In an op-ed column directed at recent college graduates, David Brooks doles out some pearls almost on par with David Foster Wallace’s address to Kenyon College some years back. Seeking to combat the idealistic follow-your-heart/you-can-do-it truisms we’ve all grown up with, Brooks says that true adulthood is found by losing yourself rather than seeking to find it. Life isn’t about self-fulfillment – or Incurvatus in Se as Luther would say, but commitments to others and causes greater than the self.
From a Mockingbird perspective, Brooks is really on to something worthwhile. A perpetual adolescent freedom to be led by whatever happens to interest me at the moment can itself be a form of slavery – as Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison have demonstrated. And in a very Gospel-friendly way, adult commitments are not earned – they happen to you as one is grasped by passion and necessity. But as ever punk song ever written will tell you, Brooks’ version of adulthood that’s based upon commitments can become suffocatingly oppressive (see picture below), leading to either rejection or passive-aggressive rebellion. It should also be said that this adulthood comes off as sternly serious. Life may be serious business, but it can also be fun and playful.
The whole thing is worth a read, but here are a few choice quotes:
[Graduates’] 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. … 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.
…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.
…Most successful young people don’t look inside and then plan a life. They look outside and find a problem, which summons their life. … 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.
…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.
Or get in touch.