Robert Dilenschneider
Robert Dilenschneider

The following comments were recently delivered by The Dilenschneider Group founder and chairman Bob Dilenschneider to 250 graduating students at The University of New Haven:

We all make hundreds of decisions everyday—some small, some significant— that mark our lives. How you make those decisions is critical to your future.

Many of our decisions are routine. They interest no one except us and those around us. When to get up, what to wear, what to eat for breakfast and so on. But even these mundane and routine decisions are not random. What to wear, for example, depends not only on what you will be doing that day, but also how you want the world to see you.

And of course, you also make plenty of personal decisions that are enormously significant—that are foundational to your life and the people you love. Some decisions are good and some, mistakes.

Now, many people do not like to make decisions. They even dread knowing that there are decisions to be faced. These people either avoid decisions entirely, or they dither and are indecisive. This common behavior leads nowhere. Do not let this happen to you.

Most of you will go into the world of work.

That will require you to make three critical decisions:

First, make sure you do something you really want to do. Nothing is worse than being in a job you do not like. And make sure you like the people you will be working with. It's hard to do a good job when you are surrounded by unpleasant people.

Second, make sure you locate in a geographic region you want to be in.

And above all, make sure you are doing something worthwhile, that you are contributing to the common good. We need that—we need that urgently in life today.

Early next year I will be publishing a book called Decisions that tells the stories of 23 individuals who made choices that shaped the world, and whose stories stretch over time, from 218 BC to right now.

I believe the lessons these 23 people teach and the ideas they offer can make your careers more productive and your daily life better. That is fundamental, because when you enjoy doing something, you want to do it well and you want to constantly improve how you do it.

Because history has so much to teach us—and because history is formed by fellow human beings—the stories I tell in my book are about people whose decisions changed the world. The decisions offer lessons to each one of us.

Take Harry Truman, who changed history in a way that shaped the world we live in today. Truman was a self-educated, plain-spoken, unassuming man who never expected to get where he got in life but was graceful and grateful when he did.

Yet this 33rd American President made a breathtaking, heart-stopping, audacious decision in 1945 that reverberates worldwide to this day. Did Truman realize that decision would unfold in the 21st Century? Probably not.

You and I probably do not realize what life and the lives of the people close to us will be like 20 years from now. But that said, we should at least try to think of what lies ahead and the impact that what we do will have on the future.

The book treats 22 other people, like Pablo Picasso, Eli Wiesel, Mahatma Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, Joan of Arc, A.P. Giannini, Henry Ford, Howard Johnson, Rachel Carson, Julius Caesar, John F. Kennedy, Muhammad Ali and Martin Luther.

Each of us, like Caesar, has a Rubicon to cross. We all have a certain set of decisions to make that could, properly done, lead to a better life for each of us and indeed a better world.

If you pursue the simple guidelines that these people offer, the minutes and hours and days—the years—that lie ahead for you are going to be more positive and exciting.

Believe me, it's worth the effort.

On decision-making, here are some important lessons to know:

• Once you have decided and taken action, you should never look back.

• Always step forward and use your talent to underscore the importance of doing the right thing.

• Keep the decisions you need to make in perspective.

• Stick to your objective no matter what the barriers and problems.

• Do not be afraid to dream and to let your imagination guide your actions.

• Make sure you listen to and take care of those who support you.

• Do your research and always be aware of the external conditions in which you operate.

• Think outside the box.

• Involve others in your efforts.

• And always, develop your conscience.

George W. Bush famously said, "I'm the decider." Well, now you are the decider.

The future is in front of you.

Go for it and make the right decisions.


Robert L. Dilenschneider is founder and chairman of The Dilenschneider Group, a global public relations and communications consulting firm headquartered in New York City. The former CEO of Hill and Knowlton, Inc., he is also author of more than a dozen books, including the best-selling “Power and Influence.”