Lonny drives new students to great frustration by demanding that they answer one simple question: “What will you do with your one precious life?” Some students are convinced they know the answer and that this is all a waste of time. Other students think Lonny is supposed to give them the answer. When pressed, a few students give vague responses like “change the world.” But most respond by telling Lonny what they want to “be” (e.g., an accountant, a finance major, a leader…). Lonny tells these students they’ve answered the wrong question. Complaints ensue: Lonny is being unreasonable.
Lonny is unreasonable by nature. Here though, he is being unreasonable by design. He presses students to find the place where their talents and interests intersect with their tastes and values to ensure that they live a life of meaning. He knows that if they don’t consciously answer this question and develop a plan to get there, that someone else will decide this for them and that rarely turns out well. You find your own meaning, people can’t give this to you. He also knows that employers don’t pay people for “what they want to be,” but rather for “what they are able to do.”
There is a big difference. What people “want to be” is a convenient label. It is how people communicate a sense of self, their boundaries, and a bundle of knowledge that is on average, associated with that label. But as an employer, I have a variety of tasks that need to be done and problems I need solved. Sometimes these tasks or problems are wrapped up in nice clean job descriptions, but most of the time, the solution requires that we all “color a bit outside of the lines.” So I want people who will work tirelessly to do what needs to be done because they believe in the transformative power of higher education and want to improve it. These people volunteer to do things outside their comfort zones because working for us gives their life meaning: it’s what gets them up in the morning and makes them smile when they go to bed at night. I have also learned that when I find these people and give them my vision of our future that they tell me what needs to be done rather than me having to tell them. Life is good. The place advances.
Conversely, I have mistakenly hired a few people who don’t believe in what we are doing, have a strict sense of their professional boundaries or only “like” doing part of their job. They frustrate me as well as their colleagues. If they don’t figure this out on their own and leave quickly, I free them from this mismatch by telling them that they need to find a different job with a different employer. They then start over, still trying to answer Lonny’s question while also trying to figure out how the family is going to eat.
Let’s all agree that it is better that you work to answer Lonny’s question now, rather than leave it to figure out after you graduate. If you think Lonny is unreasonable, wait to you meet employers like me.