Volume 4, Number 2; September 2012
Life's a Buffet: Choose Wisely, Eat Well
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 May 18, 2012, commencement addresses to Texas Tech University graduates in Lubbock, TX.
Written by W. Mark Lanier
What a wonderful night, congratulations to you. I get to address some fantastic people. The degree you're getting tonight is a degree that you not only take with pride tonight, but it's a degree you take with pride the rest of your life. This is a hinge event, a turning event, a corner you turn tonight.
And as I address you, I'm cognizant of the fact that it's 7:30 or so at night. It's dinnertime, so I want to urge you, at this moment, to consider the life before you as an all-you-can-eat buffet. You've got your tray, and you're scoping out the line. You see the little cubes of Jell-O and the salad. You see all the veggies and mashed potatoes. You know there's meat somewhere down there, and at the end there's going to be coconut cream pie. And you've got to decide―how am I going to attack this buffet? I think if I could give you anything at all, if your life is truly a buffet and my analogy holds, then I'm going to suggest the ten rules of buffets à la Mark Lanier. If I'm with you, and we're eating at the buffet, here are the rules we are going to follow:>
- Number Ten: Pick the things you like. Don't waste your time eating stuff that you know is horrible. What's the point? You would never go through a buffet line with your tray and tell the kindly people working there, "Oh, I don't care, just put whatever you like on my plate." That's the sure way to get liver and onions. No one's going to do that. You would never do that in a buffet line, and you should never do that in your life. Don't let someone else tell you how to live your life, and what to do with your life. You make the choices. Don't default into a life where you wake up each day, do the things that have to be done that day, and no more. Dream your dream, and then live it. It's just a matter of choosing to do that and putting the effort behind it.
- Number Nine: Try something new on the buffet line. Now, pickled okra? Who likes pickled okra by looking at it? Nobody, I dare say. It's that putrid color of green, it's slimy, and it's got little horny things on it. It looks almost satanic. But it actually tastes pretty good if you can bring yourself to try it. And, I want you to try something new regularly in your life. Read a book outside of what you would normally read. Take up a new hobby. Decide you're going to develop a skill that you did not have before. Develop a relationship that might seem strange to you―someone outside the norm of whom you might consider a social friend. Do something new, keep growing. Don't let this degree be the apex moment in your life. Let it be a stepping stone to more and more as you continue to grow and learn.
- Number Eight: Run for the hot pizza! If you're at the CiCi's buffet, the kids are going to beat you to the hot pizza, and they're going to leave you getting the cold stuff that's got pineapple on it, that nobody else wants. If you want the pepperoni, you've got to make a run for it. You've got to be looking in the kitchen, and you've got to be figuring out when they're coming out with it and when they're cutting it. And you've got to strategically block the eight year olds from getting there first because they will take every slice. Do not let your lack of preparation, do not let your lack of focus, and do not let your fear keep you from making that decision that has to be made at that moment. Get yourself prepared. There are some times in life where you can sit and contemplate for seemingly an eternity. But there are some decisions in life that you will not make if you don't make them when that opportunity to make the decision is there, and you'll miss it. And the way to make those decisions is to be prepared for them. Have your wits about you and have your eyes open. Be constantly thinking of what's out there and how it might come about. And when you've got that opportunity, don't fail to jump on it because you're afraid.
- Number Seven: Avoid the half-eaten piece of chicken. Our daughter Gracie was four years old, our daughter Rachel two. We were going through the buffet line. I've got the four-year-old, Gracie. Becky, my wife, has the two-year-old, Rachel. There's this massive vat of thick, brown "goo they called gravy." And in that vat are pieces of chicken, waiting for you to select them. This was a self-serve buffet. I was thinking that my four-year-old Gracie likes chicken―so we give her a piece of chicken. We remove a piece of chicken, put it on her plate and I take Gracie over to the table. I sit her down and say, "Stay here, honey; I'm going to go back and help Mommy with your sister." I go back and help Becky with Rachel the two-year-old. As Becky, Rachel and I are coming back to the table, there's no Gracie. I look up and observe our four-year-old coming back from the buffet line with her plate. I said, "Did you go back and get some more food?" She said, "No, Daddy, I took a bite of the chicken, and it didn't taste very good, so I put it back." What's the Dad to do? Oh, I went back, and I rummaged through the dark gravy, looking for that half-eaten piece of chicken, to no avail. Don't eat the half-eaten piece of chicken. What do I mean by that in terms of life? Avoid the garbage. I'm 51 years old and have lost count of the number of friends and acquaintances I know, who have radically messed up their life by eating garbage. And if you said to them, "You're eating garbage," their response would be, "Lighten up, that's okay, and this is me." "The heart is deceitful above all things," Pascal said, and I believe he was correct. Garbage is garbage. Don't eat it, don't drink it, and don't find yourself out of control to it.
- Number Six: We'll do this one quickly, it's not the fun rule. You've got to eat some veggies. Broccoli? It's tolerable. Asparagus? It's okay. Regardless of your taste, those vegetables are important to your health. You need to eat them. There are some things in life you need to do for your own good. They may not be fun, they may not be tasty, they may not look appetizing, but they're what you need. And you want to grow, and you want to develop, and you want to have a body that functions as well as it can. That means you need to do the things that need to be done. You need to make wise choices that help you grow physically, emotionally, spiritually, and socially.
