I watched a well-intended speech today for fifteen year old level A students. The gist was that life happens according to your own internal clock, not according to the timetable imposed on us by society. It’s okay not to be married at 30 or graduating after 25 or getting your first job at 27. Did you know that JK Rowling first got published at the ripe old age of 32 and that Morgan Freeman got his big break at 52? Applause. Just be who you are, follow your dreams and eventually you will succeed.
That is the message. Eventually. No pressure, believe me more than you can believe yourself: you too will eventually make it big. Your story will be a success story. It has to be that way because if you believe hard enough, the universe will conspire to make it happen.
It is precisely this message that puts more pressure on people. Concrete goals such as graduating college at 22 or having 2 kids by age 33 are replaced by you-know-best-yourself goals. This absence of a yardstick to measure your own achievements against can backfire terribly. Insecure people will get more insecure and now they don’t have a way to prove themselves wrong. In the decadent be-who-thy-be philosophy, they cannot be wrong.
Guidance is replaced by slogans that smack of wisdom and the tragedy is that they are irrefutable from the perspective of the be-who-we-tell-you-to-be. The 15 year olds can not be expected to be critical, but from the educators who purvey this type of happy-go-lucky doublespeak peptalk we can demand that they study Kafka and Orwell and make their Good News less intimidating.
We want to educate critical minds not neurotic narcissists. Young people should not be seduced to manufacture only their unique success story in the face of a society that won’t reward them, I think. But do I have a solution? No. The best advice I can offer is to skip this soft of commencement talks whenever possible.