Volume 4, Number 1; March 2012
You Should Star in the Film of Your Life
About the Author
W. Mark Lanier is the founder of The Lanier Law Firm with offices in Houston, New York City, Los Angeles, and Palo Alto, California. He is a 1984 JD graduate of the Texas Tech University School of Law and was honored as a Distinguished Alumnus of the School of Law in 2005.
This paper is based on W. Mark Lanier's December 16, 2011, commencement addresses to Texas Tech University graduates in Lubbock, TX.
Written by W. Mark Lanier
What an honor it is for me to be here and have the opportunity to address you. Years ago, when I was a high school student in Lubbock, I had a date—not as pretty as my wife—but a date, and I took her to a movie that was supposed to be the secret sleeper movie of 1976. The script had been written by a fellow who was unable to find employment but worked out of his garage on his first movie. As scriptwriter and producer, he experienced difficulty finding someone to star in his movie, so he decided to star in it himself. In short, he had to go out and hustle to get it done. And, he wound up not only starring in the film but also doing all the choreography. He made the movie for one million dollars. That’s a small budget for a movie. But, the movie was a hit. In fact, the movie grossed over 225 million dollars, won three Oscars, and launched his career—and a franchise. The movie was Rocky. The man: Sylvester Stallone!
Now, I am sharing that story with you because it became “the heart” of my thinking about what I wanted to say to today—what I would really like to tell each and every one of you. Indeed, I wish I could just sit down with you and talk one on one, just sit there, look each of you in the eye and tell you this: You are a movie star! But not just any movie star. Akin to Stallone, you are writing the script. You are choreographing, you are directing, you are producing the movie. And you are starring in the movie, whether you realize it or not.
Since you are the writer of your movie, I want to urge you to craft a winning script because there are a lot of people writing their movies, but they are not doing it intentionally at all. They wake up in the morning, eat what they have to eat, do what they need to do—just figure out how to get by. They get the job that seems to be available. They marry or don’t marry depending upon what seems to be available. They happen to have some children and try to do the best they can because those things sometimes happen. In short, they just move through life, with the script writing itself. I don’t want you to do that. I want you to start by appreciating where you are today.
You are now a graduate of Texas Tech University. As Chancellor Hance proclaims: That’s a springboard not a diving board! It’s a jumping-off place where you can go to greater heights.
I had an opportunity. I was asked to teach a torts class at Harvard Law School. They call that the Texas Tech of the Northeast! It was quite an enjoyable opportunity for me. But afterwards, I was visiting with the students. Torts is a first-year law school class. So these are students who are just about six months away from where you are now. And as I was visiting with them, I began measuring everything using Texas Tech as a kind of measuring rod. Some of those students could have gotten in here. They were bright men and women. And, I am certainly not taking anything away from them. But what I want to tell you is I hired one student out of that class. I have hired more people than I can count from Texas Tech University. I have hired from Texas Tech for staff in our New York office, our Los Angeles office, and our Palo Alto office, which is right across the street from Stanford University. Nothing personal, but I will put Texas Tech alumni in there every day of the week over graduates who come from what others may think of as “more prestigious institutions.”
So let’s get back to your scriptwriting. I want you to write a winning script, and here’s the key for writing a first-rate script. Are you ready? Here’s the key: Do not peak. Don’t let today be the best day of your life. Don’t be the smartest you’re ever going to be—today. Don’t let today be the end of your learning. Texas Tech, as great a school as it is, has not taught you everything there is to learn. Texas Tech, in providing you a good education, has taught you how to learn. So you take that skill and learn! Make sure that on every day of your life you learn something you didn’t know the day before. Find a hobby. Find a way to expand. Write your script in a way that makes you become all you can be.
Don’t peak. Expand your tool set. Don’t peak physically, don’t peak spiritually, don’t peak emotionally, don’t peak intellectually, don’t ever look back and say "boy, that’s when I was the best I could be." Make every day be a day you get better.
Remember, you are not just writing your script. You are producing it. You are also the director. It’s your movie—you direct it. You get to decide how your movie is put together. So when you direct your movie, do it with no fear. I cannot tell you how many people limit what they do in life out of fear: fear of failure, fear of the unknown, fear of un-comfortableness, or some word that you all will know because you’re closer to English than I am. I won’t peak—I will learn that word by tonight. Don’t let any discomfort lead to fear that will defeat the resolve to direct your movie. Go for it!
Is it easy to get a job today? Oh no—it’s not. But, don’t let fear stop you from getting a job. No! Getting a job is sometimes a numbers game. Statistically, you may have to apply for ten jobs to get one. If that’s the case, apply for twenty to ensure that you will have a choice of which one you want to take.
