I’m a pretty hardened sort these days. After all these years, failed relationships, graduate degrees, a divorce, life with kids, etc. there’s not a lot that causes me to tear up.
And yet every time I take a kids to a live performance, I do just that. I find it to be emotionally overpowering. Today as we were sitting in a Ballet West holiday performance of The Nutcracker, I was asking myself why.
I think it comes down to being touched by pure moments. These are people who love something, who have dedicated their life to something, who have a calling—and who fulfill that calling, who do what they do very, very well. They are at one with their work, and their work is beautiful. They operate without a net, in a kind of a pure social situation, unmediated by technology, without second chances. They do it for us.
Someone who is called, who has a purpose, does something rare and difficult and does it very well—just for us. And we are present, we attend for them, to acknowledge that they do it and to appreciate that they do it.
There’s so much in that that is both everything that I always dreamed of as a young person and also that is everything that I’ve lost—everything that was once my future, but isn’t any longer.
It’s both the the same love that I’ve always had of a very particular dynamic—tears of appreciation—and the sense of loss that comes with knowing that this will never be me—tears of loss—along with the rare experience of shared social space, of a real interaction, of people being present to one another consciously, to a accomplish something beautiful as a social body—tears of collective effervescence.
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On a different but related note, the worst possible education and career advice to young people is the usual middle class advice, which goes something like this:
- Don’t just live your life or choose your path for money, because there’s more to life than money and this will leave you miserable and unfulfilled.
- Don’t just live your life for your dreams, because if they don’t work out, you’re going to need some money.
- So chase your dreams but always have a “Plan B” or a “fallback” in case you need it.
This is terrible advice, absolutely terrible.
By splitting your attention between two different paths—let’s call them the “dream path” and the “fallback money path”—you dedicate only 50 percent of your resources to either of them and basically ensure that you will fail utterly at both in a hypercompetitive world.
To succeed in either, you must choose it and it alone and sacrifice deeply and with dedication for it. You must be single-minded in your pursuit.
And just as importantly, either is entirely acceptable and likely to make you happy. In fact, they are both likely to be the same thing in the end. Follow your dreams with abandon and you will achieve success in a specialized area. Money will follow—the money that only follows for those that embrace and fulfill their calling. Meanwhile, pursue money with clarity and ruthlessness and you will have every resource that you need to (a) eventually have free time and ready resources in your life and (b) use these to fill that free time by following your dreams.
The middle-class advice, borne of risk-aversion and a kind of psychological trauma of precarity, basically ensures that people will fail. You don’t directly follow your dreams enough to compete now, and you also will never have even close to enough money to follow them later. It’s what keeps the bright middle class kid trapped in the middle class for his entire life, no matter the fact that he was top of his class and went to an Ivy League school, etc.
No, middle class kids. Here is the advice that you want.
Choose one of these and pursue it to the exclusion of everything else in life until you are thirty years old:
- Money, for the sake of money
- Your dreams, without any thought of money
If you’re bright, and you choose one—and only one—of these options and make it the core of your being until you’re thirty, you’ll find that when you’re forty—unlike all of the other middle-class kids from the neighborhood who all “knew there was more to life than money” but also had “backup plans,” you:
- Have more money than you know what to do with
- Are able to successfully follow your dreams
Those people that place a particular culture and frame of mind at the center of what it means to belong to a particular class are right. Class is, more than anything else, a particular way of thinking.
All the other trappings of class proceed from it.