching which in the meantime has become my daily bread.  It was much more a new role in a very familiar context from the past.  I was not sure, if was ready for it.  My second though was:  what do I tell them?

So I posted this question on Facebook and here are some of the great answers I have received from my network:

Everything your teachers told you of the importance of getting a great education and lifelong learning is true.


Zacząłbym od tego żeby nie marnować szans i nie obawiać się zmian. Że ważna jest rodzina. Że problemów się nie uniknie i sztuką jest stawić im czoła i znaleźć rozwiązania. I że nigdy nie jest za późno, a dobro okazane wraca.


Every decision is important in constructing you future (professional and personal). Sometimes you think is a little or not important decision… Nevertheless every decision have an impact on our future. So, in other words, you have the power to construct the future you dream.


To become great in the job you first have to become a great human being. Values are more important than numbers.


“You are not special…”


Know your BATNA, always have a good one and never overestimate it (especially in love).


I would tell them that each of them is special in his or her own way and each of them should follow their dreams and not give up. Everyone has the chance to become successful. And successful does not only mean to be rich. It means to be happy with your life, with your family, job, social status. But it takes a lot of hard work to get there. So the kids must prepare for a struggle in order to achieve their dreams. Finally, I will give some examples of my classmates, who already (after 5 years) have done something of themselves. And I will finish by saying that even if they decide to dedicate themselves on career, work is not everything in life and there are much more valuable things.


Don’t grow up, it’s a trap 🙂


Never base your career steps on external expectations but always on your own passion.


The learning has barely begun.


Be wise on taking decisions. Don’t under or overestimate them. Each of them makes the path of what you are to be.


Have fun as long as you can.


To live for them… make something of themselves… believe that they can do anything that they put their mind too. Not to let anyone tell them they can’t and to never back down. Stand up for what they believe in. To be the best that they can in what ever they choose.


I spent weeks thinking about what I should tell them.  What should be the message?  How do I get it through?  …and then the day came and on May 22 I had to start my presentation:

Presentation at my High School

It felt as strangely as expected, if not more.  First, because in all my academic career I barely had any opportunities to teach in Polish and it felt a bit rusty at times.  Second, I remembered it from my own experience that the last thing I wanted to pay attention to at that age was an advice from some smart asses my teachers asked me to listen.

But I accepted the invitation (and challenge) and there was no turning back. The title of my presentation was:  From Pablo to Paul: on Important Things.  I started by quoting Pablo Picasso, who supposedly said:

The meaning of life is to find your gift.  The purpose of life is to give it away.

My interpretation of the purpose and meaning of life, however, is slightly different:

The purpose of life is to search for your passion.  The meaning of life is share it with others.

Then I tried to explain what it means to search for passion and how important it is to stay curious, try new things and above of all to dare to have dreams.  I was very fortunate that my dreams, starting from the simplest ones such as finishing a high school, getting to a good university, doing a PhD, working with the best.  I also quoted Steve Jobs from his famous Stanford commencement speech:

The only way to do great work is to love what you do.  If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking.  Don’t settle. As with all matters of the hear, you’ll know when you find it.

I am blessed to have not one, not two but three passions I am very enthusiastic about:  volleyball, negotiation and innovations.  Passion alone, however, is not enough.  Nothing valuable in life is ever served on a silver plate and as pleasant it is to live the passion, the road to success leads through blood, sweat, and tears.

Finally, I showed Stephen Curry’s shoes and quoted some highlights from his career.

Stephen Curry shoes

The quote from the shoes:

I can do all things…

… has raised some controversy.  Some thought:  what an arogant jerk!  At least until we looked at the source:

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:14