• July 29, 2014

What Are You Going to Do With That?

What Are You Going to Do With That? 1

Katherine Streeter for The Chronicle Review

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Katherine Streeter for The Chronicle Review

The essay below is adapted from a talk delivered to a freshman class at Stanford University in May.

The question my title poses, of course, is the one that is classically aimed at humanities majors. What practical value could there possibly be in studying literature or art or philosophy? So you must be wondering why I'm bothering to raise it here, at Stanford, this renowned citadel of science and technology. What doubt can there be that the world will offer you many opportunities to use your degree?

But that's not the question I'm asking. By "do" I don't mean a job, and by "that" I don't mean your major. We are more than our jobs, and education is more than a major. Education is more than college, more even than the totality of your formal schooling, from kindergarten through graduate school. By "What are you going to do," I mean, what kind of life are you going to lead? And by "that," I mean everything in your training, formal and informal, that has brought you to be sitting here today, and everything you're going to be doing for the rest of the time that you're in school.

We should start by talking about how you did, in fact, get here. You got here by getting very good at a certain set of skills. Your parents pushed you to excel from the time you were very young. They sent you to good schools, where the encouragement of your teachers and the example of your peers helped push you even harder. Your natural aptitudes were nurtured so that, in addition to excelling in all your subjects, you developed a number of specific interests that you cultivated with particular vigor. You did extracurricular activities, went to afterschool programs, took private lessons. You spent summers doing advanced courses at a local college or attending skill-specific camps and workshops. You worked hard, you paid attention, and you tried your very best. And so you got very good at math, or piano, or lacrosse, or, indeed, several things at once.

Now there's nothing wrong with mastering skills, with wanting to do your best and to be the best. What's wrong is what the system leaves out: which is to say, everything else. I don't mean that by choosing to excel in math, say, you are failing to develop your verbal abilities to their fullest extent, or that in addition to focusing on geology, you should also focus on political science, or that while you're learning the piano, you should also be working on the flute. It is the nature of specialization, after all, to be specialized. No, the problem with specialization is that it narrows your attention to the point where all you know about and all you want to know about, and, indeed, all you can know about, is your specialty.

The problem with specialization is that it makes you into a specialist. It cuts you off, not only from everything else in the world, but also from everything else in yourself. And of course, as college freshmen, your specialization is only just beginning. In the journey toward the success that you all hope to achieve, you have completed, by getting into Stanford, only the first of many legs. Three more years of college, three or four or five years of law school or medical school or a Ph.D. program, then residencies or postdocs or years as a junior associate. In short, an ever-narrowing funnel of specialization. You go from being a political-science major to being a lawyer to being a corporate attorney to being a corporate attorney focusing on taxation issues in the consumer-products industry. You go from being a biochemistry major to being a doctor to being a cardiologist to being a cardiac surgeon who performs heart-valve replacements.

Again, there's nothing wrong with being those things. It's just that, as you get deeper and deeper into the funnel, into the tunnel, it becomes increasingly difficult to remember who you once were. You start to wonder what happened to that person who played piano and lacrosse and sat around with her friends having intense conversations about life and politics and all the things she was learning in her classes. The 19-year-old who could do so many things, and was interested in so many things, has become a 40-year-old who thinks about only one thing. That's why older people are so boring. "Hey, my dad's a smart guy, but all he talks about is money and livers."

And there's another problem. Maybe you never really wanted to be a cardiac surgeon in the first place. It just kind of happened. It's easy, the way the system works, to simply go with the flow. I don't mean the work is easy, but the choices are easy. Or rather, the choices sort of make themselves. You go to a place like Stanford because that's what smart kids do. You go to medical school because it's prestigious. You specialize in cardiology because it's lucrative. You do the things that reap the rewards, that make your parents proud, and your teachers pleased, and your friends impressed. From the time you started high school and maybe even junior high, your whole goal was to get into the best college you could, and so now you naturally think about your life in terms of "getting into" whatever's next. "Getting into" is validation; "getting into" is victory. Stanford, then Johns Hopkins medical school, then a residency at the University of San Francisco, and so forth. Or Michigan Law School, or Goldman Sachs, or Mc­Kinsey, or whatever. You take it one step at a time, and the next step always seems to be inevitable.

Or maybe you did always want to be a cardiac surgeon. You dreamed about it from the time you were 10 years old, even though you had no idea what it really meant, and you stayed on course for the entire time you were in school. You refused to be enticed from your path by that great experience you had in AP history, or that trip you took to Costa Rica the summer after your junior year in college, or that terrific feeling you got taking care of kids when you did your rotation in pediatrics during your fourth year in medical school.

But either way, either because you went with the flow or because you set your course very early, you wake up one day, maybe 20 years later, and you wonder what happened: how you got there, what it all means. Not what it means in the "big picture," whatever that is, but what it means to you. Why you're doing it, what it's all for. It sounds like a cliché, this "waking up one day," but it's called having a midlife crisis, and it happens to people all the time.

There is an alternative, however, and it may be one that hasn't occurred to you. Let me try to explain it by telling you a story about one of your peers, and the alternative that hadn't occurred to her. A couple of years ago, I participated in a panel discussion at Harvard that dealt with some of these same matters, and afterward I was contacted by one of the students who had come to the event, a young woman who was writing her senior thesis about Harvard itself, how it instills in its students what she called self-efficacy, the sense that you can do anything you want. Self-efficacy, or, in more familiar terms, self-esteem. There are some kids, she said, who get an A on a test and say, "I got it because it was easy." And there are other kids, the kind with self-efficacy or self-esteem, who get an A on a test and say, "I got it because I'm smart."

Again, there's nothing wrong with thinking that you got an A because you're smart. But what that Harvard student didn't realize—and it was really quite a shock to her when I suggested it—is that there is a third alternative. True self-esteem, I proposed, means not caring whether you get an A in the first place. True self-esteem means recognizing, despite everything that your upbringing has trained you to believe about yourself, that the grades you get—and the awards, and the test scores, and the trophies, and the acceptance letters—are not what defines who you are.

She also claimed, this young woman, that Harvard students take their sense of self-efficacy out into the world and become, as she put it, "innovative." But when I asked her what she meant by innovative, the only example she could come up with was "being CEO of a Fortune 500." That's not innovative, I told her, that's just successful, and successful according to a very narrow definition of success. True innovation means using your imagination, exercising the capacity to envision new possibilities.

