Well, it’s graduation time. Once again, I didn’t get an invitation to speak anywhere. Stephen Spielberg spoke at Harvard. Condoleezza Rice did the honors at High Point University. Coach K delivered the commencement address at Duke, and Russell Wilson did the same at Wisconsin. (He even threw in a few digs at the folks back at N.C. State!) But no invitation for me. But since another year has gone by with no invitation to speak, I’ll give it to you here. It begins with simply, “Graduates, it’s not about you.”
I can tell by that shocked look on your faces you’ve probably never heard this before. You have grown up in a world where high self-esteem is the ultimate goal. Parents, teachers, education officials, media and other adults have made sure of that.
Proper self-esteem is important, but the adults in your life have their reasons for wanting you to “feel good about yourself.” Your parents have been told by the “experts” that if they didn’t build you up and do everything exactly right you would turn into an ax murderer. And that would be a bad reflection on their parental skills.
Adults in institutions and organizations need you to need them. If they can help make you feel “special,” then they can justify their existence. Of course, there are a lot of adults who have been there in your life to help just because they care. And they also have listened to the “experts’ and don’t want a potential ax murderer loose in the neighborhood. Business and retail treat you as special because they want you to buy their stuff. And the media is there to help them sell you their stuff. They want you to feel “special” by buying their stuff.
Graduates, you will learn soon enough that employers are not out there just to provide you a job. Their purpose is to make a profit. If your labor and skill assist in this goal, you may get employment. If not, they will hire a candidate more suitable. It’s just that simple; it’s not about you.
And that pool of candidates for those jobs has grown tremendously over the past ten years. Remember when you called tech support for help on your computer last month. The person with the strange accent on the other end of the line was not from Charlotte or California, but from somewhere in India. By the way, he’s willing to work more hours and for half the pay than you are.
You’re thinking, “What about me? Don’t you know I’m special?” Graduates, every young generation thinks that they are “special.” I know my generation did. And I’m sure there were older people back then warning us of impending doom. But the difference is, I came into the job market at a time of an expanding economy, not today’s stagnant, debt-ridden economy. Also, my competition in the job market came from places like Roseboro and Raleigh. Today, your competition will be not only from Roseboro and Raleigh, but also Hong Kong and Mumbai. Or it may come from some robot or computer being created in a laboratory in Silicon Valley.
A quote I read from “USA Today” a few years ago probably explains what you are feeling right now. It stated, “If you grow up in a culture that says it’s all about you, it’s hard to think it isn’t.” So, I challenge you to change your thinking.
“It’s not about you.” That’s the first line in Rick Warren’s best-selling book, “The Purpose Driven Life.” In the book he states that it is not about me and my plans, wants and desires. It is about determining and achieving God’s purpose in our lives. If you do that, then you will find the life and career that you were created for. Charles Colson probably sums it best in a devotion that I read this past week. He wrote, “It is not what we do that matters, but what a sovereign God chooses to do through us.”
But, maybe in some ways, it is about you. Or it will be. In finding God’s purpose for your lives, your generation may be able to tackle and handle the many social and economic problems that the older generation (that’s the rest of us) have been unwilling to face. That will indeed make you “special.” Just don’t hate us for the mess we’re leaving you.
Mac McPhail, raised in Sampson County, lives in Clinton and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org