Neil Gaiman – The Best Commencement Speech You May Ever Hear (20 Minutes)

This will be a short post as, sometimes, brevity counts. I want to let Neil Gaiman speak in this instance. Neil is one of my favorite authors, and I first became fascinated by his imagination with The Sandman comics in the 90’s. So much so, in fact, that I imported The Sandman from different countries to help me learn languages.

The Sandman from Brazil. Wonderful for studying Portuguese, as I have identical English editions.

My love for his work grew from there. From Anansi Boys to The Graveyard Book (my favorite audiobook of all time) to Neverwhere, the list of favorites is long.

The above commencement speech, mandatory listening for anyone who hopes to be creatively successful, is right up there with Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford commencement speech, which I’ve embedded below. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments on either, as well as links to any favorite speeches of your own.

NOTE FROM THE EDITOR (MARCH 2019): You can find Tim’s interview with Neil Gaiman here.

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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154 Replies to “Neil Gaiman – The Best Commencement Speech You May Ever Hear (20 Minutes)”

  1. Steve Jobs’s commencement speech at Stanford is my favorite speech of all time. Keeps simple, connects with the audience and weaves stories with his points masterfully.


  2. Totally agree about the Anansi Boys audio book – the Caribbean accents are just too perfect (and it’s a great story.) Takes me right back to hanging out in London and working on superyachts in the leeward Caribbean islands.

  3. Tim,

    Thank you for being one of the few souls on the net that delivers on their lofty promises. This was the BEST commencement speech! I have worn many hats, had great successes, and made tragic mistakes, and they were all necessary.

    Kind regards,


  4. Wow… this was exactly what I needed right when I needed it. I know this comment will just blur into the storm of other comments and it’ll probably never be read but… still. I’m trying to follow my own bucket list a la The Buried Life post from Tim a few days… err weeks ago…. all during a rough patch in my life and I’ve been needing something just like this. Thanks so much for this video. Pretty awesome sauce.

  5. Besides speaking to one’s heart , this speech is given by a guy that’s looks a lot like Andy Serkis (Gollum, anyone?) both in looks and accent. This makes him (at least to me) extra familiar and charming and doubles the power of his words..

  6. that is an amazing speech, thanks for sharing.

    i stumbled across this speech last week and its also pretty mindblowing.

    mostly about entrepreneurship and vision but it does make you think wtf am i doing w. my life..

  7. Tim,

    Thank you for posting. Both commencement speeches were very truthful. As I discover my own creativity day to day, I see the patterns of the creative mind. These two men were men who could tap in effortlessly it seems, just as is meant to be. I was really taken with the candor of Steve’s speech. “Do not live somebody else’s life.” Couldn’t be more true. So many of us are searching for something that is so simple and intrinsic in our hearts. I really think meditation is the cure all for all that searching stuff, it has surely helped me to tap in. Thanks again.

  8. WOW!!

    Truly inspiring and motivating, especially the part about enjoying it…I find this to be probably one of the most important things, yet, we do forget sometimes. Not only to enjoy your work, but, also to laugh at yourself. When you can laugh at your mistakes, somehow the next step or approach just seems clearer!

    Thanks for this one Tim, Loved it:)

  9. Neil Gaiman has been one of my favorite authors for many years, so I was quite excited to see his commencement speech. I thought it quite spectacular. So much so, I think I’ll be writing a blog post about it soon. Thanks for sharing!

  10. I just read the Sandman Preludes and Noctures and I did not like it at all. I felt like so many of the characters had no depth, no real reasoning behind their actions, no logic mixed in with the madness.

    This is just my opinion, but I’d like to know if it gets “better” or at least different? Or does Preludes & Nocturnes pretty much set the tone for the whole series?


  11. Speeches like these should be given RIGHT AFTER you think you’ve picked the right career for you.

    It may shake up your every decision. (Always a good thing to do BEFORE starting college. May save you some trouble.)

    Tim, thank you for sharing. It’s been awesome.

  12. You’re right – best advice I’ve ever heard for creative types, and so true for me. Bookmarked it for future reference (which I know I’m going to need). Thanks Tim, for sharing – your work has had a great impact on me.

