Hardy Pickering: Succeed As You Really Want To

June 4, 2016

Vanessa Hardy Pickering head shot Sept 2015_opt “You don’t succeed because you’re the smartest, or the strongest, or the fastest, or the prettiest, you succeed because you really want to,” Hamilton Re’s Chief Financial Officer Vanessa Hardy Pickering told Saltus’ graduating class.

Ms Hardy Pickering — who was among the first female students when Saltus went co-ed 25 years ago — was the guest speaker at this year’s Saltus graduation, which saw 54 students celebrate their graduation at the Anglican Cathedral on Thursday night.

Ms Hardy Pickering said, “I’m really delighted to be here with you this afternoon. Looking out over the rows of teachers and students brings back a lot of very fond memories of my time at Saltus.

“It hasn’t been that long since I was sitting right where you are. If you’re anything like I was, you’re probably feeling a mix of emotions: Excited and relieved to be graduating; nervous about what you’re going to do next; sad to be leaving your friends and family.

“I wasn’t exactly a model student. You wouldn’t have found my name at the top of the class or on the list of prefects. I’m sure a lot of my teachers wouldn’t have expected me to end up in the kind of job that I have today.

“While I’ve had much success since I graduated from Saltus, I’ve also had a lot of failure.

“Failure is hard. It feels awful – especially awful if you’ve tried your hardest and you still fail. But I can tell you from personal experience that it’s how you react to failure that’s important.

“Do you throw your hands up and say “That’s it! I’m done!” Or do you say “OK – that sucks, but I know I can do this.”

“If you tend to have the second reaction, then you know how to persevere.

“And that’s what I’m going to talk to you about today. The subject is perseverance, which really means: you can do it when you try.

“And while I’m talking, I’d like you to remember the last part of that sentence: “…when you try.” I’ll come back to that in a few minutes.

“Some members of the graduating class have given me their thoughts about perseverence and examples of when they had to keep on trying even though things were really hard.

“Riley Tannock says that perseverance is being able to find the will to continue and go on, even though the odds may not be in your favor, or when you mentally believe you cannot go any longer.

“Riley described a Duke of Edinburgh expedition he was on. After slogging through pouring rain for most of the trip, and after a cold and wet night with blistered feet and an aching body, he was able to get up the next day and walk another 10 miles.

“Even though Riley felt exhausted and stressed, he overcame a mental block about how difficult the expedition was, and how uncomfortable he was, and finished his trek.

“Zhanae’ Simmons says perseverance means continuing to try to achieve a goal, no matter how difficult or time consuming, until it’s done to the best of your ability. Zhanae’ says she needed to persevere when she transitioned from GCSEs to APs.

“After GCSEs, she thought all the hard work was over. But once she saw what she was in for in her AP courses, her attitude changed. The amount of material she had to learn for two years was overwhelming. She felt discouraged.

“Did she throw her hands up and say “That’s it! I’m done.”? You know the answer’s ‘no.’ Zhanae’ kept reviewing her study material, her test grades got better, and she realized that APs weren’t as bad as she’d thought.

“One more example: Katie Beaulne says that perseverance means giving up isn’t an option. She says perseverance is setting goals for yourself no matter how small, and accomplishing them one by one, in attempt to make it to a much larger goal.

“Katie uses dates as goals. She recently went through several large operations that had some complications. Recovery was long and tedious. But giving up wasn’t an option, even though Katie wanted nothing more than to be done with it all.

“So, she began setting herself goals, things to look forward to. She told herself that if she just made it to the next date – usually a doctor’ s appointment – she’d be okay.

“She kept pushing herself further and further and just kept going until she made it to the end. She says that by then, the experience didn’t seem that bad.

“Katie’s description of perseverance really struck a chord with me.

“I told you that I wasn’t one of the best students at Saltus. One of the reasons that I struggled in school was that from age 12 until I was 16, I suffered from scoliosis.

“Some of you may know that scoliosis is a curvature of the spine. It can be treated with surgery or by wearing a back brace.

“For four years, I wore a hard plastic brace that stretched the length of my back and from my waist to my chest. I wore this thing 24/7. The only time I took it off was to shower and when I was in dance class or doing sports. Other than that I wore it all day, every day!

“I had a lot of doctors’ appointments, missed a lot of school and was in a lot of pain a lot of the time. It really sucked.

“But I had the support of my family, teachers and my friends, and giving up wasn’t an option. I wanted to graduate, and not going to university for me personally was not an option. And that’s what I did.

“Now this might be where you expect me to say “and since then, I’ve focused and succeeded, and now I’m the Chief Financial Officer of one of Bermuda’s best reinsurance companies.” That’s not what happened.