But I'm not here to talk about technological innovation, I'm here to talk about a different kind. It's not about inventing a new machine or a new drug. It's about inventing your own life. Not following a path, but making your own path. The kind of imagination I'm talking about is moral imagination. "Moral" meaning not right or wrong, but having to do with making choices. Moral imagination means the capacity to envision new ways to live your life.

It means not just going with the flow. It means not just "getting into" whatever school or program comes next. It means figuring out what you want for yourself, not what your parents want, or your peers want, or your school wants, or your society wants. Originating your own values. Thinking your way toward your own definition of success. Not simply accepting the life that you've been handed. Not simply accepting the choices you've been handed. When you walk into Starbucks, you're offered a choice among a latte and a macchiato and an espresso and a few other things, but you can also make another choice. You can turn around and walk out. When you walk into college, you are offered a choice among law and medicine and investment banking and consulting and a few other things, but again, you can also do something else, something that no one has thought of before.

Let me give you another counterexample. I wrote an essay a couple of years ago that touched on some of these same points. I said, among other things, that kids at places like Yale or Stanford tend to play it safe and go for the conventional rewards. And one of the most common criticisms I got went like this: What about Teach for America? Lots of kids from elite colleges go and do TFA after they graduate, so therefore I was wrong. TFA, TFA—I heard that over and over again. And Teach for America is undoubtedly a very good thing. But to cite TFA in response to my argument is precisely to miss the point, and to miss it in a way that actually confirms what I'm saying. The problem with TFA—or rather, the problem with the way that TFA has become incorporated into the system—is that it's just become another thing to get into.

In terms of its content, Teach for America is completely different from Goldman Sachs or McKinsey or Harvard Medical School or Berkeley Law, but in terms of its place within the structure of elite expectations, of elite choices, it is exactly the same. It's prestigious, it's hard to get into, it's something that you and your parents can brag about, it looks good on your résumé, and most important, it represents a clearly marked path. You don't have to make it up yourself, you don't have to do anything but apply and do the work­—just like college or law school or McKinsey or whatever. It's the Stanford or Harvard of social engagement. It's another hurdle, another badge. It requires aptitude and diligence, but it does not require a single ounce of moral imagination.

Moral imagination is hard, and it's hard in a completely different way than the hard things you're used to doing. And not only that, it's not enough. If you're going to invent your own life, if you're going to be truly autonomous, you also need courage: moral courage. The courage to act on your values in the face of what everyone's going to say and do to try to make you change your mind. Because they're not going to like it. Morally courageous individuals tend to make the people around them very uncomfortable. They don't fit in with everybody else's ideas about the way the world is supposed to work, and still worse, they make them feel insecure about the choices that they themselves have made—or failed to make. People don't mind being in prison as long as no one else is free. But stage a jailbreak, and everybody else freaks out.

In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce has Stephen Dedalus famously say, about growing up in Ireland in the late 19th century, "When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets."

Today there are other nets. One of those nets is a term that I've heard again and again as I've talked with students about these things. That term is "self-indulgent." "Isn't it self-indulgent to try to live the life of the mind when there are so many other things I could be doing with my degree?" "Wouldn't it be self-indulgent to pursue painting after I graduate instead of getting a real job?"

These are the kinds of questions that young people find themselves being asked today if they even think about doing something a little bit different. Even worse, the kinds of questions they are made to feel compelled to ask themselves. Many students have spoken to me, as they navigated their senior years, about the pressure they felt from their peers—from their peers—to justify a creative or intellectual life. You're made to feel like you're crazy: crazy to forsake the sure thing, crazy to think it could work, crazy to imagine that you even have a right to try.

Think of what we've come to. It is one of the great testaments to the intellectual—and moral, and spiritual—poverty of American society that it makes its most intelligent young people feel like they're being self-indulgent if they pursue their curiosity. You are all told that you're supposed to go to college, but you're also told that you're being "self-indulgent" if you actually want to get an education. Or even worse, give yourself one. As opposed to what? Going into consulting isn't self-indulgent? Going into finance isn't self-indulgent? Going into law, like most of the people who do, in order to make yourself rich, isn't self-indulgent? It's not OK to play music, or write essays, because what good does that really do anyone, but it is OK to work for a hedge fund. It's selfish to pursue your passion, unless it's also going to make you a lot of money, in which case it's not selfish at all.

Do you see how absurd this is? But these are the nets that are flung at you, and this is what I mean by the need for courage. And it's a never-ending proc­ess. At that Harvard event two years ago, one person said, about my assertion that college students needed to keep rethinking the decisions they've made about their lives, "We already made our decisions, back in middle school, when we decided to be the kind of high achievers who get into Harvard." And I thought, who wants to live with the decisions that they made when they were 12? Let me put that another way. Who wants to let a 12-year-old decide what they're going to do for the rest of their lives? Or a 19-year-old, for that matter?

All you can decide is what you think now, and you need to be prepared to keep making revisions. Because let me be clear. I'm not trying to persuade you all to become writers or musicians. Being a doctor or a lawyer, a scientist or an engineer or an economist—these are all valid and admirable choices. All I'm saying is that you need to think about it, and think about it hard. All I'm asking is that you make your choices for the right reasons. All I'm urging is that you recognize and embrace your moral freedom.

And most of all, don't play it safe. Resist the seductions of the cowardly values our society has come to prize so highly: comfort, convenience, security, predictability, control. These, too, are nets. Above all, resist the fear of failure. Yes, you will make mistakes. But they will be your mistakes, not someone else's. And you will survive them, and you will know yourself better for having made them, and you will be a fuller and a stronger person.

It's been said—and I'm not sure I agree with this, but it's an idea that's worth taking seriously—that you guys belong to a "postemotional" generation. That you prefer to avoid messy and turbulent and powerful feelings. But I say, don't shy away from the challenging parts of yourself. Don't deny the desires and curiosities, the doubts and dissatisfactions, the joy and the darkness, that might knock you off the path that you have set for yourself. College is just beginning for you, adulthood is just beginning. Open yourself to the possibilities they represent. The world is much larger than you can imagine right now. Which means, you are much larger than you can imagine.

William Deresiewicz is a contributing writer for The Nation and a contributing editor at The New Republic. His next book, A Jane Austen Education, will be published next year by Penguin Press.

Comments

1. queenb0213 - October 04, 2010 at 10:35 am

You just summed up my entire identity crisis during my first year in graduate school. I am currently undergoing this same debate - should I do what I love, or should I do what is lucrative?

