5 ways to stay grounded in the midst of chaos

Commencement: My advice for the University of Great Falls class of 2016. What life lessons would you share with our new graduates?

Tom Brokaw once said the greatest generation is the World War II generation, the people who came of age during the Great Depression and later went on to build modern America. While he wrote a classic book on the topic, I respectfully disagree with his thesis.

It’s true that my parents’ generation worked hard and made a lot of sacrifices to make our country what it is today. But I would argue that the greatest generation is always the one right in front of us, the one coming of age at any given time.

Young people – who are beginning to chart a course of their own and find their purpose in life – are always our greatest hope for the future. We need every generation to succeed and contribute their talents to the world.

That’s why I find our education ministries at Providence so inspiring. We operate two schools: Providence High School in Burbank, Calif., and the University of Great Falls in Great Falls, Montana.

Whenever people ask me why a health system is involved in education, I always say one reason is that it helps us to stay plugged into what young people are thinking and gives us fresh ideas and a sense of where the future is headed.

I feel recharged any time I visit our schools and was absolutely delighted when Sister Lucille Dean, SP, who served as interim president of our university this past year, invited me to Great Falls to give the commencement address to the class of 2016. We sent off 180 graduates, and it was an honor to be there for that special occasion with the students, their families and the faculty.

A noisy, fast-paced world

In preparing for the speech, I thought about the challenges today’s young people face. The world is moving faster than ever. For instance, the concept of a “billion” once seemed unfathomable. But just this morning alone, there were more than a billion searches on Google. And in the last minute, there were 701,389 Facebook logins, 69,444 Netflix hours watched, 1,389 Uber rides and 203,596 Amazon sales.

I also thought about what’s happening in national politics. Though rancor in presidential elections is nothing new, this year’s race can feel like a circus. It’s the constant news feed on social media and cable news. We can’t seem to get away from it.

Knowing we live in a noisy, fast paced world, I decided to talk with our graduates about five principles that have always helped me find calm in the middle of chaos. Here’s what I shared with them.

1. Be a guardian of your own health.

On one hand there have been incredible advances in science that will allow us to live longer, healthier lives. We can now sequence the complete human genome in hours, soon-to-be minutes, and we are on the verge of finding the cure for cancer. On the other hand, the key to a long, healthy life often comes down to the way we live our lives. There are cultures around the world that have known this for generations. According to the book Blue Zones, places like Sardinia and Okinawa are among the healthiest on the planet. And guess what? They probably don’t have gene sequencing there. Their secret is to stay connected with family and friends, have faith in a higher power, whatever that is for you, and live life in moderation. The length and quality of our lives is tied to choices we make. It’s tied directly to the way we live our lives.

2. Every now and then, go on a pilgrimage.

Life is a journey. Try to give each step meaning and purpose. We sometimes drift, but don’t allow this to happen for too long without getting control of your rudder. Take a pilgrimage at some point in your life. Go somewhere that takes you away from your regular routine and allows you to see the world – and yourself – in a different way. As someone told me, you begin a pilgrimage with your feet through the steps you take, and you end with a full heart through what you discover about yourself and the world around you. I recently journeyed from Lourdes to Lyon, France. Lourdes is a very special place, especially for the vulnerable and sick. Devotion and faith are palpable there. It was a powerful experience. Find your pilgrimage in your life. Take a walk through a special place and time. Slow down and reflect. Observe, contemplate, and get in touch with your faith and spirituality. It will pay dividends for your whole life.

3. Set a vision for yourself and keep revising your plan along the way.

Having a direction obviously helps, but don’t worry about the initial course. You will change it several times. Find mentors in your life to help you set this course. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Books by David Brooks have been among my guideposts. The Road to Character and Humility Code offer a standard for navigating life. “In the struggle against your own weakness, humility is the greatest virtue,” he said. He also gives us permission to stumble. “We are made whole by the struggle.”

4. Spend time volunteering. You will ensure your own riches.

When we volunteer, it’s not about what we give. It’s about what we receive in return. Tim Shriver, chairman of the Special Olympics, said we often make the wrong assumptions about who is strong and powerful in this world and who is weak and vulnerable. The kids who participate in the Special Olympics teach him every day about what strength and power really means, and he says the inspiration he receives from them is far greater than anything he gives back in terms of time and resources.

