There is a new fad in the world of publishing. I call it the “One Year Phenomena.” For one year you can try… just about anything: Live the Bible literally or femininely, work in a women’s prison, live locally, try out homelessness, or live according to Oprah… and you’ll get a book deal.
It boggles my mind really when I see these seasonal lifestyle changes marketed before my eyes proclaiming a way of life… for a year. Come again?
What does that even mean? I know, I know, buy the book and I’ll find out.
I know some of these people, not well, but I know their hearts are well-intentioned. They look at it as a grand experiment. Some study, while others go in to these “years” blindly with no research. I am one of the first to say that my life is a sort-of experiment. But I’m not trying to propagandize or blow things up in the process irresponsibly. However, the whole “year” thing feels like a handful of tiny explosions that leave no real impact but thrust a person of privilege into the spotlight to proclaim what they’ve learned because now they are the expert in their own “year.” I think lasting impressions take more than a year.
What I’m trying to say is, this is about loyalty, motivation, and responsibility — it’s about learning, caring, and intentionality with one’s self and our neighbors and again, this takes more than a year. I wish the publishing industry understood that and not always its bottom line.
There is an article floating around the internet from the NY Times. David Brooks wrote, “It’s Not About You” to point out that the most structured generation of young people is graduating into the least structured world and that the baby boomers have done them a great disservice by telling them in commencement addresses to follow their dreams and passions and find themselves. He goes on to say that doing a good job means suppressing yourself and closes with the thought that life is about task and you must lose yourself in that task… end point.
I was tracking with him for a while… then he actually lost me. The closing line is this (sorry for the spoiler) “The purpose in life is not to find yourself. It’s to lose yourself.” Really? Losing myself in tasks was what put me in recovery. Yes, I agree that the most telling stories are the people who have gone into the valley, some of death, and returned. That is what sells in our culture. They have found themselves in the pursuit of doing. But is that because we have lost our way as human beings? Is that because we preach from glossy covers how to live your life for one year, but don’t worry about the rest of the years?
Another article was put out this week questioning if college is necessary (CNN) – a young man, still a teenager, won a $100,000 fellowship to not go to college – in his words: “I left college two months ago because it rewards conformity rather than independence, competition rather than collaboration, regurgitation rather than learning and theory rather than application. Our creativity, innovation and curiosity are schooled out of us.” I get that. I also wonder what school he was going to. I work in higher education, but I also work at a liberal arts institution that believes in wholistic identity development and maturing responsible citizens of their communities.
These articles concern me. The one year commitments scandalize me. Because I don’t think it’s about losing yourself or losing education or making one year agreements. I could do without the competition and regurgitation. But I believe in the self that emerges in these tasks and sacred commitments, that is still there even when the tasks and book deals are not. I believe in the idea that we need to encourage students to go to college, not everyone, but for the most of us who will not be one of twenty individuals to get a $100,000 check to not attend school. We need to encourage the lesser privileged masses than the 20 young Bill Gates’, to keep going with their dreams, to pursue their passions, but also let them know that is comes with a cost… and it also comes with a community to walk with them. However, too many people do not want to sacrifice, they don’t want to know the pain of pursuing a risk, or of standing with people, watching others (and helping them) take on their own passions.
THAT is what is mysteriously missing from culture these days – in churches, schools, and politics – real community and authentic maturity – the idea that dreams and passions will cost you your ego and be painful to follow at times, but that you will stumble into the contentment of challenge along the way. That cancer, heartbreak, and poverty may greet you, but that you can still keep living life out of a deep place. If people have places to go to mature, then yes, they might not need college, but we have lost, or perhaps never found those places on a large scale. If students knew that life was going to be unstructured and messy when they graduated, then perhaps they could find communities who could indeed support them and love them while they faced things like couch surfing and layoffs… while knowing that you don’t need to lose yourself. Your ego maybe, but your soul is right there waiting for you to breath into it.
Sound Utopian? To me, it sounds like faith. Faith is believing in what is not seen. It’s hope. It’s not the American prosperity gospel and it’s not any form of ladder climbing. It’s hard work… it will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, hands down. But if you’re willing to put in that work, to give up fame, to put down the phone, to live in community with your neighbor, then I guarantee you’ll have more than a year to show for it… you’ll have a life.
Articles quoted: NY Times, May 30, 2011 David Brooks It’s Not About You; CNN, June 3, 2011 Dale Stephens College is a Waste of Time