Thank you for this article. You gave me a lot to ponder.

2. drfrig - October 04, 2010 at 11:35 am

I'm with you, queen, on both accounts. I think there is some middle ground here. We must work toward what we love, even if that means living on the cheap, taking on temporary, lucrative work when needed, and taking some risks from time to time. Don't give up!

3. trevorgriffey - October 04, 2010 at 11:44 am

It's all well and good to follow your hopes and not your fears. But to advise people to do that without even taking into account the incredible DEBT they may be taking on to do so is reckless and elitist.

4. singlefather - October 04, 2010 at 01:17 pm

This is all nice, but these choices are only available to those that have financial backing from their parents, the opportunity to do lucrative work on the side to pay the bills, or with the salary of a tenured professor. I didn't have these options when I graduated from college, and neither does my daughter now as a college Sophomore. My parents told me to do what I loved no matter what, but I tell my daughter that it's better to learn to love jobs that pay well too. At 27 I was making more money outside academia that I will every make inside. After decades of living below the poverty level, I finally make the income of a server at the school's dining hall, and believe me when I say that money --or not being starved for it all the time-- also brings a lot of happiness. Yes, I love the intellectual pursuits, but I wonder how much I can continue with this delusion that my college buddies who are now neurosurgeons "are not really happy." Maybe I should give them a call. I'm afraid I won't like the answer.

5. marketnow - October 04, 2010 at 06:57 pm

Wow, given the comments of trevorgriffey and singlefather, I can see our author has hit the nail on the head. I'm a recent humanities Ph.D., married with kids and debt, who is on the market in this most dreadful economy . . . and I don't regret it. Thank God I listened to the advice of my father (who grew up in real poverty and "made it") and not people like you: "f**k it," he told me more than once, "they can't eat ya'."

We have a responsibility to secure a modicum of comfort for ourselves and our loved ones, but that responsibility does not trump (indeed is secondary to) our responsibility to demonstrate the courage to pursue a life of meaning.

6. nativepoet - October 04, 2010 at 08:03 pm

My life meaning is my chapbooks that will free my people.

7. landrumkelly - October 05, 2010 at 08:22 am

The author needs to learn the difference between "self-efficacy" and "self esteem."

8. 11261897 - October 05, 2010 at 10:57 am

"The ways by which you may get money almost without exception lead downward. To have done anything by which you earned money merely is to have been truly idle or worse."

--Thoreau, "Life Without Principle"

9. tolerantly - October 05, 2010 at 11:19 am

Well said, Man of America's Boom Years. Now: Fingers crossed that most kids won't listen to a word of what you've said, because they'll find that taking your advice will land them in serious trouble in about 20, 25 years. The world is not what it was. It's pleasant to be bohemian-poor in a rich country; not so nice to be a luftmensch's kid in hard times.

They used to have a phrase: "Keep it as a hobby." If you can do better than that, terrific. But make sure you and your family have a decent neighborhood to live in and what to eat, first.

10. tolerantly - October 05, 2010 at 11:24 am

Oh, for God's sake, Deresiewiecz. That was nothing but irresponsible. You were an assoc prof at Yale till '08? Meaning you took the regular paycheck and lovely benefits and stacked up the assets till you were in your, what, late 40s before making the jump to a freelance life? And you're telling kids to push it all out the window before they even start? For shame. There's a hell of a difference between freeing yourself once you've got a pile and a reputation, and sending yourself out there naked from go. Apparently you don't understand this. Shows what they know at Yale.

11. ethnicam - October 05, 2010 at 12:03 pm

John Ciardi said it as effectively and articulately to freshmen a couple of generations ago:
http://hi.baidu.com/%BA%FD%B8%E7%B8%E7/blog/item/bb0c22dec98bb65d94ee370f.html

12. esgphd - October 05, 2010 at 01:00 pm

Yes, taking the riskier route early in life instead of "playing it safe" (which isn't all that safe these days, by the way) could lead to a less affluent life style, but how important is that to you?
I hear a lot of fear in the responses above. Will I be literally a starving artist? Will my family be rooting through dumpsters? Well, not likely. Sometimes when I am tempted to catastrophize I ask myself what the truly worst case might be: greeter at Wal-Mart? Flipping burgers? Then I realize how elitist that response is. There's nothing dishonorable about those jobs or the people that have them.
Not everyone has the desire to pursue a creative direction in life. So be it. But for those who do, it can be worth it, even at the expense of a fancier life style. The perspective of a person in mid life on this issue is worth a young person's consideration, since having made certain choices we can look back and see what might have been.

13. greenhills73 - October 05, 2010 at 01:27 pm

My middle son had wanted to become a physician since third grade. He also loved literature and writing and wanted to be a writer. At one point, he asked, "Do you think I should go to med school first or try to get published?" My answer was a no-brainer to me: "Med school first. If you ultimately decide not to practice medicine right away (if ever)then you can take the Michael Crichton route and maybe become a medical writer or editor." Somewhere in his senior year of high school, he discarded the idea of going pre-med in favor of just majoring in English. I was devestated. I have never been one of those parents who says that I don't care what my kids do as long as they're happy. It's hard to be happy when you can't afford to eat. If what you love to do more than anything in the world doesn't pay regularly, then for heaven's sake, do it as a hobby or "on the side," and pursue a career path that has a better chance of guaranteeing a paycheck. Alas, he didn't listen.

14. optimysticynic - October 05, 2010 at 01:42 pm

Even the jobs that "don't pay" (writing, music, art) pay plenty well if you're good. It's actually the mediocre who need the prop of credentials and law/medicine/business work. Not to say that there aren't stars in those fields...but it can truly be a great place to hide out if you're just run-of-the-mill. Telling your children not to go for it is a vote of no-confidence in their ability and passion.

15. labjack - October 05, 2010 at 02:00 pm

Avoid "comfort, convenience, security, predictability, control."

So we should be looking for pain, hardship, danger, chaos, and helplessness?

As an academic, these types of arguments make it hard for me to argue with friends and family who suggest I live and work in an ivory tower completely divorced from reality.

The article sounds like it was written by someone who has just gone through a mid life crisis.

This type of advice has been around a long time, from aleister Crowley's "do what thou wilt" to the Hippy's "If it feels good do it."

This advice is great as long as someone else is picking up the check, or you have already retired with enough savings to afford you this luxury.

