A dear friend of mine and Wake Forest alumna posted a link on Facebook to an article from the Harvard Business Review entitled “Create a Meaningful Life Through Meaningful Work.” It is a short, thought-provoking read. The author recounts his time spent in various hipster pursuits in Manhattan, and ultimately how tedious it feels. He comes to this idea: “maybe the real depression we’ve got to contend with isn’t merely one of how much economic output we’re generating — but what we’re putting out there, and why. Call it a depression of human potential, a tale of human significance being willfully squandered (on, for example, stuff like this).”
He suggests that instead of chasing whatever trivial pursuits we’re pursuing, “it’s time to get lethally serious about doing stuff that actually matters.”
He says that in thinking about life and work, we should pose the following questions:
Does it stand the test of time?
Does it stand the text of excellence?
Does it stand the test of you?
I think about our students and where they are in their developmental and educational processes. Our students are vastly smart and are – or are on their way to becoming – excellent critical thinkers. I trust they will easily be able to separate the wheat from the chaff and discern which things can stand the test of time and the test of excellence. For the third question, however, that one is a little more tricky, because many of our students aren’t used to training that critical eye inward. This is where, parents and families and trusted friends, you might be able to help your students begin to examine themselves – and think about what matters to them.
The author of the blog post says of the third question: “So while I too sometimes feel enchanted by the seductive power of glittering fantastic excess that seems to have mesmerized my little informal sample of Manhattanites, I’d also like to challenge them — and you — to consider the questions of mattering in a slightly more sophisticated, humane, considered way. It’s one thing to work on stuff that seems sexy because it’s socially cool and financially rewarding. But fulfillment doesn’t come much from money or cool-power — all the money in the world can’t buy you a searing sense of accomplishment.”
If your student is already well on his or her way to having a clear vision of his skills, values, interests, strengths, and passions – congratulations! And if he isn’t, I would recommend again taking advantage of the many tools that the Office of Personal and Career Development offers our students. Start at the beginning – take some of the assessments that are available; these can help students gauge interests in potential majors or careers, or discern values that will be important to their life and work for the rest of their lives. If your student doesn’t have a mentor, this might be the semester he wants to get one – so there is a trusted adult who can provide support and guidance as he starts making choices both about how to spend his time here at Wake Forest and throughout the rest of his life.
I would bet that most of our students want to “do stuff that actually matters.” That’s just part of the DNA of being a Wake Forester. We want to help them get there. I think it starts with Know Thyself.