uring my years at the University of Iowa, I have seen many students “drift away” because they couldn’t answer the fundamental question: “Why am I here?” While there is no doubt that people with college degrees statistically have much better outcomes than people who don’t, for these students that fact is not enough. They are looking for something more. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls it “flow” — a state of being in which one becomes so engaged in an activity or experience that nothing else seems to matter. Creativity expert Ken Robinson refers to it as “the Element” — the place where the things you love to do and the things you are good at come together. Psychologist Martin Seligman describes it as the “meaningful life” – where an individual’s “signature strengths” are used in the service of something larger than one’s self. The dirty little secret is that people who are intrinsically motivated, who do what they do out of the joy of the task itself, almost always outperform their extrinsically motivated peers.
Four years = 4 x 365 x 24 x 60 = roughly 2,102,400 minutes
Each student has two million minutes: Two million minutes until college graduation…Two million minutes to build one’s intellectual & emotional foundations…Two million minutes to prepare for family, community, service & career…Two million minutes to prepare for a good “launch.” At its best, the University of Iowa is a laboratory where the test runs of life take place. For most of you, this window of opportunity won’t come again. LIFE DESIGN is about making sure you don’t miss it!
Here you'll find some of my musings that I think will help support the narrative, and provide some additional information. Check it out here
This is a photo of my wife, Renee, and me in college.
It has taken me years of counseling to become self-assured enough to share the picture publically. The reasons should be obvious; I resemble a puppet, with gangly arms and legs, and big aviator glasses.
When I met Renee, I was in the midst of the first of my two junior years at Northern Illinois University. I weighed less than 120 pounds – which was actually 10 pounds less than she did – and a dangerous thing to discuss in the open even today. I was a double major in art and music, and according to Renee’s parents, carried all the prospects of a trailer park.
When I used to pick Renee up for a date, I did so in my dad’s 1970, aqua-blue, Opal GT, which required the gas pedal to be pumped exactly 30 times before it would start. (Twenty-nine and it wouldn’t turn over; thirty-one and it would flood.) When the car was finally running, a leak in the exhaust pipe would spew carbon monoxide throughout the interior, and by the time I had traveled the thirty minutes to her parent’s home, I’d be seeing “yellow submarines.” Once my thinking was so muddled, I actually forgot to pull the car off the road to park. Instead, I simply turned off the ignition and left it sitting in the middle of the street.
We married in October 1982, and a few years later fled our picturesque view of K-Mart, and the suburban sprawl that surrounded it, for Iowa. That fall, I entered graduate school with the intention of earning an MFA in painting. But after a random class on aging, and a few misunderstood canvases, I found myself pursuing a graduate degree in leisure studies instead. (Undoubtedly, making Renee’s parents feel much better.)
I was awarded a teaching assistantship, and on the first day of class asked to lead a discussion on Plato. Some scientists theorize that people forget traumatic events because it's safer for them to do so. The distress over Plato’s Phaedrus alone cost me a year of memories.
In the midst of that experience, however, I came upon a trail of clues that began to reshape my life. Plato wrote about thirty dialogues, and while he didn’t claim any of the views were his own, his language gave him away. When Plato began to think and write about freedom, he employed the common Greek word, schole. In the Modern Age, schole is translated simply as “leisure.” But Plato used the word to build ideas about something much deeper. The freedom Plato was trying to describe was a freedom from work, a freedom from social and state obligations, and a freedom from necessity.
To Plato and the Greeks, every creature had a gift that defined what they were “meant to do,” and man’s gift was the mind. Thinking, knowing, conversing, creating, loving – all things believed to be distinctly human actions. Philosophy was therefore elevated to the highest and freest activity one could choose, and Plato held the belief that once the necessities of life were in place, an individual should abandon work in favor of pursing a higher purpose – asking the eternal questions: “Who am I?” “Why am I here? “What is the meaning of my life”?
Once I discovered this ideal, Plato’s work suddenly mattered, and his warning that “the life that is unexamined is not worth living” became my philosophy as well. At that point, I was in my twenties and determined to craft an existence worthy of inspection. I sought out mentors, embraced new experiences, and took up issues I cared about. I had no idea, however, where this great reorganization of my life would lead.
Delivering Happiness at School with Ashton Kutcher and Tony Hsieh
WSUI Interview- "Talk of Iowa" - December 10, 2010
Re-calculating Higher Education’s Pay-off
What Is It About 20-Somethings?
Record Level of Stress Found in College Freshmen
Do you have a plan for your life? If so, what is it? What people and circumstances have influenced it? Does the plan draw from personal passions, practicality, or both?
4/13/11 - RSA Animate - Changing Education Paradigms
Canadian designer Bruce Mau likens purposeful learning to “being lost in the forest.” In that context, Mau explains, there is urgency. Everything in the environment must be scrutinized as a potential clue in one’s effort to get out. While the experience may be a bit uncomfortable, it is also exciting and meaningful. It is easy to see how this type of learning differs considerably from being on a “picnic.”
To give you a little better idea what Bruce means, the following is a video he produced for Arizona State University:
Rise to the challenge - A Bruce Mau production
Hoping to define a unique approach to higher education, and with the help of some friends, I have started a set of “Ten Commandments.” I have four remaining, and need your help.
If you were to add one commandment for today’s university classroom, what would it be and why? Are their commandments on my list you would change?
Look at the page before the Table of Contents in most books and you’ll typically find a dedication. “But why should authors have all the fun,” asks Daniel Pink? Why can’t everyone – managers, salespeople, nurses, even students – dedicate their work to someone else?
While I got this exercise from Dan, he actually got it from Naomi Epel’s The Observation Deck, where Epel writes, "I once heard Danny Glover say that he dedicates every performance to someone – it might be Nelson Mandela or the old man who guards the stage door – but he is always working for someone other than himself. This focus gives his acting purpose and makes his work rich."
If you were to dedicate your college education to someone, who would it be and why?(Minimum length: Half a page.) Deposit on ICON (Source: Daniel Pink, A Whole New Mind, page 243)