Don’t Do, Be

Coincidences are wonderful things … after class wrapped up yesterday, two students hung around to return some gear and ask a few questions. Not about class, about what comes after class. One is graduating in a few weeks and had an idea on what she wanted to do – six month internship, then grad school in the fall.

A month or so ago I got an excited email from a student who had planned on heading from undergrad into law school saying she wasn’t doing that – after spending a day with a photojournalist at the Greenville News, she was all fired up and wanted to pursue her passion. That’s what she wanted to do next.

Grad school, law school or … what? What else is there? For yesterday’s student, I said take two years, go tell stories. I think I summed it up with a fairly Zen-like comment: Don’t do, be.

Don’t go do something because you think it’s what comes next. Go be. This student, as with so many others, went to elementary school, middle school, high school and then university. The only thing she knows how to be is a student. And while being a student of life is a great idea, just being a student gets old. Particularly for the young.

I could go into a lengthy discussion about how much more meaningful grad school was to me at 33 then it would have been at 21, but many of you have heard that. So the short version: undergrad is, in a lot of ways and even though it’s not supposed to be, preparation for your career. Grad school should be about understanding your life. It’s now about how, but about why.

And if you don’t know how to live – how to balance a checkbook, pay the rent, choose a health insurance package – then trying to figure out why you live is sort of pointless. It’s like learning how to make coffee when you don’t like coffee.

So, the coincidence … fellow Syracuse University alum Joe McNally (wow, does that ever make me seem more important or what?) has a post up about “hang(ing) up your shingle,” his response to a letter from a student who’s not really following his passion. He wraps up with this:

You are just beginning to write your pages, and the thing to remember about this early rough draft is that it hardly matters what you do exactly, as long as you continue to become something close to what you might imagine you want or need to become. Being a bit slow and never prone to academic excellence and achievement, I really have had no choice over the years but to embrace Einstein’s thought. “Imagination is better than knowledge.”

If it calls you, follow. Or, as the Quakers say, “Proceed as the way opens.”

(To any parents reading this: I’m sorry.)