I was just going to note this for my links feed over in the sidebar there, but it’s an interesting enough article to respond to a bit here. The Disadvantages of an Elite Education – By William Deresiewicz
An elite education gives you the chance to be rich—which is, after all, what we’re talking about—but it takes away the chance not to be. Yet the opportunity not to be rich is one of the greatest opportunities with which young Americans have been blessed. We live in a society that is itself so wealthy that it can afford to provide a decent living to whole classes of people who in other countries exist (or in earlier times existed) on the brink of poverty or, at least, of indignity. You can live comfortably in the United States as a schoolteacher, or a community organizer, or a civil rights lawyer, or an artist—that is, by any reasonable definition of comfort.
Now, I don’t have an elite education by any stretch, but a lot of this article resonated me all up. I sometimes look at my time here at the library as underachieving. This is no surprise to you. I feel like I could have gone on to do more; I could have been a doctor of something or other. I feel like I chickened out of the hard work it would take to do all that stuff. And then I read about how important it is not to get sucked into that world, how being outside it signifies an independent spirit instead of lack of ability. And those are really gratifying things to read. It lets me go, “People want (this romanticized version of) my life” rightly or wrongly.
I’ve been told not to change, to be happy I’m in the position I’m in. To be able to go enjoy a baseball game on a Thursday afternoon. I’ve been reading Walden and it’s all about living in the woods by yourself and how that is the only measure of success we should be looking for. That’s what Thomas Merton did too (with the addition of being an actual monk). Those things don’t feel like huge stretches for me. I could do that. But I can’t help feeling that I’m missing something by skipping all the intermediate steps. I feel like I haven’t given up anything to arrive where I am.
You can read all this stuff out there about simplifying your life to find happiness and blah blah blah. I shelve at least a dozen of those books every week. When you’re already pared down pretty far though you hit some sort of diminishing return. Sometimes I feel like I should be ambitious in a professional sense, so that I could come back to this life and really appreciate it. Part of my qualms about going to Japan and teaching (which I’m not planning on doing in the immediate future) had to do with how I’d look back on this time at the library as such a wonderful relaxing peaceful time for me. What is that, some sort of latent conservatism? I don’t want to give up the good life I’ve got going for one which I’d like much less?
Last night on the Daily Show there was the top foreign correspondent for CBS talking about her work in Iraq and Afghanistan and how important it was. Sometimes I want to be her, to actually have a fight on my hands every day to do something important. And I feel bad for sitting here writing my little stories while the world goes to hell.
And sometimes I just really want an iPhone.