My favorite topic to give talks on is the magical power of connection—of all kinds—to bring to pass pretty much every good thing in life.
So many high school students are under enormous pressure to get into the “right” school. I experienced it myself along with classmates that were all told that getting into top schools was all that mattered. That it was a rather shallow and materialistic goal didn’t seem to bother anyone. Being #1 was all that counted. In the years since I graduated, many studies have dug into joy and fulfillment in life and uncovered the facts—the actual golden truths—as to which factors do predict a happy, long, and fulfilling life, and which factors do not. Guess what. Going to a so-called top school is not one of them. Sure, if you do go to one of those schools, that’s fine, but it’s what you do at those places that tells the tale, not the prestige diploma you walk away with.
So if the point of high school, and college for that matter, isn’t to put up top grades, athletic captainships, starring roles in plays, and club presidencies, then what is?
The truth we needed to hear back then, and the truth that I deliver in my talks, is simple enough, but it makes all the difference.
The truth is this: the purpose of your years spent growing up is is to fall in love. Fall in love with a person, sure, but even more important, fall in love with a subject, an activity, a time in history, a Great Woman or a Great Man, indeed develop and fall in love with your own vision of what greatness truly is, fall in love with a dog, or with a shooting star or constellation, with a movie or a play, with creating music, fall in love with cooking a perfect dish, fall in love with solving equations —your imagination carries you away.
Just think about it. Doesn’t the degree to which you find your life meaningful and close-to-all-you’d-hoped-for, directly correlate with the depth and number of your loves? And didn’t many if not most of those loves originate in school or college?
How much time is wasted these days by our most creative and brilliant students silently, if not desperately, feeling they have to get into the “best” college with the “best” results? How many of the seeds of cynicism and disappointment get sown by that pursuit, doggedly doing the right deed for the wrong reason, all while watching your most savvy classmates sacrifice their ideals and their loves in the same mad, misguided pursuit? How many deadening life-long habits of dishonesty and kissing-up begin in that frenzy of test-prep, interview coaching, grade-grubbing, and clandestine stabbing the competition in the back?
Years later, we may wonder when and why our innocence went poof! But it didn’t go poof! It slowly gave up, buckling under the weight of The Forbidding Realities. We find ourselves asking, “Whither has it fled, the visionary gleam? Where is it now, the glory and the dream?” while the answer, the liberating and restorative answer, is still all there to be had even now, begging to be seen, if we will but take it in.
The answer is: return to your loves. Give it a shot. Better yet, when they’re new, when you first find your loves, from that moment on feed them, tend to them, cherish them as if your life depended on it, work hard in their service while they’re fresh and new and you don’t know what you’re doing.
The studies—so many of them now—put the truth up for all to see, if only people will look, if only they will believe their eyes, what incontrovertible evidence proves.
I’ve learned that for some of the grown-ups, this can be too much to take. They’ve worked so long and so hard worshipping the material gold of being # 1 that to tell them that being # 1 is not in fact what makes the difference in life simply can’t penetrate their protective shield. But no matter, I owe them the truth, if not an understanding. An understanding they have to generate on their own. So I gird my loins and I tell them it’s love that makes the difference. I can almost see their silent smirk and feel their concealed derision when I deliver this truth. The adults, experienced in the Ways of the World, dismiss me as a peddler of fairy dust, a naïve and misty-eyed dreamer, an impractical sort whom they hope their children will ignore.
But then there are the kids. When I speak to students and tell them what they need to do while they are at school or college is to fall in love, when I go on to explain the much wider, explosive, disruptive and wide open terrain of love, they sit up. I can almost hear their combined sigh of relief and cheers of great joy, as if to say, At last! Because they know I am right. They haven’t yet learned to demean enthusiasm altogether or mistrust love out of hand. They are just looking for some validation, some encouragement, some hope. They are cheering love, the lasting, unmatched, radical power of love.