My Story: Faith, Laughs, And Motivation At Stanford & Beyond

George Hayward (middle, in jacket) with organizers of the Feb. 17 Talk to Em event at Stanford. “If we can do a 300-person room and only two people walk away feeling a little bit better, that has made it all worthwhile,” he says. Courtesy photo

Both law school and business school people are very driven. One big difference is that things are a little more linear in the law school, because you must get a JD in most states to become a lawyer. But you don’t need an MBA to start a business. In fact most people who start a business don’t have an MBA, and so because it doesn’t have that linearity, it’s gotta be more wide open, and if you come to business school with that linearity in mind — if you say, “If I take these six courses, I will surely be successful” — that’s a huge mistake. It’s a complete waste. But if you come here and say, “Here are three things that I want to focus on over the next two years, and I am hoping to find people who can help me focus on those things, wherever they may take me in three dimensions,” it’s good. But in law school I don’t think the first-year curriculum has changed in seven years: Contracts, Constitutional Law, Property, these classes you just have to take and learn, and there’s kind of a committed community in that.

Both groups are extremely impressive, but what they do is very different. And then the other thing which I’m a big believer in is, you can’t let people and institutions define you. You look at (PayPal co-founder) Peter Thiel, that’s a law school person who is now basically being asked to talk at a business school. Or you look at a guy like Lloyd Blankfein who is a law school person but is leading Goldman Sachs. You can find lots of business people who are making interesting inroads in law.

The (Feb. 17) comedy show was very difficult because you had to bring in two different schools that don’t know each other. The crowd was very sober. And it’s in a lecture hall, which is not the ideal setting for comedic stuff. But we had good vibes, and there were some things that had to be said. For instance, a Low Pass — they have a deleterious effect on students’ psyche, and that’s not what we want. What you want is for people to change the world. And the way people change the world is by believing in themselves. This is not zero-sum. So when I tell you, “This is how you change the world, this is what a Low Pass is,” can you imagine giving someone a Low Pass in a Leadership class? It’s like, “I get into business school, it said I’m not a good leader, that’s it!” What I want is for everyone to do what their God-given gifts are, and we’ll see what happens. Things like Low Passes, things like overly structured rules in creative environments, are basically not so good.

There have many challenges for me. Most people who tell jokes have had periods where they felt sad or when they dealt with things that made them sad. This means that you have to grapple with some of life’s stuff. And so for me, it’s that my father was always ill, and I’m a person who has to fix things, but I could never fix the medical situations that he was in. He eventually passed away in 2010, and I had to deal with that. But when I look back on it, I also see some positives with it, because it taught me a lot of things.

First of all, it taught me not to be complacent about things like five-year plans. If you come to a school like this, everyone talks about a five-year plan. You might not be here in five years. Some things have to be done now. My father didn’t always have five years. When you live with that, you think about that.

George Hayward. Courtesy photo

Number two, my mother, who I’m very close with — I call her my main girl Jennifer — she helped when I was in high school and I didn’t fit in very well. My mother was very protective, she was like, “Baby, you’re going to be great. You don’t have a girl, one day you will!” When my father was sick, she had to do a bunch of jobs — she was a buss monitor, she worked at the White Plains Public Library as a book shelver. She came home one day so upset because someone had thrown down a book and pointed at her to pick it up, and she was so disrespected — and as a young man, you feel like you have to one day do something for her to make it better. That’s a story that you can hear in a lot of places.

We didn’t have a ton of money, but we had big perspective. So for example, my father went to Harvard Law School, my mother was a fashion designer who graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology and she emigrated here from Jamaica and had these very wide perspectives.But my father ended up getting sick and things changed and it was hard to work, and all the money guest bills, so I always could see the idea of pulling yourself up from your bootstraps — I understood that idea. I understand the philosophy that goes with that. But I couldn’t only see that because I saw my father and what a tough time he had. We were a very positive family, we would joke about things, we kept it on the lighter side, and we kept on being persistent, and so we kept on going. But a couple of the big values were, No. 1, don’t let people define you, and my father was always big on that, and No. 2, never give up. And then you have to have a certain positivity because you don’t know what tomorrow is gonna bring. There were so many times when something would just break my heart, and then it was the best thing for me.

Failures are common, but they’re never discussed. That’s part of what I try to do with humor. This is discussed in the scientific community all the time: They only publish what works and not the failed hypotheses. But you can learn from failures, so I try to remove some of the stigmas attached to them.

I once went to a talk many years ago with Garry Kasparov, the chess master. He’s a really interesting guy and one of the things he said that I never forgot is, he spends more time analyzing his losses in chess than his wins. Why? someone asked. And he said, “Because in the wins, you don’t usually diagnose the problems, because you don’t see them because you won. They’re much clearer in the losses.” That’s what sort of happened with Democrats in the last eight years. President Obama is a preternatural campaigner, and we were so happy to see him in the White House that we maybe could have looked a little closer at what was going on at the local and state levels. Now Republicans are two or three states away from having the power to amend the Constitution through the states. What Democrats need to is focus less on Donald Trump and more on what is the positive thing a Democrat can bring to somebody in the Midwest? It can be done and I think it will be done, but this is a situation where you have to also look at yourself and figure out what changes to make.

But that said, I don’t want to over-learn the message of 2016, because it was a very close election. In a couple states, if you look at Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, with a little bit less time in Arizona and less time in Ohio and more time in those three states — less time in North Carolina, more time in Florida — you could very much have a different election. That said, especially people in my generation, those so-called millennials, I can’t imagine us skipping an election again, or taking things for granted. A lot is on the line right now, if you look at the Supreme Court and the things that are going on.

One day, when the time is right, politics will be in my future. I gotta take care of my main girl Jennifer, so that’s something I have to stay focused on, but you will absolutely see me in politics when the time is right. And I will know when the time is right.

One of the things I’ve learned about politics is, first of all it’s a long process. Second of all, you cannot pick your life based on politics. You have to be happy outside of politics. For instance, you have to find a place where your family is set up in a way that works for them, and you have a role there, and then the rest will come. I would never pick a place and say, “This is the place I will go because of politics,” but the part of California that I like, the people of California are very good, and the food is great.

I came to California and I tripped over a basketball, I looked down and it was an acorn. Things are huge here! People would ask me, “What’s California like?” I’d say, “I don’t know, I’m not the library, you tell me.” So after the first year of law school, when I came out of my black hole, I began to look at California. I came out here because of the positive vibes here. There are good vibes here. People care about work-life balance, which you need to care about — even if you don’t have it. A lot of other places, it’s kind of like the anti-goal, it’s like the harder you work, the more you are. Like I said, my mom is still in New York, so I have to take care of her, but at this time I’m more focused on California.

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