As the cliché quote by Thomas Edison goes, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
And sure, odds are that you agree with Edison’s sentiments—so do I. But the same odds say that you’ll forget about it not even a minute from now.
Because clichés don’t hit home—genuine stories do.
That’s why millions of people around the world are filled with gratitude to know the success stories of icons such as Walt Disney, J.K. Rowling, Steve Jobs, and Steven Spielberg by heart.
But why stop there? Let’s add another one to the list.
25 years after graduating from Vassar College, Lisa Kudrow returned to her alma mater to deliver one of the most impactful commencement speeches I’ve ever encountered.
And I hope that by the time you hear the applause at the end of it, you will feel just as grateful as I did to have come across such an inspiring story.
Because even if at a certain point in time she was earning 1 million dollars from each—yes, each—episode of Friends, not many people know that her path to success was far from a straight line.
And while the entire speech was extremely moving, there were some lines that stood out from the rest.
"I went here, you wanted to know about my experiences after graduating and I understand that because the twenties are that time in your life when you're really getting acquainted with your own adult self and seeing how you respond to self doubt when there's so much seemingly at stake.
So, let me reassure you. It's not supposed to be easy, but it doesn't have to be torture. You're supposed to have moments of uncertainty about which path to take because the 20's are full of crossroads."
"I was never in a play–I don’t think I ever really saw a play. I wasn't interested in the least, not the least. Then during my senior year at Vassar when I was home for spring break, I was driving around L.A. and heard a promo for a sitcom on the radio.
They'd play their best joke from the show and I remember hearing in my head, 'Oh, God, that's not funny. They punched the joke too hard, just throw it away, Lisa remember to throw it away when you do it. Why do I need to remember to throw a joke away? I don't need to remember that.'
And so I dismissed it, until after I graduated and was happily doing research with my father at the headache clinic and it happened again and again and again. I'd be watching a sitcom and hear myself saying, 'Don't do that. Don't do that Comedy Walk thing like these sitcom girls do.'
It got relentless and I entertained the idea of being an actress, then moved to justify the idea with, 'You know, you're 22, you have no mortgage, no husband and kids—no responsibilities. You have to do this acting thing now. Right now. I'm so sorry, but you have to.'"
"By November of 1985, I declared that I would pursue acting. My parents and family were thrilled for me and that was the first and most important, wonderful show of support I got. My parents and family were thrilled, thrilled. Truly. My Vassar friends were shocked, shocked but supportive and polite.
I was terrified, and not because I didn't think it would work out—I was weirdly confident for no reason at all—but because this didn't exactly feel like it was a choice as much as succumbing to a compulsion, and I didn't analyze what led me to this point, whether it was divine intervention, or a lapse in judgment or sanity, I just listened to that inner voice. By the way, it's always a good move to listen to that inner voice...if it doesn't lead to a crime."
"I was almost out of money and my agent called to tell me that Danny Jacobson, the producer of Mad About You, was offering me another small role on the show. The agent was recommending I pass on it because it was too small a role and the character didn't even have a name. It was for the part of Waitress and I wouldn't even see the part until I got to the set in an hour.
'Don't take it, they can't treat you like this.' I didn't even think twice. Of course, I took it. Whatever it is, I'll make it funny. I'll listen and respond and make it funny. By the second day, Danny Jacobson asked if I would be okay with being written into at least five more shows throughout the season. I told him I was okay with that.
Some people thought I was funny as the waitress on Mad About You, one of them was one of their talented writers named Jeffrey Klarik. Jeffrey's boyfriend, David Crane, who recommended I come in to read for his new show about six twenty-somethings who lived in New York and hung out at a coffee house."
"After many auditions, I was the second person cast in the pilot called Friends Like Us, which would later be changed to Friends. Jim Burrows also directed this pilot and the first ten episodes of Friends. One day the six of us were talking with Jimmy, exchanging The Time I Got Fired Stories and Jimmy told them mine.
'Well, she's got the worst one of all, she got fired from Frasier. ‘You weren't right for the part darlin'.' Thanks! And then he said, 'Well, it's a good thing you got fired or you wouldn't have been on this show.' He was right. And it was a good thing I didn't get Saturday Night Live and that the Romy and Michele pilot didn't work out and every other disappointment that happened–they were like guide posts that kept me on my path.
Oh and after I got fired from Frasier, I went to a birthday party and, feeling like I had nothing at all to lose, I flirted with a guy who was way out of my league. We dated, and on Thursday, Michel and I will have been married for 15 years. Yeah, that’s the biggest achievement of all, and we’ll be celebrating with our 12 year-old son. Thank God I got fired! Maybe there is a reason for everything. I think there is."
Lisa Kudrow's story is one of many examples of the power of failure. Like her, we may not see it at the time, but every roadblock, trial, and difficulty could turn out to be a blessing in disguise–one that we will undoubtedly feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for when all the dots finally connect.
Because you don’t see the power of failure when you experience it. You see the power of failure when you have grown from it.
And that makes you all the more grateful for it.
Needless to say, from her heartfelt advice to her ability to effortless ability to deliver well-timed jokes, she gave a commencement speech that Phoebe Buffay would definitely be proud of.