A Life Worth Building

Today I had the pleasure of speaking to high school students participating in the SA Works Job Shadow Day organized by the Mays Center for Experiential Learning and Community Engagement at A&M-San Antonio. I thought I’d share a copy of my remarks with hopes that it may inspire you as well. Enjoy!


Good afternoon. My name is Ashley Spicer-Runnels and I am very grateful to have the opportunity to speak to you today. As I prepared my remarks I tried a variety of strategies, including thinking back to when I was your age, thinking of what I would tell my children who are just a few years younger that you, and thinking of what I think you should be told, but I realized that the most powerful message I can give you in this space and in this time is one that is authentic.

Your generation is cultivating some of the most powerful leaders who, with no doubt in my mind, will change not only the world we live in, but the world that is to come. As we understand it, you are motivated by making a difference, you support inclusion, and you are more aware of what is happening in the world than any other generation before you among many other traits. And although it is not fair to generalize any collective group of people, you should know that the potential we see in the whole means that we see the potential within you. Today I want to share four concepts I hope contribute to your experience today and those in the future.

Never limit yourself because of others limited imagination. – Mae Jemison

Walt Disney once said, “first, think, second, dream, third, believe, and finally dare.” Your goals and dreams are seeds planted in your mind for a reason, and although they may not come to be exactly as you’ve imagined them, the daring act of putting work into those dreams will lead to something great. Listen and learn from those around you, but know that the future you are building may include jobs that are not yet created for problems or purposes that are not yet discovered.

50% of any relationship is 100% you. – Ashley Spicer-Runnels

Maya Angelou once said, “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will not forget how you made them feel”. Think about the interactions you’ve had with people today. How do you think you made them feel? One of the greatest gifts you can give to someone is to be present at the moment with them. When you are talking with friends, family, teachers, or simply the person at the grocery store try your best to be fully at that moment. In a world where social media has influenced the meaning of interactions, you should remember Maya Angelou’s words. People will remember when you are fully present with them, and as a result, they will remember you. Although talent and hard work are timeless, you’ve got to know that who you know matters too.

Excellence is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well. – John Gardner

Our world is incredibly complex and the expectations placed upon you can be heavy. Whether you’re working multiple jobs, taking care of family members, being involved, or just trying to find yourself you’re doing a lot and are probably expected to do even more, but know that it’s the small things in life that have the greatest impact. The actions you take today and the lessons you learn are all stones helping you build your future. Take pride in your ordinary actions. Whether it’s making the bed, being kind to one more person than you were yesterday, or putting your best effort into the work that you do. Remember excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better (Pat Riley).   

Honor the space between no longer and not yet. – Nancy Levin

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine life beyond the chapter you are in at the moment and too often we measure our value by the things we do rather than the people we are and hope to become. Either way, we each sacrifice important aspects of our lives when we don’t take the time to honor the moments we’re in. Whether it’s acknowledging something new you’ve learned, appreciating moments with family or friends, or simply feeling better about yourself, this moment in time is full of memories to collect and lessons to learn and grow from. You should always allow yourself to be the most authentic version of yourself at this moment because you’ll never have this moment again. Be open to new opportunities and experiences, take healthy risks, and know that success is defined differently by every person who has ever walked the planet.

As I prepare to close, know that even though I may not know you, I’m rooting for you and I can say with absolute certainty that everyone I know, including those in this room, are as well. The beauty of community means that when you succeed, we all succeed. I encourage you to remember to never limit your imagination, be fully present, always do your best, and live in the moment.

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