Two years at Yale was all it took to turn a kid from rural Tennessee into someone who uses abbreviated names of private schools and IB firms as part of his vernacular. If I was to tell myself as a high school senior that I knew someone from Exeter with a summer internship at Goldman, he would look at me as if I had tasked him with deciphering a foreign language. And even if he had understood, he wouldn’t like the message about Yale I was giving him.

Now, I’ve discovered, contrary to the flashy advertisements, Yale’s primary goal is not shaping the next generation of world-changers. Instead, it funnels most of its students through time-tested passageways to careers achingly typical of an Ivy League graduate. Plenty of resources exist to help a student prepare for these jobs, but institutional support for genuinely novel career paths often feels lacking. 

But why is it so important for Yale to guide these high-minded people onto well-trodden career paths? Ultimately, it’s not because Yale wants to create world-changers. Much higher on the University’s list of priorities is the production of world-sustainers. This is why Yale functions as an elite mecca: It gives its students access to a plethora of opportunities in careers that “make the world go around.” Obviously, there are many careers vital to everyday life that don’t require an Ivy League degree, whether we’re talking about our electrician who attended trade school or the owner of our favorite local restaurant who may not have needed any postsecondary degree.

However, when I say “careers that make the world go around,” I intend it to be shorthand for high-responsibility, high-abstraction jobs. These two qualifiers actually go hand-in-hand, which is why it is important for Yale to admit people who “think big.” To be a thoughtful optimist is to identify a large-scale problem and imagine a possible world in which it is solved – by you, the one with the big idea. Careers that make the world go around are usually found in sectors with an affinity for Ivy grads like technology, politics, finance and medicine. These occupations need people who can think big, on a high level of abstraction, in order to tackle the big problems that inhere within these careers. Because these problems are very impactful and very complex, solving them is a high-responsibility burden to assume. That’s what it means to be a world sustainer: to think big in order to handle well the onus of responding to complex, multifaceted issues.

And, why does tackling big problems often require you to be a world-sustainer rather than a world-changer? In short, many of the world’s most intricate issues are best addressed using time-tested solutions. And for many of the industries listed above, the most time-tested solution involves using world-sustainers from Ivy League universities to tackle their largest problems. Big-name clients continue to hire McKinsey consultants because the solutions they provide are generally effective. We need our bright computer science graduate at Google and Microsoft because they maintain these digital services that we use almost every day. If Yale sometimes kills professional ingenuity, that serves as a sacrifice to secure the basic needs of everyday life. We can’t all chase something heretofore unattained without failing to preserve the good that was in our grasp all along. Furthermore, there is no shame in using your talents to solve big problems, even if your method for finding the solution is not ground-breaking or glamorous.

This is not to downplay the fact that innovations affect all the sectors I mentioned earlier. I also acknowledge that there is much in our grasp right now that warrants speedy release because it’s worlds away from good. Institutional criticism and improvement is important, but to effectively accomplish either, you have to understand how these institutions operate in their current iteration. And sometimes that means starting out on a typical career path for the industry with an eye for how best to change it. While I’m aware of the meme about “changing McKinsey from the inside,” the question of whether your personal values can withstand being smothered by a fat paycheck is completely different from the one I’m addressing here.

Whether you see yourself as a world-changer or a world-sustainer, the metric for genuine success should not consist in your ability to fit well in your category of choice. You should be content with your post-Yale career path, no matter what, as long as you satisfy two criteria. One, your job has trusted you with an important responsibility. Two, you’re doing your best to make good on your promise to meet it. If you can identify a problem that needs to be solved, and you do your best to do just that, that’s the best sort of change you can hope to accomplish. Whether you did this in a novel way or you used the same technique as thousands before you, be proud. Perhaps a biblical quote captures my sentiment shortest and sweetest: Your labor is not in vain.

Elijah Boles is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College.  His column runs every other Tuesday.  Contact him at