It's Not About You...

...it's about ME!

David Brooks, a second-cohort Baby Boomer, doesn't seem to see the irony in lecturing current college graduates about being too self-centered. Actually, that's not fair...the column is full of good observations that grads and their parents would do well to consider. And it's not a lecture at all. Highlights:
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.
I wonder whether this hasn't been true for a couple generations now. I mean, weren't college kids in the 60's fairly interested in "finding themselves?"

Brooks concludes:
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.
I think his point is a good one, but I'd say it slightly differently: joy and happiness are most often products of pursuing other things. They tend to come through hard work and struggle. And, frankly, I do admire happiness in others. I'm just always curious as to why they're happy, and never surprised to find out that happiness was not initial goal.