On Moral Courage.
Just because something is frowned upon by society, doesn't mean that going against the norm is morally courageous. Sometimes it might, but often it means there is something wrong with the one going against the stream. I would think long and hard, and get advice from people I trusted before enbarking on a morally courageous course.

A few questions about being morally courageous

Is it morally courageous to dump the wife you married early in life, who supported you through college and raised kids together?
Is it morally courageous to follow your passion even if it means you can't afford to feed your kids, so someone else has to provide for them?
Is it morally courageous to pander to the inteligensia and denigrate the morals of most of the world?
Is it morally courageous to kill and eat people like Jeffrey Dahmer?

Is it morally courageous to work at an unfulfilling job to provide for your family?
Is it morally courageous to join like minded individuals to acomplish more than each could on their own?
Is it morally courageous to live with your word as your bond?
Is it morally courageous to become a leader in your communnity?

16. sophiaw1 - October 05, 2010 at 02:08 pm

greenhills73, alas what? Is your son homeless? Contrary to rumors, there are not legions of Hoovervilles filled with liberal arts majors. Unless your son is eating out of a garbage bin, I can't imagine that his choice was a bad one. If he's living off of your income, that need not have anything to do with his college major. That's his own doing and, I imagine, yours as well. Writers make their way in the world every single day. They have spouses, kids, a comfortable place to sleep at night. And they manage to do without the physician's country club membership or BMW.

What exactly constitutes financial success today? In other words, how much would greenhills73's middle son have to make to be good enough? Six figures? Seven? Would he have to live in a McMansion? Would he have to drive an expensive car? Could he get by with a Toyota or is anything less than a Lexus shameful?

Notions of success and what constitutes middle-class life have grown out of control in the last decade and a half. It's not enough to have a roof over your head and a job. You need to have conspicuous wealth: a Cadillac SUV, a giant house (albeit made of cardboard), a cell phone, an iPod, an iPad, an X-box, a Birkin bag, Channel sunglasses, Jimmy Choo shoes, Seven For All Mankind jeans at $150 a pop, and on and on. None of these things are necessary and, sadly, too many of us take on souless jobs that undermine the greater social good all for the sake of a designer handbag. Worse, even those who had "practical majors" in college have gone into great debt to get these things, because no matter what salary anybody makes it is not good enough.

As for the Stanford students' debt being a reason for why the students there shouldn't take on risk, if you cannot afford Stanford outright you should not go to Stanford.

No one deserves or needs to go to Stanford or Harvard or Yale or any expensive school that they cannot afford. Part of our have-it-all-money-is-no-object culture is that we, academics, convince poorer people and those on the thin edge of the middle class that they deserve educations they cannot afford. Universities are complicit in their relentless efforts to recruit "underprivileged" kids who don't have the means to afford what is, no matter how we try to sell it, an elite education designed for those of great privilege. There is nothing democratic in making an expensive college degree the entrance fee for the middle class. We can cry "diversity" all we want, but at the end of the day we're just gatekeepers holding very expensive keys.

Taking on crushing student debt for a namebrand school is no different from maxing out your credit card on namebrand shoes and purses. We all need to learn to live within our means, learn to live without, and find meaning not in material status symbols but within ourselves. Maybe if fewer people were truly educated and fulfilled and not desperately seeking solace in material goods our economy wouldn't be the financial mess that it is today.

17. gahnett - October 05, 2010 at 03:21 pm

Very nice.

I'm sure this article will affect a lot of folks for the better...and confuse and mislead a lot more.

Perhaps it will be good for those being affected to consider his/her capacity and whether he/she is more likely to be helped or hurt by such heresy. :)


18. drj50 - October 05, 2010 at 04:05 pm

Thanks for sharing these helpful comments. I would like to offer one caveat, though.

Having lived awhile now, I have observed that many people who invest significantly in a career early in their adult lives are able to reach a place that gives them a freedom in midlife (say age 40 and up) to explore new interests. I think of a philosophy professor who is now also an accomplished blue-grass musician and a surgeon who is able now to spend most of his time working the arts. Many others enjoy spending the fruits of their labors traveling and learning about other countries and cultures. Those who "dabbled" more early on (I count myself among them) have accomplished less than they may have wished because their efforts were dispersed and could not then and cannot now afford the interests and pleasures of those who focused more.

Of course, there are many who invest in a career seem unable at midlife to think beyond it ("Hey, my dad's a smart guy, but all he talks about is money and livers.") But it is also true that those who fail to focus early on may have less freedom later.

19. anonscribe - October 05, 2010 at 04:09 pm

This article hit a nerve. I can tell because most people aren't responding to it.

You can have moral courage and be a physician. Greenhill73's son is precisely the person this article was written to. Moral courage, in this instance, is remaining true to one's passion against the false enticements of mere money or social prestige. Had GH73's son discovered that his passion favored med school, he would have been equally cowardly to choose literary study for the mere rebellion or mystique of it.

My father retired from a middling job at a Silicon Valley firm when I was twelve to pursue his passion: woodworking. Our family income dropped by 30-40%. But, you know what else happened? he went from being an irritable, unapproachable, habitually exhausted father to being a receptive, compassionate, and insightful man. How can you place a monetary value on that? I went from a poor student to an engaged student. I went from being violent to being calm. My father's guidance helped me become an adult. Had he continued to work in a job that left him feeling empty and meaningless, I would have nicer clothes and a nicer car - but I wouldn't have had a father, and I would have missed out on developing one the most impactful and meaningful relationships I have in my life.

For those who work in jobs exactly like my father's but find themselves stimulated, contented, and generally happy - no one is telling you to leave your job. The article's advice is to refrain from sacrificing one's soul to social expediency. Strange that that advice meets with such rancor in an age when those who worked hard watched their retirement portfolios vanish, their children's college funds evaporate, their own jobs disappear. Money is a fickle friend. The market giveth, and the market taketh away.

20. goodeyes - October 05, 2010 at 04:30 pm

The term self-efficacy is not the same as self-esteem. I still liked the article.