“After I left Saltus, I went to Acadia University to study for a degree in business. My first year was difficult – mainly because I just wasn’t trying very hard.

“I couldn’t figure out how to buckle down and really focus on what I was doing. It took me some time to realize that part of the problem was I hadn’t found a way to study that worked for me.

“My professors and my friends kept telling me to write copius notes and go to the library to study for hours on end. This didn’t work for me. What did work was reading material before I went in to class and then really participating with the professor and my class mates.

“I started to choose subjects where there would be smaller classes and where interaction would play a major role.

“I also learned that if I was told I couldn’t do something, it was like a red flag to a bull. I once signed up for a financial derivatives course, and the professor told me I would find it challenging as it was for finance majors and I should consider withdrawing.

“I ended up getting an A in that class. No one was going to tell me I couldn’t do something! Now this might be where I tell you it’s all been smooth sailing since this particular epiphany. But – no.

“After I graduated from Acadia, I joined Ernst & Young. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be an accountant but it was a good way to use my degree in business.

“I had to study for a professional qualification if I wanted to stay with this firm, so I took courses to earn the CPA designation – and the first time I took the exams, I failed. There are several modules in the CPA exams. One of them is tax, and I failed that exam three times.

“The main reason I failed was I just didn’t try hard enough, I was too focused on my work and not on my studies. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do it. I just didn’t want it enough to give it my best shot.

“That’s the thing about perseverance. There comes a point during hardship when you have to make a decision. Do you give up? Do you keep on going? What helps you make that decision?

“I know Riley, Zhanae’ and Katie all reached that point in the last few years. I know every single person here today has, too. Every mother, father, teacher and friend has faced times when he or she didn’t know if they could go on, or if they wanted to.

“And graduating class, you’re going to face those moments, too – those moments when you’ll have to decide how much you want something. Because that’s what makes the difference between success and failure, between getting stuck in a rut and moving forward.

“You don’t succeed because you’re the smartest, or the strongest, or the fastest, or the prettiest. You succeed because you really want to. This may sound simple. But I know from experience it’s not.

“It’s taken me years to learn how to recognize what really matters to me and what will drive me to give my best. The ability to do this led me to a job I love. Learning to recognize what you care about is critical. Only a passion for what you’re doing will get you through the really rough times.

“And just as important is learning that there are no short cuts through hardship.

“Riley knew he couldn’t skip several miles of his expedition if he wanted to earn the Duke of Edinburgh award, and Katie understood that she couldn’t skip doctors’ appointments if she wanted to complete her recovery.

Saltus Graduation 2016 Bermuda June 3 2016

“The only way to overcome a hardship – the only way to truly succeed – is to persevere. To you graduates, this applies to any profession that you’re going to enter. It applies to any type of job, anywhere in the world. It applies to any circumstance you might find yourself in.

‘And when you figure out what matters to you most, the ‘trying hard’ part is actually a lot of fun – because you’re doing something you really want to do.

“I asked you to remember the phrase “…when you try”. Usually people say “You can make it if you try.” There should be no “ifs” in persevere.

“You can make it when you try. Assume you’re going to. Focus on the end game. Take it step-by-step, and set small goals, like Katie did.

“Know that the playing field isn’t always level. Someone is always going to get preferential treatment, and it’s not going to be fair.

“For example, women in business still don’t earn equal pay for equal work. We’re still underrepresented in the C-suite and in the boardroom. But things are much better than they were. I’m an example of that. We’ve come a long way in honouring and recognizing the value in diversity and inclusion but we still have a way to go. Don’t be deterred.

“My company, Hamilton Re, has a culture built on what we call First Principles. These are behaviours that we assume are basic to working at Hamilton. Our First Principles are Be smart, Be sensible, Be open and Be more. I think the last one – Be more – is the most important.

“When we say Be more, we mean you can always do more than you think you can. When you really push yourself, you can accomplish things you’d never imagine. When you don’t yield to the temptation to give up, you’ll succeed in ways you never thought possible. In other words, you can make it when you try.

“In closing, I’d like to urge every graduate here to think of who made it possible for you to earn your diploma, and make sure you thank them. Because you can be sure there were times when they felt they’d failed you, or hadn’t given you all that you needed. But they didn’t give up, because they knew what mattered most to them. Because of you, they persevered.

“Graduates I wish you the best of luck with the journey you are about to embark on.

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  1. Acegirl says:

    Excellent words of encouragement! Just what my child needs to hear; didn’t have a great first year of university. I will give him this this read so that he will persevere!