As you grow older, your definition of success changes, said Ellen DeGeneres to the graduating class of Tulane University in 2009. During her speech she revealed some of the hard truths and challenges that she had to face in her own life before she become comfortable enough with who she was to know true success.

When she was younger, success meant being a star, being famous and having money to acquire all the material indicators that show a person is successful. However, her current view is that success is about living with integrity, making a contribution, being honest and most importantly, resisting the peer pressure to become something that you’re not.  

“Follow your passion and stay true to yourself. Never follow someone else’s path. Unless you’re lost in the woods and you find a path, then by all means, you should follow that,” she is quoted as humorously saying.

Ellen never went to university and recalled that at the students’ age, she had no plan and no idea of what she wanted to do with her life. She ended up doing a little of everything, from painting houses to selling vacuum cleaners. It took the tragedy of losing her partner in a car accident (and driving past the scene of the accident without realising who was involved) to realise that she wanted to do stand-up comedy.

Her career started to take off in the subsequent years, and she even starred in her own sitcom. And yet she was plagued by the fear that people would find out that she was gay and stop watching her show. In the end, she related that when she did come out (in real life as well as on the show), her worst fears were confirmed: the show was cancelled and no one in the business would touch her. Later, when she was offered her own talk show, few of the networks wanted to air it.

Despite this being a hard time she said she wouldn’t go back and change it – even if she could. It took losing everything she had worked for to realise that the only thing that really matters in life is being true to yourself.

In the years you will be spending as a trainee, these are wise words to remember: don’t try to be what you’re not and always stay true to your values and convictions. 

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