By Patricia Sellers
January 19, 2011

by Patricia Sellers

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords touches us and rivets us with her amazing progress since the tragic Tucson shooting 10 days ago.

This Saturday, the New York Times ran a profile of the Congresswoman that captured a spirit and resilience that has shaped her entire life and career. The piece mentioned a speech that Giffords gave to the 2009 graduating class at Scripps College, her alma mater. I read the speech. And I would call it one of the better commencement addresses out there. (The best ever is Steve Jobs’ speech to Stanford’s Class of 2005.)

It strikes me that Giffords preaches the same advice that we divvy out often on Postcards: View your career as a jungle gym, not a ladder. Leap to opportunity. Let passion be your guide. As Giffords told the women grads at Scripps, “Some of the most miserable people I have ever met — both in and out of politics — have been people who chose their careers based on its level of salary or prestige…Material things never satisfy. Find what it is that you love and pursue it with courage and confidence.” Here’s what she told the Class of ’09 about the turning point in her own career:

One of the most powerful transformations in my own life happened when I was about to leave graduate school.

I had worked hard for my degree in regional planning from Cornell University and had been offered a high-paying job in New York City with a top eight accounting firm. It seemed like the beginning of a grand and glittering adventure in the big city: posh apartments, pointy-toed shoes, and maybe even my first martini.

But then an unexpected phone call came from my father, who needed me to come home to help him manage my family’s tire and automotive business.

This was completely unexpected and not at all in my cosmopolitan plans. Inevitably, there comes a point in all of our lives where our role as the child begins to reverse with our parents. Our protectors now need protection.

For some of us, it comes while we are established in life, and for others it may come while we are young. But whenever that call comes, early or late, we pick up the phone and we respond.

In my case, it meant packing up my heels and putting on my cowboy boots, getting back into that same old Ford pickup truck and heading back West.

…I started out the first morning back in Tucson, but this time out in the tire shop, learning the business from guys named Chuy and Frank. I learned the tire business from the ground up and also started to manage the company’s philanthropic aims, the part that tried to give back to the community that had been so generous to us through the years.

I started to see things about Southern Arizona that were not perfect and needed to change. So I ran for office determined to make that change and put right things that were wrong and represent those who didn’t have a voice.

And I realized then and there what my heart was saying: that for me, the highest calling in my own life was service to others. I have not looked back since.

When that moment of realization dawns on you–as it eventually will, with its own unique message–I encourage you also to seize it and not look back.

Do not focus your energies on making a living. That will come, I promise you.

It will come almost as an accident, as a byproduct, without your even having to think about it.

You are blessed to be living in a country that gives its citizens the freedom to bump around the scenery a bit, to try new things and make mistakes and stretch your talents and make adjustments and to find every rich and satisfying thing, and it will still be okay in the end.

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