21. adeniro - October 05, 2010 at 04:40 pm

Most of the contrarian takes to this article are pretty hilarious--as they exhibit the kind of reductive, least-common-denominator mode of thinking that the article is arguing against. It's not an either-or proposition. If you have a broad-based background in college that teaches you how to think, not what to think, you will be better prepared to both follow your passion and have a more sound and solid career. It gives you more options. Job descriptions and skill-sets rapidly turn over every 5-7 years anyway--so, great, you have a business degree with an outmoded economic paradigm; and great, you over there, you got a computer science degree to make some $$$ but all of the systems you trained on are obsolete. So you'll go through life retraining and retraining without any of the core values that will allow you to adjust on the fly. That sounds like a pretty great life of economic security, doesn't it? Instead, take the time to figure out what you actually want to do for the rest of your life in college--what your passions actually ARE, and by extension, who you are as a person. That is the beauty of a well-made and thoughtful undergraduate education. Unfortunately, figuring out who you are seems to be a waste of time (and good money, right?) to an increasing number of students. I can't think of a better example of missing the forest for the trees.

Sure there are compromises in life, but the writer/speaker is arguing against NEEDLESS compromises just for the sake of them, because you've been force-fed this illusory idea of what success is, and are really incapable of figuring anything out for yourself--unless, of course, you are told what your dreams out to be.

22. mmccllln - October 05, 2010 at 04:47 pm

What sophiaw1 said.

23. slr123 - October 05, 2010 at 05:35 pm

I used to do the thing I loved. Then I was denied tenure. Now, a year and a half later, I'm still unemployed, unable to get even adjunct or K-12 work in the PhD-saturated area where I live. I apply for all kinds of jobs -- writing and editing, legal assistant, receptionist, retail sales, that sort of thing -- and, at age 44 and with no real background in anything but liberal arts teaching, can't even get an interview for any of them. Every day, in the face of the deafening silence in response to my job applications, I wish I'd studied engineering or nursing or accounting instead. I loved studying and teaching Les Miserables and Moby Dick when I was able to do it, but now I'm out of money and the situation is dire and love just seems so entirely beside the point.

24. duffybjp - October 05, 2010 at 05:53 pm

It can't be surprising that college students, no matter what the college, default to affirming the values with which they have been inculcated. What I never seem to see in the kind of lamentations/exhortations of herd mentality we have here is exactly what specific counterpoint to the herd mentality the not-for-profit colleges/universities and their faculties are committed to educating their students in. Students who have not yet been led-out,educated, are generally not going to be able to extract any such intended counterpoint from a brief school mission statement or from the elaborate pantomine of it which the course catalogue constitutes. For next year's admissions cycle, how about each faculty describe in detail what its idea of its university is today? It can't be expressed in the negative:"We're not careerist/corporate." It can't be shamanistic:"Lux et Veritas." It must excede text message and Twitter maximum length. It need not, in the interest of everybody's time, rival something Cardinal Newman might undertake.

25. keitaro202 - October 05, 2010 at 06:27 pm

This is a clear example of an article in which many of the comments have completely misrepresented it.

"All I'm asking is that you make your choices for the right reasons. All I'm urging is that you recognize and embrace your moral freedom."

William Deresiewicz made no claim on what sort of degree one should get. He only asked for sound reasons which are coherent with your values. Clearly, if you come from a poor family your values will differ. Your dgree choice will OBVIOUSLY be in accord with what you find important. What Deresiewicz has pointed out is the tendency of people who get degrees in things that run counter to what they value. I know many students who are getting degrees in subject matters they find "extremely boring," all because their parents demand it.

This is the sort of thing Deresiewicz discussed: standing up for what you value and creating yourself. Everyone who argued against this article clearly misrepresented the message.

26. jamesholloway - October 05, 2010 at 06:33 pm

Did Thoreau write that while running the pencil factory?

27. rosmerta - October 05, 2010 at 06:43 pm

"If you're going to invent your own life, if you're going to be truly autonomous, you also need courage: moral courage. The courage to act on your values in the face of what everyone's going to say and do to try to make you change your mind. Because they're not going to like it. Morally courageous individuals tend to make the people around them very uncomfortable."

I read this and thought immediately of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who exemplified moral courage as no one else. She left the relatively stable and secure life of the Sisters of Loreto to work directly with the poor, establishing a new order of nuns amidst the slums of Calcutta. And look what she has left the world.

28. moravian - October 05, 2010 at 09:19 pm

Bravo! I began to wonder whether in our increasngly assessment driven, career oriented environment anyone thought outside of the box and/or had the courage to articulate it. Thank you. Liberating to me as I tried to live that but perhaps scary to our students--as freedom should be.

29. fruupp - October 06, 2010 at 01:05 am


This piece reads as though it was written in 1970. I followed my bliss and, against all odds, things worked out. But, good luck selling this pipedream to first-generation college students of immigrant, minority, and working class/lower middle class families.

30. bonniepond - October 06, 2010 at 09:20 am

The author makes some excellent points. Life is not and either/or proposition and the way we approach our work shouldn't be either. Of course we all need to earn enough to pay the bills and keep food in our stomachs, but that doesn't have to mean working in "job misery."

Some of the responses seem clearly fear-driven, others appear resigned to settling for making a great income regardless of the cost to your psyche, relationships with others, or what your heart tells you is your true life purpose.

The career paths that many of us chose at 20 no longer "fit" as we grow into mid-life and beyond. There should be no stigma attached to making another choice about the work we do. Creating work we love and creating the kind of lives we were meant to live is so far outside the accepted path that it frightens many people. Those able to summon the courage to follow their own road may not earn 6 or 7 figure salaries (although many do), but they get up every morning and do what they love. What could be better?

31. kmcarey - October 06, 2010 at 11:06 am

I agree with anonscribe and adeniro. The recession has taught us what is really important, but that is one thing with two sides to it - both being able to provide for a family and being able to be there for your family. In the end, what do we really need? Food, shelter, and loved ones. All the money and comfort in the world can't replace a happy, fulfilled, and loving parent, sibling, spouse, or child.

I'm an English major working in college administration. I'll never be rich, but I work hard and I like what I do. I can support myself and feel there are a lot of possibilities out there in terms of a career. Go into publishing, be a writing coach, be a writer, take an administrative job, work for a non-profit, work for a foundation, be an entrepreneur, be a social entrepreneur, go into journalism, be a teacher, work at a museum, work at a library, go to law school, take joy in the fact that you can read and write and analyze and communicate. You understand nuance and irony and have a sophisticated grasp of culture and history, where we have been and where we might be. I have English major friends who have gone on to do all these things and are both happy and independent. These days, everyone talks about the need for imaginative and innovative minds to get the economy back on track. The arts and humanities foster that kind of mental ability, they open the mind to other possibilities and to a rich bank of words and images and ideas.

