A few years ago, I read an article by David Brooks in the New York Times entitled, It’s Not About You. After perusing many college commencement and graduation addresses, he was struck by how many speeches have a similar theme, “Find your Passion, Follow your Dreams, Chart your own Course.” To those of us who are working as hard as we can to send our children to a wonderful school like Harpeth Hall, these words can sound like a beautiful melody to our tired ears. The thought of being a young college graduate with the world as our oyster sounds mighty tempting. We have flashes of time travel in a sort of Back to the Future way.
I will admit to fantasizing about being lucky enough to be one of our graduates. What would I have done if I had received a Harpeth Hall education? What passion might I have uncovered? What course might I have charted? Yes, we want to help our students grow and learn and find their talents and passions. After all, if an 18 year-old senior can’t dream a little, then all is lost. What will thrust us unto the belly of the 21st century without these dreams to propel us and inspire us?
Mr. Brooks made an excellent point however, that we might be missing. The reality is that we may in fact be giving the wrong advice or at least forgetting to footnote our remarks about finding yourself. When a young person feels that she can do just about anything upon graduation, it may be crippling. They are coming from the most structured childhoods in American history and suddenly marching out to find herself could make a young woman feel overwhelmed. If she could in fact be anyone, do anything and go anywhere, it could bring her quickly to her knees. It is difficult to know how to begin the journey.
I think the place to begin the journey is to look outside ourselves. We need to turn the table from finding ourselves to finding a way to connect with others. Maturing is not about getting closer and closer to our inner-selves, it is about sacrifice for an ideal we care about or a person we love. Many of our students are well on their way to maturity, and they inspire us with their devotion to a cause at such a young age. They may have a brother with Downs Syndrome or Angelman Syndrome and become inspired to organize a race for that cause. Perhaps they decide to study medicine in order to find a cure for Alzheimers because they have seen a grandparent lost to that disease. Maturity means commitment to a person, a community, a calling, or anything bigger than ourselves. Commitment implies a sacrifice of one’s self. I think we could send the wrong message when we tell our graduates to put themselves, their desires, and their passions at the center of life. It seems that happiness and fulfillment come when we put larger ideals in the center.
When we are able to forget about us and concentrate on them, we may have found the very thing that is our passion and does keep us moving in the right direction. Suddenly the map seems to point in a direction that feels good to us. We might even say, yes, I have charted my course and found my passion. As David Brooks said in closing his article, “the purpose in life is not to find yourself; it is to lose yourself.”