Dr. Paul Farmer is another person who shares this view. He has dedicated his life to improving health in Haiti. “The idea that some lives matter more than others is the root of all that is wrong with the world,” is a famous quote of his that has been an inspiration to me and many physicians around the world. Like many people at Providence, I have spent time volunteering in Guatemala, and I think many of us would agree that we gain as much, if not more from the experience, than the people we are there to serve. So give of yourself. Get your hands dirty. Work among the poor. Take on the challenge of protecting our environment. Volunteer to make a change, and see how it changes you.

5. Be a lifelong learner.

Nelson Mandela once said, “I never lose. Either I win or I learn.” Find the lessons all around you. Don’t get discouraged when things don’t work out. Instead try to see what life is trying to teach you. And don’t forget the power of books and what you can learn from them. Recently I read Boys in the Boat by Dan Brown. It’s a story of redemption and finding the fortitude to go on when things get hard. The crew boat is also a metaphor for working together. Picking up that book was just what I needed to hear and learn at that point I time in my life. You can find inspiration and lessons all around you, so never stop reading, never stop learning.

What advice would you share with our students and new grads?

We all have daily practices or life lessons that have gotten us to where we are today. These five truisms have served me well over the years. What are yours? What advice do you have for the class of 2016 or any of the students in our schools today? Share your tips in the comments section below. It will be fun to see what all of you have learned about what makes a good and happy life.

Please join me wishing all the best to our class of 2016 at the University of Great Falls and at Providence High School, and a special thank you to our leadership and faculty at the schools for all they do to help educate and develop our young people.


Congratulations to our graduates. We are so proud of you and can’t wait to see what you contribute to the world.



Thank you, Sister Lucille Dean, for selecting me for an honorary degree and for all you do for Providence. You are a model in common courage.



Providence Chief Nursing Officer Deb Burton and I had the honor of participating in the annual tree planting, a baccalaureate tradition.

  1. Love your thought that “Young people – who are beginning to chart a course of their own and find their purpose in life – are always our greatest hope for the future.” Wonderful speech – your advice is good for people at any stage of life.

    My advice to graduates is from Eleanor Roosevelt: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” I would go further and say that each person has a unique way of looking at the world – believe in your unique ability to envision something beautiful and make it happen. Take advice but filter it and don’t let naysayers discourage you. Adapt, adjust, but keep moving forward in pursuit of your dreams.

    One person with vision, passion and elbow grease really can make a positive difference – at home, in the local community, across a state or country or internationally.

  2. I appreciate all the great suggestions made above. I would like to add one more: practice mindfulness. My favorite – mindful breathing.

    I would encourage anyone, if they had the opportunity, to take an 8 week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class. It will make a profound difference to the way you experience and respond to the world. You will learn techniques to make a peaceful appraisal and considered response to what is going on inside you and around you, rather than a knee jerk reaction.

    I used to find myself knocked sideways by stress. Practicing MBSR techinques has enabled me to walk a peaceful path through chaos.

    To find out more about this and find classes in your area, Google MSBR. Here’s just one source in WA: http://www.mindfulnessnorthwest.com/MBSR – There are many in OR, CA, and MT, and the Alaska Center for Mindfulness is a great AK resource.

    Perhaps we could add these classes, or a discount to the cost of the classes, to our well-being benefits.

  3. Thank you for these insiring words, Rod. My recent pilgrimage was driving across the country with our older daughter to bring me here to begin my work with Providence in Seattle. We saw family, friends, and national parks (Badlands, Rushmore, Yellowstone/Old Faithful). We also saw special places including where my father and grandmother grew up (St. Paul and New Ulm, MN) and where my grandfather spent his early career as Executive Director of the St. Paul YMCA. It was a really special time for us together, to see places of our heritage and new places in this beautiful country. We ran out of ways to say “wow”, and were continually struck by the handiwork of God. I am thrilled to be here, and grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the important work being done here at Providence.

    • Road trips are always a great experience. Sounds like a wonderful trip. Welcome.

  4. Rod, this blog was very moving and inspiring. Thank you for sharing from the heart, this beautiful summary of your top life lessons learned.