In 2005, the English major Michael Eisner took home $8.3 million. Whether or not you define that as success, that's not something you get to by following a prescribed set of the safest steps you can. Do work you love and throw yourself into it. You may have bad times (most people do). But think big. Be pragmatic but daring. That's what made this country and that's what will help it continue.

32. fizmath - October 06, 2010 at 04:18 pm

Maybe the humanities people need to work harder at selling themselves to potential employers. The problem is that you have to get past the filter of the HR people who are looking for a list of the hot computer skill of the month rather than good skills in speaking, reading, writing and reasoning.

33. pieandmash - October 06, 2010 at 06:17 pm

I was a working-class kid who went to a top-ten university where the tuition was more than my single mom earned on disability my first year of college. I not only thought very hard about my choice, I also fought family who thought it was foolish and "not for people like you."

Deresiewicz smugly pronounces: "Your parents pushed you to excel from the time you were very young. They sent you to good schools, where the encouragement of your teachers and the example of your peers helped push you even harder. Your natural aptitudes were nurtured so that, in addition to excelling in all your subjects, you developed a number of specific interests that you cultivated with particular vigor. You did extracurricular activities, went to afterschool programs, took private lessons. You spent summers doing advanced courses at a local college or attending skill-specific camps and workshops."

When privileged, clueless professors went on in such blanket terms in the second person, undoing the very sense of enlightenment they were trying to project -- these were some of the worst moments of my time as an undergraduate. You want to talk about people who really have to think about their choices every single minute of their time in college? Talk to the poor kids at these elite institutions and don't assume they aren't in the audience feeling like outsiders yet again while your rhetoric undermines the very enlightenment you are trying to project.

34. kilpikonna - October 06, 2010 at 07:45 pm

I think the message here is subtler than a simple "follow your dream" hippie optimism. I mean, a number of the "dreams" one might follow are also susceptible to the One True Way to Get There trap. (For instance, I would argue that the unemployed humanities Ph.D. is a victim, not of this kind of advice, but rather of the myopic, prestige-dominated outlook Deresiewicz is trying to combat. Academia is second only to medicine in the way it reduces the options its members see in the world.)

I don't at all think this essay is promoting a lemming-like rush to indie music festivals, Hollywood, or the GRE. Here's the message I heard: Figure out what you want to get out of life, not by choosing from a set of about five obvious paths that will make you look smart or important, but by giving the question some serious, independent thought. Then figure out a practical way to get there. None of this entails poverty.

35. michaellabay - October 07, 2010 at 11:24 am

Marshall McLuhan, the communications theorist and James Joyce scholar spoke to this very subject in the 1960's.

Kudos to the author for validating McLuhan's prescient forcasts.

As a liberal arts/humanities major with an interest in communications and technology, Marshall McLuhan continues to illuminate the path for me.

36. blarkin - October 07, 2010 at 04:10 pm

Ditto anonscribe and adeniro.

I have watched my students for the last 30 years create the opportunities they needed in order to be fulfilled while still making a reasonable living. They never gave up on who they are nor forfeited their dreams for a life of prestige.

37. trendisnotdestiny - October 07, 2010 at 04:31 pm

Another rave review for anonscribe and adeniro here...

There are two lives that we have that is often quoted:
1) The lives we learn with
2) The lives we live with after we see how the world works

38. mbachmann - October 07, 2010 at 10:55 pm

Unless I'm not taking the article literally enough, I think there might be some midunderstanding by fellow readers. I agree with Deresewicz, but on the grounds that the main point is to not self yourself short.
Philosophically, the ultimate goal of humanity is to be happy. The problem lies in what will make each person happy varies greatly from person to person. Yes, it's important to pay your bills and put food on the table. One thing that many younger people have as an advantage is not having a large family to take care of or knowing the responsibility and commitment of a mortgage payment. So, to tell college students to find what makes them happy and choose the "road less travelled" if that's what it takes to get there, is good advice. Who's to say that what works or doesn't work for them is true for everyone? Some people will have to keep their academic passions as hobbies in order to live comfortably and be happy, others are happy making a career out of those passions regardless of income. At the end of the proverbial day, you have to be able to face yourself in the mirror and admit whether or not you are satisfied with the choices you made.

39. ejb_123 - October 10, 2010 at 07:52 am

So this is the wisdom of the secular age? The Catholic priests of my childhood made more sense when they told us to search within ourselves and see if we had a calling to sell everything we own and take up the morally courageous life of being a monk or a nun. Racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in college debt so one can get a Creative Writing degree with no teaching certification is not morally courageous, but stupid. On the other hand, getting a job at a factory and spending one's evenings and weekends writing poetry, or painting, or reading the Tao Te Ching rather than watching TV and drinking away one's paycheck at the bar IS morally courageous.

40. ljsnelgrove - October 10, 2010 at 03:20 pm

Thank you for this. This whole article is "me," and if anyone would care to go further into this topic check out my personal blog (link below), and read the first entry. :) I am writer, trying to take the route of pursuing what I love and am passionate about; I cannot stand that though of "specializing." I am too interested in the world and people to ever close anything off to me! This article really reaffirmed what I believe in and gave me confidence in my academic and life decisions.

It'd mean a lot if the people interested in this read my blog and gave me feedback! Cheers!

www.cornflowerblue.blog.com

41. schmee10 - October 13, 2010 at 01:51 am

I guess I personally take offense to this whole tone/topic because it assumes that we (I am a Stanford student) only got here BECAUSE of the private lessons and the parents and the constant pressure of having to be doctors or lawyers or investors. That wasn't true for me and I'm pretty sure it is very insulting to those of my classmates who pushed themselves despite a ton of odds to be here, like poverty, apathetic parents and psychological traumas. There are many such students here, contrary to popular belief, and there are probably even more at other institutions that accept more kids/are less expensive. And yet this type of article perpetuates the stereotype that we are all cushy, sheltered automatons that can't think for ourselves. As a senior who found my own major that I love after testing out many and deciding on a field that is unfortunately chock full of the targets of this speech (I majored in biology and am considering an MD/PhD), I'm at the point in my tenure there to say SCREW all those kids who still haven't figured it out. They should have thought about this stuff long before, and they will probably get there eventually by falling on their face; however, it's motivational pep talks like these that soften that blow (which is the whole point). This keeps the few wide-eyed bushy-tailed halfwits looking for someone else to justify their real passion in that mode for longer. Ironically, this is one of those lessons that really is easy to harp on and romanticize while totally ignoring the pragmatic aspects of adulthood and will probably lead some stupid kid to have a "revelation" followed by a ton of hardship that wasn't worth it in the end. Contrary to what this guy is saying, I think that a 20 year old (more or less) IS old enough to make a decision; we are one year away from being free in the world, and nobody is going to support us while we "find ourselves". There are a few of us who have the luxury of getting more time to think about it, but those were the ones who had the super padded upbringings in the first place.
In a nutshell: 1)most of us already thought about this, thankyouverymuch and 2)even more of us, including many of the soulless preprofessional robots, need to move on with our lives and support ourselves and 3)any kid who can afford to entertain their less employable passions probably comes from enough money such that it really doesn't matter what they do in college.
I don't know if this makes sense because I am super caffeinated and in a rush. My apologies.

42. konundrum - October 13, 2010 at 07:55 pm

I was a Stanford student for 3 years before I dropped out. I began to have doubts about my particular path in life when it started to seem to me that my higher education was really nothing more than job training and the degree I was pursuing is no more nor less than a "dumbass certificate" that formally certifies that you aren't an idiot and know how to follow instructions. There is nothing wrong with this as long as you understand what you're getting into from the beginning. If you're looking for answers to existential issues, you're better off getting into philosophy as a personal pursuit.

In my case these issues so overwhelmed my mental space that I decided to leave school to give myself time to "figure it out". Its hard to remain focused on a life path when you aren't sure why you are on it in the first place. I feel that most of my classmates were either unsure of their perspective of the world, or at least aware of gross inconsistencies between different parts of their world view, which contributed greatly toward what I observed as a collective splinter in the souls of my classmates. As it happened I found that school and what might be considered "normal" career paths in our culture just don't fit with me. That is to say, the fault created by the differences between what I felt my parents, my peers and society told me would make me happy and what I thought would make me happy was so great that it demanded a shift in my life. So thats exactly what happened.

Since then I have done fine without a degree even in these bad economic times and am not worried about it one bit. Keeping an open mind to opportunity serves me well. My parents have all but disowned me, but are quite puzzled on how I am doing well and how I could be so happy. Some people, like myself, just can't get into playing the same game of life that most other people do. For me I think this has a lot to do with the fact that I was so successful early in life and saw that none of this success brought me happiness in any meaningful way. All I can say is that if you're a person like me, and are beyond the threshold of being able to find a niche in society that leaves your discontent in equilibrium, then don't take anything on anyone else's word and examine your own experience above all else. Listen to what others and the world will tell you and remember that you are the final authority on all matters concerning the nature of your existence.

Since it seems relevant to other responses: I come from a relatively low income family and was given fairly generous grants to go to school. Leaving during my third year left me with a little over 10k in debt and a sharp disdain toward the educational system. My intended major was computer science. My favorite philosopher is Alan Watts.

43. eacowan - October 14, 2010 at 04:08 pm

42. konundrum's response seems to me the most clear-headed one in the list of many other interesting ones. I am retired now from academe, but I can recall many times when I was faced with students who were either unprepared for college -- I have characterized the first year of college as being, when rightly seen, an experience akin to being slapped in the face with an ice-cold towel -- or clueless about what they want to do in life. konundrum sets us right about this: Many people can do quite well in life without any academic degree, and they are not to be despised for having made that life-choice. Moreover, in a contemporary college or university setting that is organized along the corporate principles of the business-types that have invaded academe, the choices of academic majors have been narrowed mostly to job-training ones, with the liberal arts relegated to the back of the bus. I do not envy today's college students who are confronted with this situation, for they can have no awareness of the kind of academic life that once was possible in academe. --E.A.C.

44. diplomatic - October 15, 2010 at 08:08 am

Anonscribe, adeniro and konundrum, right on! As a working class student, minority, and 1st gen. college grad, and a proud holder of an English degree, I'm glad the author deconstructed and refashioned the whole incredulity of "what are you going to do with that?" with something positive.

The James Joyce quote and the Thoreau quote are great, because the first speaks to provincial culture, and the next to the oft empty pursuit of monetary gain. What I get from this is the 'moral courage" to imagine something ad hoc that might only be produced through a philosophical re-examination of one's life, be it liberal arts education, or self-sufficiency, or responsible choices early in life: or even going into debt, though this financial aid opens doors and creates opportunities also!

But some comments strike a chord with me, particularly those aimed at the alienated lower-middle class student with fewer funds and consequently, fewer choices.

I majored in English and Communication because I always thought it was important to be able to think and communicate, and make a well- informed argument. I'm glad there are articles that cause people to think. And I credit my degree with opening the keys to understanding. Writing is so tough, you'd think it'd pay better!

But thankfully as a freelancer and consultant, one is able to pursue entrepreneurial interests, and hobbies, and even parallel or second careers. We aren't what we do, what we do is merely part of who we are.

45. mesabree - October 17, 2010 at 11:38 pm

I was sent links to this article by two different friends today, both saying that it reminded them of me. One is in her first year at Michigan Law, the other is currently applying to medical schools, and we are all Stanford graduates.

I was especially interested in this article because Deresiewicz's point is so well illustrated by commenter who seem to have misunderstood his argument. I was saddened because much of the criticism of this essay reminds me of many of my former classmates.

Perhaps the misunderstanding stems from Deresiewicz's use of layman terms in attempt to describe this particular phenomenon. If we take self-efficacy to mean that students attribute success to their intelligence, and define success as jumping through a series of hoops, from clubs and SAT scores in high school, to scholarships and grades in college, to fast-paced impressive careers in professional fields. The fortune 500 and white collar service workers (doctors, lawyers) if you will.

The problem with calling this true self-esteem (as the Harvard student claims) is that a person trained to think in this way is terrified of taking any path which might lose them ground in the race for such careers. In the same way they attribute academic and career success to intelligence, they are bound to attribute failure in these areas to inferiority. Sad but true, most of us fail initially on graduating from college, and have to re-define our idea of a successful life, terrified of it or not.

What Deresiewicz is arguing is not that choosing to become a medical or legal professional, or enter an ultimately lucrative business track is wrong, but simply that it is not the correct path for all of us. What do you do if you are not a specialist, if you enjoy varied work, if you are talented in the arts? What if,(most terrifying of all) don't know what you want to do, but only have a vague idea that it is none of the above?

