For the most part, the college commencement speech has become a joke, a pile of fluffy nonsense written to inspire without providing value, to feed the ego rather than providing the students with a much needed dose of humility, reality, and applicable advice that will actually help. The speaker, typically someone famous who got famous by working hard, sacrificing, and only after years of practice, tells the students not to get a job so they can pay their bills and use the skills they trained in college, but to “be true to yourself” or “follow your passion”. It’s advice that is a product of our ever-more narcissistic generation and society. It’s a society that lists “fame” as our ideal career. We put image above substance and care more about how we’re perceived than who we are or who others are as people.
[Tweet “We care not about the content of a man’s character and instead about what car he drives.”]
Vanity is king because the individual is the center of the universe.
Our youth is trained to believe that they are special, that they’re the center of the universe without having actually done anything to warrant such a lofty view of themselves. According to a Gallup poll from 1950, 12 percent of high school seniors considered themselves to be a very important person. That sounds like a large number for a group that hasn’t yet accomplished anything of value. In 2005, however, that number was 80 percent. That is, high school seniors who have yet to even graduate from basic education and yet still view themselves as very important persons.
Very important persons, aside from our loved ones, are the men and women who’ve contributed something of value to our society. It isn’t the famous, for many of them act and pretend (I’m not sure how that can be seen as important) or sing and dance (which just seems silly) for a living, but those who are of real value to our communities or our society. It isn’t the athletes who are very important; they are essentially there for our entertainment. Important people have to give something of importance. A medical breakthrough, a brilliant book, unbiased and important reporting, companies that employ and provide jobs and services that become essential to our daily lives. Not high school kids who still giggle at the sound of a fart (granted, farts are and always will be giggle-worthy, so that was a bad example).
Which brings us to the stupidity of much – not all – of the advice given at the college commencement ceremony. Ellen DeGeneres, clearly high on helium at the time of the speech, actually gave this advice to a group of students entering a world filled with harsh realities like paying bills and taxes and raising a family:
“My advice to you is to be true to yourself and everything will be fine.”
What. The. Fuck.
Truth isn’t abstract. It isn’t a feeling or a wish. Truth must be founded in reality. “Your truth” isn’t necessarily the truth. You may not want to work, but you must work if you want to sleep in a bed. You may not want to pay taxes, but how would you then justify using the roads you drive on unless you’re fine accepting gifts from people who do work hard and who do pay taxes? In which case you’re a leech. Everything will not be fine if you just be true to yourself because sometimes we can all be lazy bastards more likely to turn on the TV than take out the garbage. We can be cynical and envious and only through self-awareness and discipline can we rid ourselves of emotions and worldviews that will keep us small and useless. (Read This: 5 Ways to Become More Disciplined)
To be true to yourself could mean go on a psychotic murderous rampage or that simply by being nice to people you will get everything you want in life. Niceness doesn’t feed your kid. Niceness in the form of service, can, but where’s the fame in service?
To tell a group of impressionable young humans that simply by being true to yourself that everything will be fine is far more harmful than helpful. Yet, it’s a product of our generation where we are at the center. A world where we are at the center makes service something that others should do. Capitalism, however, our wonderful system where we get something only when we give something, is set up so as each individual must serve in order to be served. You must start by serving or else you will get nothing in return and what many of us want in return – the vacations, the mansion, fast cars or big trucks – only come after years of working and decades of practice.
Do Not Follow Your Passion.
Humility used to be ingrained into who we once were culturally, it wasn’t something you had to learn. Popularity was never really a goal. Today, “fame” is listed as one of the top “career” choices amongst our youth. We have famous people who don’t really do anything. They don’t hone their craft as an actor or a writer. They don’t spend years shooting jump shots. They’re catapulted into the public eye for their relationships or the sheer stupidity of their lives. (Read This: Forget Finding Your Passion. Just Work.)
Yet, like most things today, it’s a product of our generation.
We have become a people that genuinely believe that if we are as we are we will have what we’re destined to have. Thus, we’ve removed the necessity for grit, for hard work, and for the development of those attributes and virtues that make us good and valuable and allow us to live meaningful lives.
Value vs Vanity
Passion is also suffering. When we say “follow your passion” what should be noted is that passion is the suffering in the pursuit of meaning. It’s suffering! Think, The Passion of the Christ and you’ll see what we should be thinking of when we say “follow your passion”. It should not be about a hairy fairy pursuit of nothing in no direction but a direct and purposeful suffering in the attempt to acquire the skills needed to serve others and for greatness.
Yet, when a wee lad is told to follow his passion he thinks of, Into the Wild, the movie – and book – where the fella ends up alone and dead and wishing he were with those that he loved. He doesn’t see the conclusion in his dreams, he sees the epic adventure forgetting the crushing loneliness. He thinks of a Hemingway-like figure, traveling the world, writing, hunting, without knowing the struggles of the man, the hours of work put into perfecting his craft.
Every success story has served. Modern tech moguls created services that have become a part of our lives. They’ve also contributed to the vanity and weightlessness of our lives. As we post pictures to convey an image to other humans who look on our pages and profiles we make our lives about us. We compound the sense of entitlement that our universe centers around us and that we are special.
The reality is that we only show people what we want them to see; the special moments, the trips, the vacations. In return, we see only what others want us to see. We get depressed because we’re bombarded by images and posts of people living out the life we want to live and we’re completely ignorant to the fact that we’re only getting pieces of a far greater and much more complex picture.
