Diamond-Cut Life

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The Best Advice For College Graduates

May 31st, 2011 by Alison · 2 Comments · global warming and climate change, work

What is the most meaningful work you have ever done? How happy did it make you — both then, and now, thinking back on it? Was it the work you had originally planned on doing?

New York Times writer David Brooks points out in his excellent editorial today that some bad advice is being given to this spring’s large crop of college graduates. Mr. Brooks reports that many commencement addresses are reciting the standard-issue United States  litany that the college graduates should march to the beat of their own drummer, follow their dreams, find themselves. And doing this, they are told, will yield them a successful, meaningful life.

He doesn’t think so. Neither do I.

Rather, a successful life involves finding problems that need solving — that we then help solve, by working in a relevant job. It typically involves ongoing teamwork, not being a rugged individual who does his or her own thing. Our heroes — from President Obama to people like Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, and Rosa Parks (of bus integration fame) were and are people who worked with hundreds of others, all of whom saw problems that needed solving.

Meaningful work and right livelihood is one of the paths to happiness that I emphasize at Diamond-Cut Life (along with relationships, connecting with nature, and entertaining ourselves instead of being passive consumers of entertainment). David Brooks points out that the people we most admire aren’t necessarily the happiest, but the biggest contributors.

Here are some answers I would give myself, off the top of my head, to the question I initially posed on the most meaningful work I’ve done in my life. None of the below was work I did in service to ‘finding myself’, or pursuing pre-conceived dreams I thought would make me happy.

  • Counseling late-stage, low-income alcoholics and drug addicts in 1989-1991. Very hard work, but deeply soulful, and done in teamwork with a staff.
  • Helping my mother in her end-of-life process earlier this spring. I have never traveled holier ground, nor felt so needed and able to be of service in alleviating suffering. Again, I was part of a team.
  • Being a volunteer camp counselor several summers at a Christian camp. Being in nature, doing Ropes Course and  hiking with young people, and entertaining ourselves as a group with singing and campfire programs, all in the context of liberal, inclusive Christianity, was both meaningful and high-spirited fun.
  • Writing this blog. 88,000 hits to date, while modest by the standards of many blogs, lets me know that many people are considering my thoughts and practical tips on consuming less while cultivating true joy, not just momentary pleasure. I see Diamond-Cut Life as a resource that will become increasingly relevant as global warming proceeds, fossil fuels are in shorter supply, and our lives change dramatically, whether or not we want them to.

As David Brooks entitled his column today on pursuing a successful, meaningful life, “It’s Not About You.”  His final sentence: “The purpose in life is not to find yourself. It’s to lose yourself.”  — In service, I would add.

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Tess Giles Marshall

    Your bullet points demonstrate who you are more clearly than the most rugged individualism.
    Another crucial aspect to living a meaningful life, I believe, is the experience of failure. Which gives us an opportunity to get up again. (And again…)

  • Colleen

    Responding to the question you pose in your first sentence of the post, “What is the most meaningful work you have ever done?,” is difficult. I hope that meaningful work for me also creates positive impact in others, too, but sometimes the two don’t necessarily intersect. So I’ll answer it this way: I hope that my most meaningful work is yet to come! :)

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