The term moral courage must be separated from any religious or communal meaning it has taken on, but be received at in the most simple meaning-- personal values. Is it morally right to desert the wife you married when you were young? Well, in the simplest sense of morals, the answer might be different for you and for me.

Far too often the personal morals of Stanford students are not their own, but those of their parents, their tutors, and their peers. Far too often it is also their professors and mentors later in life. If they don't have the courage to really critically examine how they define "success" "happiness" and "a fulfilling life" then they will never have these things, and are probably doomed to that midlife crisis.

When I quit the Chemistry track in my freshman year, determined that I though I loved biological sciences, my path was not to be four years of battling pre-meds for grades by marathon library sessions, I was met with a lot of social pressure. I talked with my friends, and many of them said that dropping out of the core was a huge mistake, that I would never catch up when I eventually came to my senses. My dorm advisor, T.A.s, and administrators all said the same. None of them could accept that what I was really saying was that I didn't want to be a doctor. They simply refused to see that third choice.

Sadly, my ability to jump freely into the abyss was not one shared by many of my peers. I know many students who dreamed of spending a year abroad after graduating, or going into a career they knew they enjoyed, but eventually gave up on it in purist of a consulting job or law school. What is sad is that those dreams have not faded, but they now talk about them with regret instead of hopefulness. Half my peers have career regrets at 25.

Since college, I have worked in Antarctica, Europe, and am now working abroad in South Korea. These are not through elite scholarships, but through creative job searching and perseverance. I do contract work in fine art, graphic design, but mostly in medical and archaeological illustration. I love my post-college years, and love that work always means new things to learn and new challenges. I have often heard from friends that they feel unchallenged at work, or find the actual day to day of the career they have chosen is not the best environment for them.

It saddens me that a previous commenter was lamenting her son's bravery in giving writing a fair chance before or instead of diving into medical school. The reality seems to be that once you go to medical school, your life is not yours for many years, and when you come out of it, there may not be time for that hobby with the stresses of work and family life.

I am not saying my life is without struggles, nor that it is as lucrative as my consulting friends, but I know that I am a generalist, and that I, like many people out there, am not a specialist, nor ready to choose the door which will determine my entire career yet, closing all other doors.

I have a father who also attended Stanford and then went to Michigan Law, pulling himself out of relative poverty. Though he was able to support his family, and leads a relatively comfortable life in terms of material comforts and fancy hobbies, he has regretted this choice every day of his life.

I admire Deresiewicz's argument for widening the available options open to young elitists, and advocating for the path less taken. I have too many friends meeting with depression and failure in their narrow definitions of what a successful life is supposed to be.

In response to schmee10, maybe you will go on to be a successful MD/PhD... but at 20 you really have no idea what is out there. I learn about opportunities that have no track leading directly to them daily, and if you are the type of person who is better suited for one of these careers, no, one should not say SCREW YOU! for not having figured things out by your senior year. You are precisely the type of person who most needs to understand this point, if not for yourself, then for understanding for others who might not be so straight and narrow, or for you kids who will inevitably be pressured to hand you their life plan by the age of 20, and perhaps have a nervous breakdown a few years later.

Sorry for the novel. This topic really struck a nerve.

46. jcorp - October 18, 2010 at 08:07 am

Mesabree
You could also be, like me, middle aged and not know what you want to be when you grow up. You write very, very well. You have a gift.

47. afnaar - October 19, 2010 at 01:49 pm

Thank you!

48. das710 - October 22, 2010 at 12:08 am

As a recent college graduate swinging between the "should-do" and the "want-to-do," this article was a pleasure to read. I'm saddened by the number of negative comments on this article (and thanks to those who have added some positivity!).

Perhaps I'm naive, but surely we needn't get so anxious about someone encouraging students to think deeply about doing what they love and how to live their lives? This is one voice against what feels like the rest of the world. How can we trust students to do all the thinking and working to get into college (Yale, for instance) and not trust them to somehow make it in the world? It's not like if you're not a lawyer or doctor you're going to live on the streets.

One of the messages in this article is that the next logical step is not always the right one. We're fed the message that we will not be able to support ourselves or maintain our statuses if we don't reach as high as we can at the fastest pace possible (i.e. the highest degree, the highest paying job, the most elite statuses, the most secure paths)--regardless of our passions. There is an overwhelming pressure to go go go go, and it's reinforced by grades, rankings, praise, elite acceptances, positions, and money. Somewhere in there we also enjoy the sun on our faces, start a garden, work through a difficult novel, find love, etc., but it seems to exist in a realm separate from what we call "the real world". And yet, this is what we crave, the stuff we consider second to our jobs. If that's what reality is like, I don't like it. Deresiewicz's article asks us to think carefully about how second-rate we want these kinds of pleasures to be.

It's disingenuous to tell students to reach for the stars when we mean only a select, pre-approved number of stars that will earn them loads of cash. By sheltering students from other possibilites we're telling them we don't trust them to make decisions for themselves. Have some faith! There's so much out there--there needs to be room for other paths and I intend to make some.

49. bishopxi - October 22, 2010 at 12:34 am

As a New graduate student, I find this to be much more thought provoking now that I would have as a freshmen in college.

50. mynameiskarin115 - October 23, 2010 at 11:43 am

You all need to face reality. Some people could not possibly be fulfilled by a creative, interesting albeit low-paying job. Others scoff at the prospect of becoming a corporate lawyer, or doctor. This is exactly what makes the world go round: yes, we need these "white collar service workers." We also need the professors who will make a difference in the way our children think. We need those selfless individuals who will give up stability to travel the world and create art, save lives, anything. The fact that all of you continue to disagree with each other, and get frustrated with each other, is how we learn.

If a young person is determined to do something with their life - if that person has the drive and passion characteristic of any respected/accomplished/successful (no matter how you define it) person - they will succeed by a set of criteria that is important for them. That is all that matters. If you feel that sense of satisfaction after finishing a medical illustration, and your best friend feels it after performing surgery, so what? You get that same thrill of pride. We may not all be able to relate to each other in what we do, what path we took, or what was important to us. But we can all learn to value each other's happiness. I hope that's what this article was really intending to say: be happy. If happy means being able to send your children to elite private schools, go for it. If it means living on a farm in the middle of nowhere with no designer clothes, go for it. Whatever it means to you, do it. In the end, it's worth it.

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