It’s Not About You: Life is About Losing Yourself, Not Finding Yourself

David Brooks in today’s NYT writes a most thoughtful op-ed about the messages we give to college graduates. I post it here as a counter-balance to the Oprah article I posted last week. I think it is a helpful correction to Oprah’s advice, reminding us that much of success is not found in finding our passion but in solving a problem, one in which we find ourselves as we give ourselves to it. Oprah is not wrong, however. Perhaps her advice is best meant for those of earlier generations who often pursued work that paid a good salary but had little or nothing to do with their callings or personhood, then later found themselves empty and searching for meaning. But the younger generations have grown up in a different era of surplus, wealth and self-expression. David Brooks reminds these generations that you don’t get a life when you finally find yourself, but when you begin giving yourself away to life’s commitments and responsibilities. 

Here is just an excerpt:

“College grads are often sent out into the world amid rapturous talk of limitless possibilities. But this talk is of no help to the central business of adulthood, finding serious things to tie yourself down to. The successful young adult is beginning to make sacred commitments — to a spouse, a community and calling — yet mostly hears about freedom and autonomy.

Today’s graduates are also told to find their passion and then pursue their dreams. The implication is that they should find themselves first and then go off and live their quest. But, of course, very few people at age 22 or 24 can take an inward journey and come out having discovered a developed self.

Most successful young people don’t look inside and then plan a life. They look outside and find a problem, which summons their life. A relative suffers from Alzheimer’s and a young woman feels called to help cure that disease. A young man works under a miserable boss and must develop management skills so his department can function. Another young woman finds herself confronted by an opportunity she never thought of in a job category she never imagined. This wasn’t in her plans, but this is where she can make her contribution.

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.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/31/opinion/31brooks.html?_r=1&src=tptw

Advertisements
Comments
One Response to “It’s Not About You: Life is About Losing Yourself, Not Finding Yourself”
Trackbacks
Check out what others are saying...
  1. Birdie Buddy…

    It’s Not About You: Life is About Losing Yourself, Not Finding Yourself « Meat and Three Cafe…



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: