To the Graduating Class: Don’t Find Yourself, Lose Yourself

I came across a refreshing New York Times article about the journey from graduation into young adulthood.  The premise of the article was primarily about the reality of a current generation that has been extremely supervised and programmed during childhood facing the challenge of entering adulthood in a world that is increasingly unstructured.

The part of the article that I found fascinating (and I believe will resound with the current generation of youth and young adults more than any previous generation) talks about the need to enter life not as an individual, but as a participant in relationship and community:

If you sample some of the commencement addresses being broadcast on C-SPAN these days, you see that many graduates are told to: Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself. This is the litany of expressive individualism, which is still the dominant note in American culture.

But, of course, this mantra misleads on nearly every front.

College grads are often sent out into the world amid rapturous talk of limitless possibilities. But this talk is of no help to the central business of adulthood, finding serious things to tie yourself down to. The successful young adult is beginning to make sacred commitments — to a spouse, a community and calling — yet mostly hears about freedom and autonomy.

The writer (David Brooks) goes on to suggest that “Most successful young people don’t look inside and then plan a life. They look outside and find a problem, which summons their life.”

I am convinced that such an outward, responsive way of life will be at the heart of how the next generation will impact the world they belong to.  It will come primarily from realizing that they do, in fact, belong to a world, a nation, a community, a family.  It will come from realizing that we are not collections of individuals, but lives intertwined and woven together.  I do not think that such a perspective is a new phenomenon, but I do expect it to define the next generation to a degree that no one alive today has experienced in their lifetime.

Because of this, I also remain convinced that faith communities will be needed to play a vital role in this emerging reality.  Community is important.  It is also hard work that requires intentional involvement and shared values and priorities.  Faith communities will continue to provide the context in which community can be formed, nurtured and tasked with responding faithfully, wisely, and compassionately to the realities that we face together in the 21st century.

The article ends by stating that “the purpose in life is not to find yourself. It’s to lose yourself.”  This not only defines the most fulfilling way to enter into life at any age, but echoes the truth spoken by Jesus in Matthew 10:39:  “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

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