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Graduates, it’s not about you

Mike Paschall shares how God spoke to him a while back: “It’s been about you to this point. When can it be about us?” Profound question. When can we join God in his agenda rather than following our own agenda? It’s not an easy transition for a young person to go from thinking me to thinkin…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
Mike Paschall shares how God spoke to him a while back:
“It’s been about you to this point. When can it be about us?”
Profound question. When can we join God in his agenda rather than following our own agenda? It’s not an easy transition for a young person to go from thinking me to thinking us. Parents have over-nurtured their children and they are ill-equipped to make the transition to the working world.
We parents raise our children to be the center of attention. Is it any wonder that they feel the world pivots off of them? It’s a painful reality check to graduate and be slammed by reality.
 
Even the secular press is picking up on this theme of narcissism run amok in the current group of graduates. I pound the drum of discovering your true self a lot. But as David Brooks points out in the following post, identity usually comes with a cost.

This year’s graduating class has been ill served by their elders. They enter a bad job market, the hangover from decades of excessive borrowing. They inherit a ruinous federal debt.

More important, their lives have been perversely structured. This year’s graduates are members of the most supervised generation in American history. Through their childhoods and teenage years, they have been monitored, tutored, coached and honed to an unprecedented degree.

Yet upon graduation they will enter a world that is unprecedentedly wide open and unstructured. Most of them will not quickly get married, buy a home and have kids, as previous generations did. Instead, they will confront amazingly diverse job markets, social landscapes and lifestyle niches. Most will spend a decade wandering from job to job and clique to clique, searching for a role.

No one would design a system of extreme supervision to prepare people for a decade of extreme openness. But this is exactly what has emerged in modern America. College students are raised in an environment that demands one set of navigational skills, and they are then cast out into a different environment requiring a different set of skills, which they have to figure out on their own.

Worst of all, they are sent off into this world with the whole baby-boomer theology ringing in their ears. If you sample some of the commencement addresses being broadcast on C-Span these days, you see that many graduates are told to: Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself. This is the litany of expressive individualism, which is still the dominant note in American culture.

But, of course, this mantra misleads on nearly every front.

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 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.

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. 

Comments (9)

  • This is an amazing post. I wish I would have read it 15 years ago. You are so right. I am learning about myself as I pursue what God has called me to do. And I am so thankful.

  • As a parent of a recent college, and high school, graduates, this is all ringing so true. I will point your blog out to my graduates, it’s so well put…EVERY graduate should read it! Great job!

  • Oh, Seth,

    Another compelling and true word….what a disservice we have given our children by indulging them to the point that they come to believe that life is “all about them” and then we wonder “what went wrong”. We can “teach the right things” but if “application” is not required, if will be difficult for them to put into practice….thank you for that timely word…

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.



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