Barrack Obama, speaking at the Arizona State University Commencement:
"For many of you, these challenges are felt in more personal terms. Perhaps you're still looking for a job - or struggling to figure out what career path makes sense in this economy. Maybe you've got student loans, or credit card debts, and are wondering how you'll ever pay them off. Maybe you've got a family to raise, and are wondering how you'll ensure that your kids have the same opportunities you've had to get an education and pursue their dreams.In the face of these challenges, it may be tempting to fall back on the formulas for success that have dominated these recent years. Many of you have been taught to chase after the usual brass rings: being on this "who's who" list or that top 100 list; how much money you make and how big your corner office is; whether you have a fancy enough title or a nice enough car. You can take that road - and it may work for some of you.
But at this difficult time, let me suggest that such an approach won't get you where you want to go; that in fact, the elevation of appearance over substance, celebrity over character, short-term gain over lasting achievement is precisely what your generation needs to help end.
I want to highlight two main problems with that old approach. First, it distracts you from what is truly important, and may lead you to compromise your values, principles and commitments. Think about it. It's in chasing titles and status - in worrying about the next election rather than the national interest and the interests of those they represent - that politicians so often lose their way in Washington. It was in pursuit of gaudy short-term profits, and the bonuses that come with them, that so many folks lost their way on Wall Street.
The leaders we revere, the businesses that last - they are not the result of narrow pursuit of popularity or personal advancement, but of devotion to some bigger purpose - the preservation of the Union or the determination to lift a country out of depression; the creation of a quality product or a commitment to your customers, your workers, your shareholders and your community.
The trappings of success may be a by-product of this larger mission, but they can't be the central thing. Just ask Bernie Madoff.
The second problem with the old approach is that a relentless focus on the outward markers of success all too often leads to complacency. We too often let them serve as indications that we're doing well, even though something inside us tells us that we're not doing our best; that we are shrinking from, rather than rising to, the challenges of the age.
With a degree from this university, you have everything you need to get started. Did you study business? Why not help our struggling non-profits find better, more effective ways to serve folks in need."
Mr. Obama, I work for a business. It is not a charity. In the past, I had worked for a non-profit in public service as well. My current vocation enables me to provide for my family, to participate in my church and community as best I can, and enjoy leisure and vacations from time to time. At times I do feel unsatisfied with the work I do. And yet, as I get older, as I mature, I realize that work which doesn't completely satisfy my inner longings is still worth doing.
Am I working for the brass ring, great title, and corner office? Sure, I want to be recognized for my work. Good feedback and a job well done is satisfying. Is it so simplistic and do you seriously believe that I and others scheme in exactly that way? There are definitely some shallow souls in my company leadership who do. But generally speaking, that's not the case for the vast majority. At least it's not for me.
Does my job distract me from what is truly important? There are many times I question how my day-to-day job relates to what is important and makes use of the gifts and talents that I perceive God to have given me.
Does my job force me to compromise my values, principles, and commitments? My job affords me a living that enables me to participate in those causes and activities that reflect my values. I feel confident that I am earning an honest living. I feel content that I am doing what I am supposed to do before the eyes of God.
Does my job make me feel like I'm not doing my best? Sometimes. I think often about how I perhaps could be doing something more fulfilling with my vocation. My job can be monotonous and I don't always see the immediate fruits and impact of my labor. But I certainly don't shirk from my tasks or deliver subpar products to my customers. At least I never do that intentionally.
Am I rising to the challenges of my age? I am doing what needs to be done quietly and faithfully. Is it glamorous? No. Am I interested in seeing my paycheck deposit? Yes, because I do care about my pay. I am married and have 3 children all under the age of 7. I don't believe I am taking shortcuts. Can I directly align it to conquering a challenge of my age, whatever specifically that is? It's never that clear cut is it?
Mr. Obama, I suppose that what I do is not that different from what most people do. The people I work with on a daily basis seem to have a similar attitude. Though I can't speak for Bernie Madoff. As I get older, I realize that the ambitions, hopes, and dreams of my younger years have not all come to fruition in the exact way I thought they might. But that's ok.
Adults learn that life is not always a straight line, that there's good and bad and that part of maturity is navigating through it. I am content. But I don't believe in heaven on earth. I am a Christian and there's a reason for it. I have much to learn and need to grow in many areas. While I don't have the luxury of proceeding on the basis of wistful dreams and vague hopes because there really are bills to pay and responsibilities to meet, I am generally content with the course of my life. Those students will learn the same thing that all adults have to learn as the years go by. I don't know what you've seen in the course of your life that leads you to have such a romantic imagination of what's possible in a finite world. But maybe you'll learn the same lessons we all have to learn if we're to faithfully meet our responsibilities to our families, our colleagues, our friends, and ultimately to ourselves.
I agree with you on one thing. Hope is not to be found by chasing materialistic dreams, money, and prestige. I would just expand on what you said. Hope is also not to be found exclusively by working for a non-profit, working for a "green" company, or teaching. These things can be very satisfying, indeed. In the same way, for many, as a job well done doing profitable work that meets your customer's needs.
We should look for hope where it is to be found. We certainly won't find it in a materialistic outlook nor will find it toiling in a non-profit institution. All of these things have their own unique blessings and challenges. Hope should be looked for where it is to be found: In the person and work of Jesus Christ who died for our sin and reconciled us by His grace to God. As a self-proclaimed Christian, Mr. Obama, hopefully you can lift your gaze and see that.