We live in a world where image literally is everything and substance is only developed and grown by those with the wherewithal and intelligence to see the futility of the comparison game that has become social media, which in turn has become our social circles. It’s easier to think that we should follow our passion when so many others are portraying this as their pursuit as well.
What you end up with are people that feel entitled to meaning.
Think about that. Meaning is something that can also be called purpose. A purpose in life is a quest of some kind. It’s a mission. A mission is tough, it’s arduous, it’s a struggle. There can be no struggle in “being true to yourself” or “following your passion” as it’s portrayed by so many of these airheads that give college speeches. It seems as though they’re dulling the brains of the youth rather than challenging them to be better.
Meaning isn’t something you’re entitled to simply by birthright. It’s something you struggle through, toward, and for.
There Is More Meaning in a 9-5 Than We Give Credit.
We love to complain about our jobs, yet we’re happiest when we’re working. This is true. We actually love work, no matter how much we hate the job, because it gives us a purpose. We need work, even the kind that our society has shunned its back on, the 9-5, the cubicle, the warehouse, the construction job where our homes and cities are built. We need this work because work is as important as our relationships for our soul.
So, where “they”position following your passion as the route to happiness, it’s work, hard, arduous work even at a job that you hate that will make you feel as though you’re improving, growing, and living. When finding your passion is your pursuit in life you’ll lack the growth that comes from sacrifice, you’ll suffer from not acquiring the grit that comes from work. Most of all, though, you won’t be able to pay your bills because you’re not doing anything to warrant a paycheck.
Life isn’t about finding a passion, sometimes it’s about working for something greater, even if that job is something you hate, because it’s work, and every man deserves the pride that comes from an earned paycheck, no matter if he’s picking up garbage, walking dogs, or killing bad guys. Every man needs this pride but the goofballs who educate us and the weirdos that give these commencement speeches are far too often steering us away from the plumbing jobs, the construction jobs, the tough work that our society needs to stand upright, and that our men need to do the same.
Find a job, any job, and work to feed the ones you love rather than thinking about the man in the mirror as the center of the universe.
And I realize the hypocrisy that this wreaks of coming from a guy who writes blogs and articles and newsletters, programs and ebooks and soon-to-be-books from a desk in his house about topics that he loves, answering questions he receives both from you and internally and earning a living doing so. If I were doing something it would seem that I’m “following my passion.” That is, until you look at how things have gone for me and how they are now…
Where I was at 19…
I was in college playing basketball. After I got injured, I dropped out of college because what’s the point without sports? Enter, the work force. I learned more in 9 months of my first sales job than I did in 2.5 years of college. And it’s not even close. I learned selling, which is a skill that every single person does, no matter if they’re a doctor, teacher, politician, or businessman, everyone is selling something.
I learned discipline. I’d get to the office 2 hours before anyone else to start calling. And this isn’t to brag, rather, because I figured out that I just wasn’t as good as others in my office, so I needed to work harder than them if I was going to beat them (and yes, everything is a competition). Where I learned the most was from the head-honchos who taught me about success and what real control over your life looks like (I worked for a great company).
From there, I was now 23 or 24, I started a training business after working for a gym for a year. That went okay. It paid the bills for a couple years even though I don’t like training people (most advice falls on lazy humans that may want to pay for a trainer but don’t actually want to work or eat right when you’re not with them). After that I started this site. Only after 4 years did it start yielding real results as far as growth and becoming a legitimate business.
“My passion” isn’t a fluffy journey. Living on rice and cereal month after month trying to figure out where the rent money comes from because you’ve given up all other sources of income and taken a real shot at this online thing, isn’t easy. And it isn’t recommended.
This isn’t my passion. This is my work. Everyday I wake up between 3-4am and practice. I’m not wandering through a field of flowers with my head in the clouds trying to find myself, I’m practicing and trying to perfect. I’m creating myself. I’m toiling endlessly trying to find my voice, nay, create my voice, and while I’m incredibly passionate about what I do, it’s passion that pushes me, I’m not following it anywhere.
You Are Not Special
[Tweet “I am no better than my neighbor and he is no better than me. “]
It’s the truth. There are things your neighbor knows that you don’t and things you know that he doesn’t. Because we’re better at a skill, even more ambitious, just makes us more ambitious, it doesn’t make us better. And therein lies the difference between the old school and the new school.
I’m not lamenting on the past and wishing I were there. There are so many things better now that didn’t exist back then, however, the athletes didn’t do celebration dances after every play because they respect the sport and the men they played against. There weren’t showboats, and if there were, they’d get knocked on their ass.
You didn’t buy the loudest, most expensive car because it was weird to show off. Today, it’s weird not to show off. I’m reading a book right now called, The Road to Character. You should read it. When you do you’ll see what spurred on this article. You’ll also see the parallels between our modern society and that of “the Greatest Generation”. David Brooks doesn’t blindly praise times past, he sees the good in the present and how well we’ve made life for far more people. However, the humility that once was so common is clearly lost, and the pursuit of character is almost non-existent.
I’ve also started tracking virtues, as Ben Franklin did. It’s in the pursuit of a virtuous life, in the pursuit of things like humility and not status, that we gain something far greater than a new car or false admiration, we acquire the meaning that so many lives now lack and millions seem to be searching for.
Take a step back. Reflect on the man you are and your pursuits. Maybe you’re like me, maybe you need to change some things around so your life is about more than just acquiring things. So that it’s about living a life of service, of daily improvement, about not wasting the gifts your Maker gave you and your folks sacrificed so greatly to provide you with.
You are not special, but neither is anyone. We’re each here as humble humans trying to figure this thing out and it’s effort that will help us solve life’s greatest equations.
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