To Be or To Have

It was a life affirming experience for Jodie, her 25th college reunion was something she had looked forward to. Her classmates had incredible career success, far more than anyone would have expected from graduates of a land-grant university. What made their success even more remarkable was that almost all of them were first generation college graduates. Virtually all of them had become corporate leaders.

But what Jodie didn’t expect was how they described their lives. The focus was not on what they had accomplished, but on what they considered a good life: vacations, cars, summer homes, etc. Jodie was known to be the quiet one in the class so she didn’t say much. She left campus a day early in disappointment.

As she drove home, she remembered hangouts with her classmates when they were in college. All of them talked about hoping to make a difference in their careers. If they still had that hope, it wasn’t evident from the reunion conversations.

Then she recalled the final lecture from her favorite professor. He said: “As you think about your future, you will need to decide do you want to be or do you want to have? Having in this case is not the basic things of life such as healthcare insurance, food security, or lodging. If you want to be, think how others will remember you.”

It seemed to Jodie that many of her classmates had answered the question by having rather than being. For Jodie, she had forsaken many of the trappings of a having culture. What she was especially proud of were the young people in her company who she had mentored and had gone on to have very successful careers and lives. Through her alma mater, she set up a financial rescue scholarship to help students whose college careers would have been interrupted because of a lack of funds. She was pleased by how others would remember her.

Often our hopes can get misplaced by other, more attractive hopes. This is especially the case when we have the personal means to hope for more than we expected. What is a measure of a person’s life is how we decide to revise our hopes. Do we choose hopes which are inward facing based upon the allure that we deserve to enjoy the good life? Or do we choose hopes that are outward facing since we have the means and ability to support the hopes of others. Hopes are not static, but our values should be.

* * *

“Just as the good life is something beyond the pleasant life, the meaningful life is beyond the good life.” – Martin Seligman (Psychologist)

How To Use

Useful guides for incorporating messages into discussion.