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By David Harder on September, 15, 2013

On becoming who you are

One Move Beyond the Crisis in Education

  • Higher education is here to teach us how to learn
  • It is not here to define what to do with our lives 

I spend a lot of time on university campuses and virtually every academic is consumed with the challenges facing higher education. Much of our country is focused on the deepening crisis behind the value proposition of getting a degree, the diminishing promise of jobs waiting upon graduation and the vast changes in how young people consume and digest information.

While so many fingers are pointing at higher education leadership, everyone that I work with discusses a great and underlying cultural dysfunction that subtracts enormous potential from educational results.

The current and past state produces enormous heartache in so many Americans from all generations:

Vast numbers of students show up at school with little connection to their purpose in life. They are often raised by parents who either crush any idea of self-definition with rants of “getting a real job” or who perpetuate the myth that real self-definition is elusive at best.

For 23 years, Inspired Work has produced self-definition, the kind that over 40,000 people have gone out and used with great results. It happens in just 48 hours. So, the idea that millions of kids arrive at our universities without self-definition is difficult for me or for my colleagues to accept.

The single most valuable barometer of whether our lives are working or not is joy. I look forward to the possibility of a time when overriding our son’s and daughter’s dreams about life is considered child abuse.

The point-of-view has personal underpinnings:

A couple of week’s ago, I was parking behind the University Club at USC. When I was a student, the club was off limits; a bastion for the elite. I laughed at the turn of events. But, as I got out of the car, my gaze traveled across the plaza to the Bovard building and a vivid memory flooded back. I watched a young man walking towards me. He was barely able to hold it together. His tears started flowing a few feet away from my car.

I was trying to get back to my apartment in one piece.

I didn’t want anyone to know.

I didn’t want anyone to know my adoptive father had just cut me off because I wouldn’t and couldn’t become a doctor.

It didn’t matter that I was the number one piano performance major at USC.

Leaving school was one of the lowest points in my life. Who knows why USC, of all places, is now one of our most treasured accounts? Who can possibly understand that when I found my birth mother, it turned out that she studied music at USC?

All that I know is that there is a God.

Sad? Absolutely.

But, I am one of the lucky ones. The outrage of my adoptive father’s behavior began a revolution that ultimately led to my life’s work – a life where joy indicates, indeed, that I have found the right path.

All too often, we perpetuate aimlessness and heartbreak within our culture by running away from the fact that all of us are born with a purpose, with a tonality, with a design that is every bit as unique as our thumbprint. And, when we step into that place, joy is part of the equation.

Work consumes most of our waking hours.

Consequently, it is valuable to raise our children by nurturing them to be themselves and to define what they most want to do. It is more responsible to focus our energy in helping them realize how to succeed in that purpose. It is more loving to center our time with instilling, in our children, they can and will deal with anything their lives dish out to them.

Wouldn’t that be more responsible and athletic than telling them to distrust their own authentic desires?

It is insane to start school without defining the purpose that will produce joy in our lives. There is no excuse to doing that just because our parents did the same. That pursuit is a little like building a new home on a spot in Malibu where three others have burned to the ground.

It is insane to be middle-aged and go another day without defining how we can work in ways that produces joy within our lives.

Our love of work contributes to the length and quality of our lives.

And, for every cynical point-of-view that this pursuit won’t work, there is a successful role model that demonstrates yes we can.

I think of the Englishman we met in Maui last week. He makes a fortune from a little shaved ice stand across from the ocean and talking to people from all over the world. Every one of us can find our own paradise.

I think of the thousands of people that I actually know who wake up in the morning and have some form of the same thoughts:

“I can’t wait to get there.”

 “I can’t believe I get paid to do this.”

 “I am blessed.”

I think of Jeffery Kluger’s article in Time Magazine (September 23, 2013) entitled “The Art of Living.”

He tells us,

“It may be no coincidence that so many creative types have long lives. New findings show how doing what you love can add years.”

There are no guarantees of success. However, we can certainly increase the probability of success.

Want to get the most out of that education?

Question the adult who tells you to pursue survival. Agreeing will only increase the probability of a mediocre outcome.

Pursue what you love – always.

All the best.