As previously tweeted
, Yun and I are in New York City this week to, amongst other things, attend her little brother's graduation from NYU
. It has been several days of celebration culminating in yesterday's commencement, New York University's 179th. With the forecast calling for rain all day, we were a little less than thrilled at the prospect of spending three cold, wet hours in Yankee Stadium.
If not for the draw of today's commencement speaker, William Jefferson Clinton
, our 42nd President
, we would have given serious consideration to connecting with lil' bro sometime after
the ceremony. Alas, we wanted to hear the former President address the graduates (and more importantly, how could we let a little weather stop us from supporting Yun's brother; the Mounties would have confiscated Yun's Canada card), so we braved the threatening weather ponchos ready and enjoyed the festivities, which thankfully for me included a Nathan's hot dog
. (For our good spirit, the weather gods were kind and held off the rain until well after we boarded the #4 train downtown.)
In any case, no matter your political leanings, it's hard to deny two things about Bill Clinton's Presidency (a) the country made incredible economic gains over his eight year run, and (b) the former President established himself as one of the great orators of our generation. Moreover, since leaving Office, his stature and presence as an ambassador for the U.S. and champion for those struggling in all corners of the world, including work with his eponymously-named William J. Clinton Foundation
, has only grown around the globe. All of which have made Yun and I curious and excited to hear him speak in person. What rousing address would he give to these freshly-minted graduates, many of whom who are still pounding the pavement looking for their first post-grad job?
As soon as President Clinton stepped on the field, all eyes were on him and the energy level rose a couple of notches. As far as graduations go, his presence clearly made these proceedings "must-see-TV". However, with the crowd hanging on his every word, the Former President fell a little flat with his address, in my opinion. Far be it for me to be overly critical of one of the great minds of our era, but his two nuggets of advice for the graduates were: (1) focus on finding work that you love and (2) never give up, both of which I think would be best described as banal. I was expecting more, something different and out-of-the-box, but his address focused more on the global issues facing our generation (carbon emissions, terrorism, etc.) than life-changing advice for the graduates. At the time, I was disappointed. But, as I reflect back on his words, however straightforward, it's hard to argue with the merit of the President's underlying message.
In fact, chasing what you love is harder to do than it sounds, and it shouldn't be so quickly dismissed as too simplistic a concept, as I initially had. The practical side of life (where we live, what we eat, how many different HBO channels
we receive) naturally affects what we choose to do for a living and often outweighs or overshadows the utopian concept of simply working at something you love. Doing what you love doesn't always pay the bills, which is why the most common adjective to describe an artist is usually "starving". In a perfect world, who wouldn't want to be Bono
or Chris Martin
, making millions and singing for a living? When I graduated, I went into investment banking because it was simply the best paying work I could find. I knew it wasn't going to be the most interesting work, nor something that I would love, but I also thought chasing work I would love (i.e. being the general manager of the Lakers
) seemed like an unattainable goal. This was at a time before the rise of the young, non-former-player GMs in sports like Theo Epstein, Rich Cho, Daryl, Morey, Sam Presti, et al. Perhaps if I had chased my dream job in sports right out of school, I would have eventually gotten somewhere, but instead I settled for the more practical choice. The work that would most immediately give me a more comfortable life. Was it a mistake? It's something I debate all the time.
For most of us, the choice of our vocation is more nuanced and is usually based on satisfying our immediate material/life needs (and wants) rather than the love of our work being the end game in and of itself. Chasing after work that you love requires patience, persistence and ultimately the grounded belief that doing what you love will result in your greatest happiness (even if it doesn't lead to immeasurable wealth). This, in essence, is what President Clinton challenged today's graduates to consider - focus on doing what you love, let the other chips fall where they may, and achieve your maximum level of personal satisfaction. It's a noble idea but from my own experience, not an easy pursuit, especially when you're trying to afford a certain quality of life.
In the end, President Clinton's address may not have been the life-altering experience some of us had hoped for, but it was certainly thought-provoking, which should always be considered a good thing. - Kevin