  13. That’s such a great idea to use the Sandman to use other languages. I’m gonna go seek out Spanish editions now.


  14. Thanks for putting this up! I just launched an app in Google Play and am exhausted (now the pressure is really on). This was a great recharge with good spice around how the rules really are made up. I’ve been drawing to recharge, but this is a great kick in the pants with real application to my thinking. Some rules have bite, and some don’t mean a lot and just hold you back.

  15. It’s funny that the university herd looks for inspiration from those who wanted nothing to do with them.

  16. I am addicted to Sandman comics for some unknown reason, probably its Neil Gaiman’s way of writing.

  17. Tim,

    From these two, Neil and Steve, manifests the perhaps the best book and gadget of all time, the book American Gods, and the iPhone. That they are geniuses of their domain is easy to digest, that they so bodily rouse you with their words remain the most wondrous of all.

  18. Tim, thanks so much for sharing these two inspiring speeches. As an artistic type more than businessman and being English, perhaps, I think Neil Gaiman is the most applicable to me. I live his secret of freelancing -you can do well if you are two of:likeable, on time, do great work. Funny and in my experience (freelance musician) absolutely true!

  19. Fantastic opening address – the concept of walking towards, or away from, the mountain, is in itself very powerful. Thanks for sharing it!

  20. Neil Gaimans speech was truly amazing. Never have I heard a speech so powerful and full of great advice and wisdom. Hearing it from Neil, one of my favourite authors, was overwhelming. For a speech to bring me that close to tears (of happiness) is incredible.

    Tim, I cannot thank you enough for posting this!

  21. After reading the post and watching the Gaiman speech it was indeed the JK Rowling speech that first sprang to mind. But to be honest there is a fictive graduation speech that I found quite inspiring, funny and as I’m getting older, often quite true. Baz Luhrman turned it into the ‘song’ ‘Everybody’s free (to wear suncreen)’ but the original text was written as a column:,0,4054576.column?page=1

  22. This is my “bad day” speech. I watched about a 100 times. Most motivational, inspiring, strengthening, hope giving, uplifting, powerful video. Ever.

  23. Brilliant speech. I love the part where he says ‘If you don’t know it’s impossible, it’s easier to do. And because nobody’s done it before, they haven’t made up rules to stop anyone doing that particular thing again.’ Can’t help feeling some of the advice in this speech is applicable to entrepreneurs as well as artists.

  24. Interestingly, the same advise Gaiman gives about being wise (pretend to be a wise person and act accordingly) is the same thing that Josh Waitzkin attributes to Kasparov in his great book “Art of Learning”. Waitzkin wrote that when Kasparov didn’t feel like Kasparov before the game, he just tried to make the moves Kasparov would make, effectively impersonating himself, and eventually the mood struck.

    It might be worthy to note that Kasparov’s style was always known to be intimidating; “ballsy” might be the right word. So the whole issue is largely not about making the right moves, but about being extremely confident and making your opponent pressured to the point when she of he makes mistakes.

    So, apparently, this technique passes the Sinatra test – if it works there, it can work anywhere.

  25. Wonderful! As an engineer, I’ve come to see my work as a bridge between science and art. This talk was incredibly relevant right now. Making good engineering is much like making good art. Thanks!

  26. Both interesting. Far prefer Jobs one. Good timing to hear both and as they say trust and believe everything you are doing will lead you to where you are going. I seem to find entrepreneurs seem to think more like this than anyone else.

  27. I have heard Steve Job’s address many times and have made my children list to it. I listen to for inspiration and as a reminder of what is possible and that inspiration can come from any where. I now have two to listen to. Thank you.

  28. Yes, I loved this speech. I just needed this soo much! And another one which I enjoyed quite a bit is John Cleese on Creativity.

    And anyhow, I want to post here to keep being updated on other peoples favourite speeches …. If all will be as inspiring as Neil Gaiman (and, yes, Steve Jobs), this will be a great source for inspiration.

  29. I love both of these commencement speeches. Neil’s was inspirational for creatives, and Steve’s was encouraging on a broader scale.

  30. So, Tim…when are you gonna get Neil on the podcast? It seems like a no brainer to me. He definitely fits the criteria of being at the top of his game. I actually made an mp3 of both Neil’s and Steve Job’s speeches to listen to every once in a while. Keep up the amazing work, ‘ToT’ is getting a lot of attention from me, loving the book!

  31. Beautiful speech! I have only just discovered Neil Gaiman, through my son, and I’m loving his books and brilliant imagination. 🙂