Dr. Phil's Truths

Spring Commencement Speech

Dr. Phil McGraw, May 13, 2011

I would like to thank President Rawlins, Chairman C. Dan Smith, Dr. Rosemary Haggett, Dr. Warren Burggren and Dr. Jim Meernik, and President's cabinet, deans, faculty, staff, students, and all of you members of the audience. This is a terrific day and I'll tell you I did not do my graduation from here when I got my Ph.D. because I was off working. So I'm finally here and it feels good.

As a former student and graduate, having earned a master’s and Ph.D., it truly is an honor to be addressing you. I can't tell you what it's like to go through all of this and then one day get to come back and stand here. And there have been some big changes since I was where you are. When I was here, there were 17,000 students and now there are 36,000. It's more than double. There are new buildings, new programs! I looked all over the place for the key punch card center, I just couldn't find it! We used rolodex! We had 8-track tapes! We had rotary dial phones! We didn't have cell phones, we didn't have the Internet, laptop, desktops, but we still got the job done.

And even before my day, y'all may not know this, but North Texas was known as "North Texas Normal College." Well I'm glad they changed that name, ’cause I've been called a lot of things since I left here and "normal" ain't one of ’em. It's amazing to see the progress here, and these folks are to be commended. Be proud to hold an advanced degree from the University of North Texas. I am.

There are very famous graduates over the years. Norah Jones, Pat Boone, Don Henley, Jesús Moroles, Larry McMurtry, and a favorite of mine, who led a great defense here, Mean Joe Greene. We actually have a lot in common, because I went to University of Tulsa on a football scholarship and I led the defense there — and that's where the similarities stop. When I was there leading the defense, we got beat by the University of Houston 100 to 6. I was a freshman then. The varsity got beat 100 to 6. Our freshman team got beat by OU 77 to 7. So I did not continue my football career, and I'm kinda glad I didn't actually because I've kinda enjoyed the trip that I've had.

I'm guessing that not a lot of you grads in the audience today sit around in the afternoon watching the Dr. Phil show. If you did, you probably wouldn't be here. I almost flunked out because they had reruns of The Untouchables that were on at 10 o'clock every morning when I had my history and systems class, and I missed about half of them.

But that's OK. I mean, just so you know, I've just finished my ninth season, we've completed and aired over 1,500 television shows nationally and internationally. We're on in 100 percent of the United States and 68 foreign countries. And — thank you, I'm proud of that. I learned in Hollywood that you time television in seconds. You gotta move, move, move. So let me just say, “You made it, and thanks for coming!” No, I'm just kidding. Just kidding!

Now let's be honest here for a minute, ’cause you know that's kind of how people see me. Let's just be honest. There are many parents and loved ones here that are surprised you made it. And I'm betting there are a lot of in-laws here that are absolutely flabbergasted that you made it! They gotta be thinking, "What in the world were they thinking?" Some of you are probably stunned yourself. I mean, as I look at you, I think back to when I was defending my dissertation and making the copies and turning everything in. I was stunned. I earned my master's here on Aug. 14, 1976, my Ph.D. in 1979.

Now, I remember the exact day of my master's because I was dating Robin at the time, and she wanted to get married, and I said "Look, I want to get married to you, obviously. But, I would at least like to get my master's degree so I can feed us before we get married." She said OK. Commencement was Aug. 14, 1976. I got married Aug. 14, 1976. She said, "What time's graduation?" I said, "2:00." She said, "We'll do it at 3:00." And it stuck, ’cause we've been married 35 years and it was the best decision I ever made in my life.

I did most of my work over in Terrill Hall, and the first day I was up on campus there was a construction fence up over there, and a bunch of psych students had gone out there with paint and wrote on that fence, “Help! The paranoids are after me!" Little psych humor, but I knew I was in the right place. They had a sense of humor here.

In any event, on my last day, I just wanted to get out of town before they changed their mind or came up with some other crap for me to do. And I don't know, maybe some of you are like me. I think I walked around the last year with my resignation letter on my clipboard just waiting for one more person to say something to me and I was going to hand it to them and walk out and I'm awfully glad I didn't.

