Congratulations, first years. You are now enrolled in Yale, one of the finest academic institutions in the entire world.
High school was a launchpad for your academic and personal successes, with the end goal being acceptance to a college of your choice. If you’re here, it probably worked. It’s natural to continue what has worked so far and use college as a stepping stone to the next stage of life.
So, what exactly is the next stage, after we leave these “shortest, gladdest years of life?”
Most people would answer that a career is a natural progression after Yale. After all, it’s what we’ll be doing for the next 40 to 60 years of our life — if we’re lucky enough to live that long.
However, for many people, a career is the end goal, not just the next step. We go to Yale to become doctors, lawyers, scientists, politicians, teachers and bankers. Perhaps they choose their careers for the money, perhaps people choose their careers for their passions. Either way, their career is fundamental to who they are. Have you noticed that when adults meet one another, one of the first questions asked is, “What do you do?” In America and among Yale alumni, our career is intertwined with our identity and our perceived societal worth.
And I think that’s wrong.
The Latin word “carrus,” meaning “wheeled vehicle,” eventually morphed into the French “carrière,” meaning “a road or racecourse,” and later evolved into “career” in the English language. The etymological development of the word “career” is an accurate barometer for what a career should be. A career should be the vehicle we use to get to our end goal — the road we take en route to our destination.
What’s your destination? Is it retirement on a beach in Bali or Santorini at 40? Solving world hunger? Creating the next Twitch or Pinterest? Providing medical care to the impoverished? Representing your beliefs in the political arena? Is it simply being a good person?
These are questions only you can answer, and they’re not easy answers to discover. We’ll all have different answers. I encourage you to spend the next four years of your life, and all the years after that, attempting to find your answer. When you find that answer, I encourage you to work backwards.
What careers will help me fulfill that end goal? What steps do I need to take to accomplish this? What classes, what grades, what internships or jobs or research positions do I need?
Sometimes, you can’t work your end goal into your career, and that’s okay. Perhaps your goal can be fulfilled alongside your career — you can become a teacher and still write the next great American novel, you can become a banker and fund the medical research to cure the genetic disease that afflicts your family.
This isn’t a piece dissuading you from working at Goldman Sachs in favor of Teach for America. If financial security is your number one priority, go for it — grab life by the horns, keep a high GPA, kill some interviews, network like crazy and end up at Goldman Sachs or McKinsey. But don’t spend the next four years trying to get a job at one of those firms if your priorities don’t line up. You will never be satisfied. There is nothing worse than regret.
What I’m warning against is spending the next four years of your life focused on finding a career. A career should be secondary to your life goals. It might work with your life goals, or it might peacefully coexist, but don’t let your career detract from what you want out of life.
Don’t neglect everything else in hopes of getting into that medical school, graduate program or prestigious job you desire. Don’t get me wrong — academics are important, and so is your career, but to place them above all else is a surefire road to self-destruction. A career is part of the equation, but I fear too many Yalies believe it to be the entirety — it might sound cliche, but I recommend working to live rather than living to work. Nothing is free and everything has an opportunity cost, and it’s okay to give up some things you enjoy for a better long-term outlook. But don’t waste these next four years to get ready for the next 40. Experience the amazing people and resources around us, develop relationships, explore things outside of your comfort zone. We have the rest of our lives to work, so take advantage of today and all that these next four years at Yale have to offer.
Don’t give up these four years for a career because it shouldn’t be the destination. It’s a road to where you want your life to lead.
Bentley Long is a first year in Davenport College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .