An Average Essay

Ah, the inevitable Back to School essay in today’s Sunday New York Times with all its earnest and undesigning intendments. It cites the renowned physicist making the point that if you are an average person who applies themselves diligently you’ll get very good at something and that that’s a real something. Thank goodness most of us are average, I say. I’m sure _he_ wasn’t and I am sure I am. So I take his point.

Bruni does make a point you rarely hear from these sorts of Dean-like inducements. (N.B., when I went to college we didn’t have a Dean of Inducements or Wellness or Something. I’da’done better? Not sure.) Bruni writes, “Another of those skills, frequently overlooked, is storytelling. It’s different from communication: a next step. Every successful pitch for a new policy, new product or new company is essentially a story, with a shape and logic intended to stir its audience. So is every successful job interview. The best moment in a workplace meeting belongs to the colleague who tells the best story.” There’s a romance to this I cannot resist. And there’s a better chance that Trump can spell White House “Councel” [sic]. Yes, the President of the United States can’t spell “Counsel”—see his latest tweet—or doesn’t know the difference. But that’s yet another story because he tells only the best stories. Hard is an America than can elect _this_ guy.

Much of the Bruni article nails it, of course, because it’s not hard to get it right. Build human relationships, study outside your comfort zones, explore and work with less purpose and more play, sleep and exercise, don’t drink too much—it’s not hard, so what’s hard?

Hard is doing all of these things well and _then_ entering a society that largely does not value them. Worse is going through college as vocational school and then entering a workplace that is so fraught with pressures that all you really do is work and work. Worse is a society intent on making sure that you can’t afford healthcare, childcare, your elderly parents, or your own retirement that you are working every single day on the very edge of your sanity. Worse is a world where doing something valuable barely pays you a living wage and what pays is just making money, which then becomes something you have to resent.

What’s wrong with college isn’t in its privileged respite from the world because without that respite you will never learn to read, write, or think. Those skills take time and time _is_ privilege in a world that gives you almost no time to do much but survive and take the occasional vacation. How many of you can come home from work and do something _more_ for yourself than bare necessities, even if that’s a yoga class, something you like?

What would make for a better life isn’t just getting college right because, like I said, almost anyone could write _this_ essay. What would make all the difference is coming into a world that placed more value on those things you actually could learn. The rest is a job and a race that is better suited to rats than human beings (apologies to real rats).

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