This has been a long journey. Think about it. For some of you it has been a long journey. When you think about it, do the math. If you think about 12 years getting through high school, and then your bachelor’s, then your master's, then you Ph.D. people, that's 21 years you've spent getting in those chairs. That's 252 months. That's 1,092 weeks. That's 7,644 days of learning to get here. You started in kindergarten with show and tell and now it is time to go and do.

And here's what I asked myself when I had the honor of being asked to do this. I said, "What do I wish I had known then that I do know now?" I mean ’cause haven't you always thought that before, like, "Boy, if I'd have known then what I know now, I'd have done something different." I really sat down in my office at home and I thought, "How would I answer that question? What could I tell you that now, some 30 plus-years, I've learned since then?" and I've got to tell you that I had a lot to write down. I want to share with you some truth that if you hear it, if you ingrain it, I promise you, you will have a leg up in an eat-what-you-kill world.

Now, something that may surprise you, maybe it won't, maybe it will, is how great a school the University of North Texas is. I believe it is one of the best-kept secrets in America. And you will see that, you will see that when you get out there. You will see it when you get out there because I know, I went in to a competitive world with a master's and a Ph.D. from here, and I tell you what, there was never a time I was in a room where I felt like I did not have a superior education. I didn't care where they came from or who they were. Be proud of what you have achieved here. This is a fine university and you should be proud of completing this curriculum. Now, there are some truths that I want to tell you, just a few truths.

Truth No. 1: You either get it or you don't, and you create your own experience. Now think about that. You either get it or you don't. There are people who stumble through this world and they just don't really get it. And then there are those who kind of take a step back and say, "Let me figure out what's really going on here, cause I'm not going to wait for someone to do something for me, I'm going to create my own experience."

I know that, I grew up poor. When I was in junior high I had a job from 3 to 7 a.m. throwing a paper route so we could eat. I was homeless when I was 15. I was living on the streets in Kansas City. I know you create your own experience. I know you can overcome those things that you wish weren't there, and it's not the government, it's not your parents, it's not the economy, it is you. You create your own experience. There are no victims here, you are a change agent. When I was here, I had a teaching assistant shift for $315 a month. If there weren't two for one burger bucks, one of us would have starved.

You create your own experience and what a time to do it. This is the most exciting time ever. You know the Chinese say, "May we live in interesting times." What interesting times we are living in! We are in the biggest information explosion in the history of the world. And that means it's shrinking the world and you can have an impact. Think the unthinkable.

When I was your age there was no Internet, there was no GPS, there were no cell phones, CDs, DVDs, Blackberries. The question is what is next? What is the next generation? What is the next level of technology, of experience? Someone here in this audience will change this world. Why not you? Why not you?  And hear me when I say this: The difference between dreams and goals is a timeline. “Someday” is not a day of the week. You've got to decide what you want.

Truth No. 2: There is a formula for success. There is a formula for success and, fortunately, it leaves clues. I have studied success all of my life, it's been a hobby of mine. When a lot of kids were making model cars and doing different hobbies, collecting baseball cards, I got really interested in success, and I find out it leaves clues. People who are successful have a vision. A very clear specific vision of what it is they want. If not, you're like a missile with no guidance system. I was talking with Dr. Rawlins backstage and he was saying, "You know what one of my rules has been? Don't ever take a job I don't want. Because A, you won't do a good job at it, and B, it may be the last job you ever get.” Wise counsel. Wise counsel, Doctor.

You've got to know what matters, and you've got to name it to claim it. If you don't know what success is, you wouldn't know when you got there. I have talked to people who have been huge successes, and I'll say, "Tell me what success is for you." And they'll go, "Oh, my gosh, let me tell you. I can tell you what it looks like, I can tell you how I will be dressed, how I will feel, I can tell you everything about it." And they're different. Other people will say, "I don't know, you know, I just, I'll be doing better." You've got to be specific. And you've got to have a strategy. You've got to work for what you want, what you want, and not what you don't want. Have a strategy. I'm going to do A then B then C then D.