- Number Five: Watch out, watch out! There is someone you don't see who is selling you on that buffet. I want to repeat that. There is someone that you don't see who is selling you that buffet. There's a book that came out four years ago called Nudge, and it talked about all the different ways that social scientists have learned to nudge people's behaviors. And by "nudge," they mean you are put in a position where people are manipulating you to do something without you even realizing it. One of the classic examples is the buffet line. Study after study has shown that people have a tendency to put more of the early buffet items on their plate than the later items. So, restaurants will put those items that are cheaper―where the profit margin is larger―at the front of the line. There's a reason that the first station you come to at the buffet is not prime rib, "I'll take 18 slices of that." You won't get to the prime rib station until your plate's already filled up with the cheap stuff. The lettuces and the powdered mashed potatoes that sprawl out on the plate leaving no room for the expensive meat. It's interesting also that school districts are faced with this perplexing problem with children. Do they put things that help them stay under budget (i.e., the cheap, malnutritious food at the front)? Or, do they nudge the children's behavior to eat nutritious food putting it at the front even if it costs them their budget? That's a side issue. I'm just telling you that you are in the plans of other people. And there are people who will try to use you, manipulate you, and abuse you. Now, that's not the most positive or encouraging thing to share, but it's the truth. And my encouragement to you is not only avoid being that kind that kind of person, but also live your life with your eyes open. See things for what they really are.
- Number Four: There is no such thing as a free lunch. You will have to pay the bill for your buffet. Everything comes at a price. When you have a decision to make, you can do a cost/benefit analysis. How much is this going to cost me? What are the benefits that I will derive from this? Is this action socially redeemable? Is this action beneficial? As you weigh the benefits, as you consider the costs, your decision-making should become not only well informed, but also wiser.
- Number Three: Save room for dessert. All work and no play makes for a dull girl or boy. There is a time to have fun in life. Tonight is one of them. There is a time to sit back and enjoy the moment. Oh yes, the speaker goes on too long with this petty little thing about food―it is after all, time to eat. But you need to enjoy the moment. What you've done is no small thing. You've stuck it out, you've endured long nights. Just getting into college is a major accomplishment. Finishing is amazing. You've got to be able to enjoy life― it goes by way too fast. Rewards are an important part of it.
- Number Two: Don't be a glutton. If you live your life trying to figure out how to feed yourself, and only yourself and if your life is targeted around your appetite and your desires and your wants, your life will be poorer. As will the lives of those around you. There's not a person in here that doesn't have a talent and doesn't have a gift and doesn't have unique abilities. In other words, you will have unique opportunities to help change the world. It's an incredible calling, and it's an incredible chance that each one of you holds. I urge you to find it. Live your life with others in mind.
- Number One: Find a fun table. After you've gone through the buffet line―after you've gotten your food and after you've paid the bill, or at least gotten the check knowing how much it will be later, find a really fun table. Sit down with your family. Sit down with your friends and enjoy a really fun meal. Life is best when it's spent in the companionship of others. The people you've met along life's way. Indeed, the people you've met at Texas Tech are contact people for you that you should keep forever. I asked Chancellor Hance, a 1965 graduate of Texas Tech University: "Did you know Regent Turner, who graduated three years later in 1968?" He said, "Know him? He was in my dorm. He was next door to me." And then he thought for a moment and said, "And if I'd have known he was going to be chairman of the Board of Regents, I wouldn't have yelled at him so much to turn down his music." The relationships you make are relationships that you can choose to have thirty, forty and God willing, fifty years down the road. This is your network, and it's poised to function. These are people who can help you find a job, get a job, keep a job. These are people who can help you identify issues and problems and opportunities. We live in a social networking age. There are more ways to socially network on your cellular phone than I ever could have expected when I was graduating. Use them. Don't lose track of your network, and don't lose track of your school. Anything you do to help Texas Tech University―even giving five dollars out of each paycheck―helps to bolster your own degree.
The Big Three
Summarizing, my admonishment to you is this: Life's a buffet. The food is set out, and the buffet is all before you. I trust that you are hungry. And, I trust that you are ready. And, I urge you to go feast for the rest of your life. God bless you and congratulations!
In the Provost's Charge to the TTU graduates on May 18, 2012, the new TTU alumni were admonished to:
- Stop occasionally to remind themselves of the wisdom of TTU Board of Regents Chair Jerry Turner, TTU Chancellor Kent Hance, and Commencement Speaker Mark Lanier.
- Remember those who care for you, especially TTU faculty members and family members
- Remember the learning that occurred at TTU
- But, always remember: Learning—in and of itself—is not wisdom
- Wisdom comes with service
- Service is motivated by caring for others and our environment
- Service is fueled by a focus on the future
- Service is reinforced by humility
- Pursue your journey of lifelong learning
- Always seek wisdom
- Always care about others and our environment
- Constantly give yourself away
- Always, with humility, empathy, and beneficence
- Bon voyage et bonne chance!