It is graduation season in the area, my last as a teacher. After 25 years of thinking about it, I have come up with an answer to the most often asked question of high school graduates — what do you plan to do with your life?
This question is just a variation of the old “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My grandson Tim, who is 5, is convinced he’s going to be a paleontologist. He is going through his dinosaur phase.
When I was asked that question when I was a kid, I usually responded I wanted to be police officer. I almost became one after my (military) discharge, but college led me to the path I would eventually follow.
Over the years, I have watched efforts to get students to make career decisions at a younger age. I’m sure there’s research to support it, but it seems to me narrowing things down early eliminates the other paths they may have followed, paths that might have been more rewarding to both them and us.
In another vein, I have always believed that you are not what you do. You are just a person who happens to do something for a living at this moment. I think this is what will get me through retiring from a job I love.
I have done a number of things in my life and am looking forward to the next thing, whatever it is. I learned later in life, however, not to define myself by what I was doing but by who I was. It was a painful but valuable lesson.
That’s the point of career education I think we are missing. It’s not the career, but the person that’s important. How well do we develop the person? You can educate someone for a career, but who that someone is has a direct impact on the people they come in contact with during that career.
This has become critical in our nation. Too many have embraced careers without character. We have become an “in your face” people. Our political discourse is nothing more than talking points and shouting. Our news organizations have thrown “fair and balanced” out the window and have become mouthpieces of political parties. Radio talk shows are the worst. Their incendiary rhetoric has emboldened hate groups to come out of the woodwork and take action, leading to violence.
Our elected officials have one focus, it seems – get re-elected. There was a time they could argue with each other and then go to lunch, but not anymore. We no longer respect our opposition, we vilify them. We tag them with names as if we were involved in a playground fight.
This has led to a nation that spends trillions on the military while cutting school lunches and forcing senior citizens out of nursing homes. We balance budgets on the backs of the people who have the fewest resources while giving more to those people who have the most.
In our pursuit of win at all costs and crush our opposition, we have left one of the most important aspects of personal character behind us – kindness.
Kindness is the direct result of humility, something else that is definitely lacking. It is developed when we try to walk in someone else’s shoes, when we try to see the world as they do, when we try to understand what we do and say has a direct impact on others.
Kindness always leads to dialogue and the ability to actually listen to and understand someone with whom we don’t agree. Only then can we work together for the betterment of us all.
To me, the most important point during this graduation season is this: career without character helps no one. So, the answer to the question “what do you plan to do with your life?” is simply “be a kind person.”
With a character like that the rest will fall into place.