And the universe rewards action, let me assure you. You've got to put verbs in your sentences, you've got to power up towards a known outcome. In this world, you behave your way to success. And the difference between winners and losers is winners do things losers do not want to do. Winners do things losers do not want to do. And if you want to be a winner, you've gotta do what it takes to have what you want. And you've got to be willing to ask others for what you want. And that means that you have to take risks. You don't have to be reckless, but you do have to take risks.

Oprah asked me one time when I was 50, she said — I'd been doing her show for like four years — and she said, "Don't you think it's time you had your own show?" I said, "I don't know." I had no idea about that. I thought, "You know what? If somebody comes to you at 50 years old and says, 'How would you like a national, an international platform, and you get to talk about anything you want." OK. I mean, I just had to do it, right? I had to take that risk.

And what they didn't tell me until I picked my family up and moved to Hollywood is that the last 78 shows to be launched in a row had failed. I kind of would like to have had that information before I went out there, loaded up the truck and moved to Bev-er-ly. I probably would have gone anyway. You've got to take risks.

Truth No. 3, and hear this if you hear nothing else: You've got to take care of yourself along the way. It's not selfish. And when I say yourself, I mean your authentic self. You have to take care of you so you can take care of others. You want to star in the script of your own life. Don't do what somebody else wants you to do, you've got to decide what you want to do and you have to pursue that. And if it's not who you really are, if it's not who you really want to be, it will wear you out. I spent 12 years of my life doing something I didn't want to do, and I was miserable.

And you know what it's like when you're denying who you really are? It's like being in a swimming pool and you're holding a beach ball underwater. Remember when you were a kid, you used to do that, you'd try to hold that ball underwater and you'd have to fight it and it would keep popping up on one side and you'd just wear yourself out. That's what it's like if you're trying to hold your authentic self down. Who you really want to be, what you really want to do. This isn't going to be a success-only journey, it's not. You can't control everything that's going to happen, but you can control how you react to it. And that's a big deal.

And let me tell you something, every success that I have ever studied, every success story I've ever studied, had a nucleus of people around them that wanted them to succeed. A lot of your nucleus is sitting around you right now, you have made friends here that will last forever. My major professor here at North Texas, Dr. Frank Lawlis, I still work with him every day of my life. He's on the staff at the Dr. Phil show. I still use resources from this school.

You've gotta have people around you that want you to succeed. I said, you know, I've done 1,500 shows into the mission, I've had the privilege of dealing with silent epidemics in America — domestic violence, bullying, mental illness — trying to open the dialogue about these things in American society. I've had the privilege of interviewing presidents, royalty, testifying before Congress. Not one bit of that was achieved alone, not one wit was achieved alone.

And the fourth and last truth that I want you to take with you is, you've got to find your passion. You've got to find your passion. You've got to believe in who you are. You've worked too hard to get where you are to shoot yourself in the foot with having some bad head now. You don't have a right, just a right, to be passionate, you have a responsibility to be passionate. Go out and have some fun. It's that passion that's the glue that holds the nucleus together. Find something in your life, something in your career to get jacked up about every single day.

And don't care if you're doing things different. I didn't. I wasn't sitting in a sandbox at 5 years old saying, "You know someday I want my own talk show." I didn't know this is what I was going to do, but when I got involved in it I realized that everything I had ever done was preparing me for that moment in time. I decided to market my education in a unique fashion.

It is May 13, 2011. That starts this journey for you. You are uniquely gifted. All of you under 30, you're 30 percent of our population and 100 percent of our future. Do a good job, I'm counting on you to do a good job. We're all counting on you to do a good job. And if you've heard just one thing that I've had to say today, let it be this: Get out of town before they change their minds. When I stop talking, you get your diplomas. So I'm done, thank you for having me. It has been an honor.