Last weekend was an interesting one. My son and I spent the weekend together and I noticed a deeply reflective look on his face. As I mentioned before in previous entries, my son is in a four-year Commerce Program at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. The reflective look, as I knew it would be, was the look of wondering about his path in life. Essentially, the key question boiled down to, "Am I on my path or somebody else's path?" I knew his thoughts and feelings were not merely about his education. They originated from a much deeper source: "The first function is awakening in the individual a sense of awe and mystery and gratitude for the ultimate mystery of being. (Joseph Campbell)." It was, I believe, in fact a point of awakening within...
At an early age my son has always had a natural affinity with making things. I suppose this is a natural inclination of many children and that learning at that point in life is unavoidably tied to the acts of making and doing. Exploration and discovery are assumptions to a child, yet our social systems turn these natural inclinations into a controlled series of goals and objectives. I mentioned some of my memories of him in his childhood - his natural tendencies toward making and doing. This contrasted to his current situation of being made and being done by the forces of society. In other words, his intuition was quite literally screaming at him and demanding attention.
One of the traits I have tried as best I can to instill in both my children is to unify their inner passions and drive in life with their career. Consideration of our passions in life - the things that naturally energize us, the things that we naturally tend toward, the things we do because we have a felt need to do them - is a prerequisite to consideration of a career and work. Unfortunately, I believe, our social system has inverted this proposal so that consideration of what our careers and work will be is often made in the absence or, at least, in the weak presence of our inner passion. Joseph Campbell referred to this passion as "bliss."
With respect to a career and work, it seems to me that if we are following our bliss a career and the work we do are sources of energy and constant revitalization. In the presence of bliss, we grow stronger as individuals on a personal level and on a community (giving) level. If we are not following our bliss, a career and work can seem like a virtual prison that traps us in routines and processes that literally sap energy and revitalization from our being. Simply, a career and work in the absence of our own unique bliss is a recipe for exhaustion and confusion.
My son's questionning focused not on determining a career path for there are a number of career paths he could easily follow. His questions were decidedly focused on his life path - something far greater in scope than a career or work. I mentioned the idea of bliss to him and that, in my opinion, we as a society are making a fundamental mistake. And that mistake is the idea of encouraging, if not forcing, people to make career decisions that will occupy forty or more years of their life based on social expectations and job market requirements. The source of career design and work is ultimately our life path, not imposed social expectations. Living a life and building a career based on some shallow conceptions of success will clearly lead to unhappiness and a sense of loss, if not illness itself. In other words, a career and the work we do within that career is simply a by-product of something far greater and far more powerful - our inner passion for the mystery of life itself.
He clearly identified that he has a deep passion for history - especially ancient history. And he has always been a voracious reader of myth and fantasy - the idea of how civilizations havve been and might be constructed is clearly a passion for him. He identified a professor in an elective he had taken at McMaster that seemed to share his passion. So of course I said, "Phone him. Go talk to him." Moreover, he identified the fact that when he is "studying" (i.e. - exploring and discovering things about ancient civilizations) his concept of work was one that energized him and provided fuel for his soul. Work, in this context, did not result in feeling tired.
Of course, it was time to return to Jospeh Campbell, an individual I had mentioned to my son before (planting seeds) but one that, until now, he was not quite ready to explore. I described Campbell's life in general terms and I could see a glint in my son's eyes. I read some sections from "Pathways to Bliss" to him and suggested he take the book - he has. "The answer to your questions about your life," I told him, "are already within you. They will not be found outside of yourself, but joining in the conversation with others of like spirit is invaluable."
We also discussed the different between being educated and being credentialed. It is all too obvious to say that receiving a degree and being educated are two entirely different propositions. And in our present day we live in a time when degrees are frankly a dime a dozen. In Dark Ages Ahead Jane Jacobs comments, "... student enrollment statistics have become the unofficial appendix to stock market performance." If this is the case, and I suspect there is validity to it, then higher education has indeed started entering a dark age. A degree, then, is denigrated to the function of currency. She goes on to comment,
Far from elevating credentialing above educating, they (university administrators) were sweepingly enlarging the idea of educating to embrace whatever skills seemed needed, from cost-benefit analysis to marketing.
If we are to embrace education in its most important sense, we must then help our youth to understand that this obsession with credentialing is in fact a recipe for unhappiness and within it is the possibility of living a life far removed from our own unique inner passion. The path that links education to stock market performance is, quite frankly, pathetic and inexcusable and I like the fact that Jane has used the word "credentialing" as a means to rescue the heart of education from economic imprisonment.
As for my son - we'll see what he does. Clearly, he is not willing to become driven by the economy while at the same time he wishes to make a contribution to the people in his life. I believe his understanding of a career and of work have been refocused as things that are not derived from a particular degree (although I suspect he has always known this), but as apsects of life that originate in some deeper sense of felt meaning. One of his more interesting comments was (paraphrased), "I'm not willing to spend the next forty-five years of my life being unhappy."
The first function is awakening in the individual a sense of awe and mystery and gratitude for the ultimate mystery of being. (Joseph Campbell).
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