Take charge! One of the highest paid people in my office doesn’t have a college degree. She is so highly paid because she won’t ever be satisfied until she accomplishes what she wants done. If we have to get something done, we give it to her. I have no doubt in my mind if I needed to talk to Barack Obama for some reason, she could get him on the phone, or she would die trying. You direct your life. Don’t take no for an answer.
When Sylvester Stallone needed a million dollars to make his movie, he went knocking on doors until he found someone who had enough common sense to back him—and make a gazillion dollars. If it’s not working for you, don’t whine about it—fix it. Use your mind, use your creativity, use every resource you can, call in every chit you have—every favor that’s due you. Figure out how to get it done. And don’t take no for an answer until it’s done. You’re directing your movie!
Grab your life and live it. Don’t default into it. Grab each minute, grab each hour, and grab each day, each week, each month, each season, each year. You can never repeat them. But you can do some amazing things with them.
Last point. You’re not just writing it, you’re not just directing it—you are the star. You’re starring in your movie.
What kind of star are you going to be? I want you to be a high-quality star. I want you to be a star that’s well rounded, that has character. You’re going to understand character soon after you get out into the postgraduate world. You are going to find out that people will want to do business with you if they trust you. People of integrity go further in life because they’re reliable. And, if you do what you say you’ll do, you’ll develop a reputation for dependability.
One of the fifty largest companies in the world had wronged my client in a case. I represented this client, who had made a deal with the company, but the company had backed out of the deal—I believe wrongfully—so I brought the suit. The court allowed me to take the deposition, which is the sworn testimony, of the president of the company. I sat in his skyscraper office. Around his big oak conference table, he had eleven lawyers lined up, all wearing 5,000-dollar Oxford suits, and all of them were from the most prestigious law schools in the world. I arrived in Converse All-Stars, a pair of jeans, and a Polo shirt. I had dressed up for them! Polo shirts were expensive in my day.
The president would not shake my hand. He found me disgusting. I sat down, and the court reporter swore him in, and I asked: “Is your name ______?” He said, “Yes, you know that, or you wouldn’t be here.” This is on video. I said, “We’re here in your offices.” He said, “Yeah, you’re in my offices.” And I said, “Sir, where did you grow up?” At this point, he turned his head, and you hear him saying, “Do I have to answer that?” One of his lawyers mutters “yes.” He then looks at me and says, “New York, New York. Why do you care?” And I said, “Sir, I grew up in Lubbock, Texas, and where I grew up my parents taught me some rules. Rule number one was to say ‘yes, sir’ and ‘no, sir’ instead of ‘yeah’ and ‘no,’ and rule number two was to do what you say—that your word is your bond. Did your parents teach you any of that in New York, New York?” Again, turning his head—the president to his lawyers: “Do I have to answer that?” Off camera: “yes.” He looks back at me and says, “No. Why do you care?” I said, “I care because your company has breached its agreement with my client, and I am trying to find out whether you have some bad apples in your company, or whether it is rotten all the way to the top.” He said to me, “Listen to me, boy. I’ve told everybody who works for me if they can get out of an agreement we’ve made and make our company more money, that’s what they’re supposed to do. You got that?” I responded, “I have that, thank you very much. I’m done.” And I got up and walked out. He lost his job subsequently. The jury awarded my client 483 million dollars!
You are the star of your movie. Be a star with integrity, a star with character. Be a star that is growing. Be a star that knows no limits. And I can’t end without telling you one more thing. Since you are directing the movie, you get to pick your co-stars. You are graduating from a great university—network it. You’ll get more jobs from Tech grads than you will anybody else. Plug into your school. Put the bumper sticker on your car. Give five dollars a year if you can’t give more than that just to get in the habit and to stay plugged in. Because that’s what it is about here: These are your co-stars in your movie. Make the network count.
The bottom line is ladies and gentleman—graduates of 2011—you can be a much bigger star than Sylvester Stallone. You can write a better movie. You can produce it, you can direct it, and you can star in it. But the one thing that you’re missing is the rewind button. Because you can’t go back and change what you have done or change what you are doing. So as I close, speaking to my fellow movie stars, I want to urge you to do something. Grab your life and live it. Don’t default into it. Grab each minute, grab each hour, and grab each day, each week, each month, each season, each year. You can never repeat them. But you can do some amazing things with them. And you can do it with pride, because you are a Red Raider—a member of the graduating class of 2011 of Texas Tech University. And I salute you. Congratulations!