Most people don’t form a self and then lead a life. They are called by a problem, and the self is constructed gradually by their calling.
The graduates are also told to pursue happiness and joy. But, of course, when you read a biography of someone you admire, it’s rarely the things that made them happy that compel your admiration. It’s the things they did to court unhappiness — the things they did that were arduous and miserable, which sometimes cost them friends and aroused hatred. It’s excellence, not happiness, that we admire most.
Finally, graduates are told to be independent-minded and to express their inner spirit. But, of course, doing your job well often means suppressing yourself. As Atul Gawande mentioned during his countercultural address last week at Harvard Medical School, being a good doctor often means being part of a team, following the rules of an institution, going down a regimented checklist.
Today’s grads enter a cultural climate that preaches the self as the center of a life. But, of course, as they age, they’ll discover that the tasks of a life are at the center. Fulfillment is a byproduct of how people engage their tasks, and can’t be pursued directly. Most of us are egotistical and most are self-concerned most of the time, but it’s nonetheless true that life comes to a point only in those moments when the self dissolves into some task. The purpose in life is not to find yourself. It’s to lose yourself.
Atul Gawande’s grad address, worth a read: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2011/05/atul-gawande-harvard-medical-school-commencement-address.html
Way overdue but better late than never: http://blogs.usdoj.gov/blog/archives/1346 (Reposting from AngryAsianMan)
Speaking of another person who didn’t do so well on standardized tests, I recently read Condoleezza Rice’s memoir–she voiced her support for affirmative action both in undergrad admissions and faculty hiring, based off of her experiences of 1) not doing so well on standardized tests and 2) her own hiring at Stanford as an assistant professor back in the day. She applied for a position that she wasn’t quite a good fit for, but then they asked her to give a talk anyway–they liked her and were able to do a targeted hire via an equity fund for faculty of color.
I had mixed feelings reading the book, but there are a lot of interesting insights related to education, both through her story and her parents, who were both lifelong educators. Her dad was literally a K-16 educator–started a kindergarten through his church (he was bi-vocational–full-time pastor, full-time high school teacher) and then went on to do higher ed admin at University of Denver. After his retirement he went on to develop academic support services for student-athletes at Stanford and university-community partnerships in East Palo Alto. It was pretty amazing to read about some of the young people he influenced through his youth programs in Birmingham–including Freeman Hrabowski, who lived nearby.
The book also is a straight up case study in concentrated cultivation…but it also reminded me of complexities between race/class intersections, ie how Black middle-classness can be very different from White middle-classness due to wealth accumulation (or lack thereof).