  5. That’s the advice I do wish to hear 32 years ago:>)

    Good speech


  6. Thank you, Dr. Hochman. I have traveled to every major acute care center in the Providence system and am currently working in one of our ambulatory centers. In each location there is the “Provident (Providence) Spirit” and by that I do not mean simply placards gracing the walls or blue and orange badges disclosing a kind of enterprise unity. It’s the heart and soul of the caregivers and the power of the vision. For the last three years I have been privileged to experience this same spirit suffuse Providence High School in Burbank as well. The educational caregivers at Providence are among the finest “teachers” my family has ever known and my daughter has ever experienced. It dawned on me after listening to your speech and reading your blog, that in addition to our schools being a part of the Providence vision and pulse of society, they are also keenly integrated into another hue to the continuum of care: educate, inspire, demonstrate, enrich. Portions of my daughter’s gifts, talents, and dreams have come alive as a result of the “care” she has received at Providence High. I believe that your 5 Tools should be shared with each new graduate, emblazoned on some form of permanent memento to be presented, in addition to their diploma, as a roadmap toward their collective future. Thank you for your leadership and commitment.

    • Thank you for your comments. Wonderful to hear you are seeing your daughter’s gifts come alive. Our high school is a treasure. Thank you for choosing it for her education.

  7. My advice for staying grounded in a busy world: Connect with nature. Start your busy day with a morning walk, run, or bike. Breathe fresh air and relish the morning silence. Notice the “small things” like new leaves on the trees and dew drops on spiderwebs. If you can break away from mid-day chaos or stress, take a walk outside on a nearby trail system if possible. These are the best times for me to recharge and reflect.

    Congrats, graduates!

  8. To the class of 2016:

    by Rudyard Kipling, originally published in 1895

    If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
    If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
    If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
    Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

    If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
    If you can meet with triumph and disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;
    If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
    Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
    And stoop and build ‘em up with wornout tools;

    If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
    And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
    If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
    And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

    If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with kings—nor lose the common touch;
    If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
    If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run—
    Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

  9. From the Ignatian tradtion, i encourage you to take time every day for an examination of consciousness. Stop and look over your day, seeing where God was present, or, in more secular terms, where you have been happyk alive, excited, or scared, sad, lonely…note igh and low points and take a moment to be grateful, and/or to ask for help.

    this awareness of my life helps keep me alive and it can for you!

  10. Build your own future. Whatever you want to do can be done. Continue to search for those ways and work towards a goal. Progress toward a goal motivates us, keeps us focused, helps us continue learning, and opens up new avenues and opportunities.

    Be a part of your world. Don’t hold back your opinion, ideas, and questions. We need to hear how our world is changing to continue building our history.

    Slow down occasionally and reflect. Reflect on what you’ve learned, what you still want to learn, where you are in life, and where you want to go.

  11. Rod, first think you for leading with your heart and years of wisdom. You walk the talk. It’s beautiful and inspiring.

    I like what you said on humility and it certainly is something we learn through our challenges.

    To class of 2016.
    Congratulations on making it to this point! For some of you these journey more trials than we will ever know. Giving you the biggest mom hug ever. Some of you don’t have someone to celebrate this achievement with or don’t think deserving. You are worth it. You are awesome!

    My few nuggets of wisdom:
    1. It’s ok to be imperfect. Embrace it and love yourself despite and because of these imperfections. Love yourself unconditionally.
    2. Find a place that centers your soul. For me it’s the ocean or Guatemala. These places refresh to my deepest parts.
    3. Be brave to be you above all. People will tell who you should be. Fight to hear the voice within and keep creating “your vision”.

    My heart is compelled to send this to the graduate without a mom or dad present.

    You are loved beyond measure.

  12. As the next generation to lead our world, I say:

    Be a person of your word. “Let your yes be a yes and your no be a no.” Matthew 5:37

    This will go far in your life with your work, your children, your relationships.

    And remember: “Absolutely everything happens for a reason.” William E. Robbins

    Work with what is in front of you and live in the moment. Use what is happening right now to make you a better person and a better leader.

  13. I have many principles I try to follow. Here are the 3 key ones, all of which are quotes from others:

    * “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier”- Colin Powell

    * “Alone we can do so little: together we can do so much” – Helen Keller

    * “Never, Never, Never give up” – Winston Churchill

  14. To the 2016 graduates of the University of Great Falls congratulations on your successful achievement. As you go forward, I would recommend you consider the following:
    1. Honor your God by helping others.
    2. Stay true to yourself and core values.
    3. Leave this world in a better position than when you were born.
    4. Have fun and enjoy the beauty surrounding you.
    5. Respect the wisdom of those who have lived before you.

    God Bless