Elon 2017 Commencement
Ueng urges graduates to embrace ‘the mountains of life, business and beyond’
Grace W. Ueng, founder and CEO of Savvy Growth, encouraged students receiving master’s degrees in business administration and management to endure through life’s challenges during her Commencement address May 19 in Whitley Auditorium.
excerpted from Elon E-Net, by Alexa Boschini
“Earning my MBA was a very steep mountain to climb, and you all have made it. Congratulations,” said Grace W. Ueng, founder and chief executive officer of Savvy Growth and the ceremony’s keynote speaker. “… Each of you holds a unique story—you embody a wide range of talents and work experiences. And each of you will go into or back into your work world better equipped to tackle new challenges that life throws your way.”
Ueng recounted one of her greatest challenges, which disrupted her 40th birthday celebration in California with classmates from Harvard Business School. A devastating cycling accident left her with a broken neck and short-term memory loss. Following the accident, Ueng said she was “airlifted unconscious off Sonoma Mountain Road to a new state of mind.” She persevered through physical therapy, occupational therapy and ongoing meetings with neurologists to regain her mental and physical strength.
The experience gave her a fresh outlook on success, one defined by the ability to weather through personal and professional obstacles and celebrate life’s victories throughout the journey. Ueng began studying the correlation between endurance athletes and those who start successful companies, as well as the field of positive psychology. “As you progress in your career, you may think, ‘When I just get that promotion to vice president or when I become a CEO, then I will finally be happy!’ But it’s not that way at all. When we are happy, that is when we will have success.”
The concepts of endurance and happiness inspired Ueng’s Project Peak, a series of workshops and talks on “climbing the mountains of life, business and beyond.” She encouraged the graduates to consider the seven core themes of Project Peak as they embark on their post-Elon careers.
1. You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take. Ueng said the graduates should have the courage to pursue the opportunities they encounter in the coming years, to avoid looking back with regret at the path not taken. She once faced a choice between returning to General Mills, her first employer out of business school, or taking the plunge into entrepreneurship. She chose the latter, ultimately contributing to the growth of five technology ventures.
2. Failure is a good thing. Failure is feedback that leads to success, Ueng said. Failure affords business leaders the chance to learn and grow, and sometimes opens the door for a better opportunity. “If you didn’t experience the bad, you would not appreciate the good,” she said.
3. Speak the future now. Successful entrepreneurs have a knack for articulating their future vision, Ueng said, and they have the confidence to speak as if that vision is reality today. “They ‘will’ the future to happen, and inspire those around them to make sure this vision becomes reality,” she said. “You can be that leader, too.”
4. Power of visualization. When she was training for her first marathon, Ueng’s coach suggested she display posters with the caption “Grace the Athlete” throughout her home. She advised the graduates to use photos of people they admire or handwritten positive messages as motivation toward achieving their goals.
5. Channel fear to your advantage. Fear can be paralyzing when unaddressed, Ueng said, but channeling that fear builds confidence. By tackling her own fear of diving headfirst into a swimming pool, she proved to herself that she could handle any challenge.
6. Bias for action. In Ueng’s experience, people either make things happen or let things happen to them. “You all have this fork in the road today in receiving your diploma,” she said. “What will you now do differently in the coming week? The coming months? What will be your bias for action?”
7. Enjoying the journey. Whatever peaks and valleys the graduates face in their next chapter, Ueng reminded them to relish every moment along the way. “I wish you all the very best in climbing your mountains,” she said, “and don’t forget to enjoy the journey.”