What we value is as different as we are. Our basic goals and commitments—indeed the fundamental ways in which we view the world—are as different as our individual life experiences. So it should come as no surprise that in seeking work that has personal meaning, the approaches we take to finding itare different too.
In recent commencement addresses this month, Barrack Obama and Mitt Romney recommended two very different approaches for graduates entering the workforce. Wherever you find yourself as a worker—just starting out, trying to improve your experience in the trenches, or thinking about a second or third act in your working life—their recent remarks can help you when thinking about your own “next steps.”
Writing recently in the Wall Street Journal, columnist Daniel Henninger compared their messages in A Tale of Two Commencements. Henninger clearly preferred Mr. Romney’s. But rather than “either/or,” I see their approaches as speaking to broad (and sometimes overlapping) segments along a procession of worthy vocations: from personal service as a quiet witness to political struggle as an agent for change you can believe in.
As we search for purpose-driven work that can bring us genuine satisfaction, there’s a place that’s right for each of us somewhere along this continuum.
We affirm that the Holy Spirit indwells all who are born again, conforming them to the likeness of Jesus Christ. This is a process completed only in Heaven. Every believer is responsible to live in obedience to the Word of God in separation from sin.
In other words, Mr. Romney was speaking to individuals who had already committed to living their lives in a particular, value-centered way. Most if not all in his audience already understood that transforming the world begins (and ends) with transforming yourself.
For Mr. Romney, your work in the world is not dictated by the social problem to be solved.
The great drama of Christianity is not a crowd shot, following the movements of collectives or even nations. The drama is always personal, individual, unfolding in one’s own life. . . [Here] men and women of every faith, and good people with none at all, sincerely strive to do right and lead a purpose-driven life.
“What we have, what we wish we had — ambitions fulfilled, ambitions disappointed; investments won, investments lost; elections won, elections lost — these things may occupy our attention, but they do not define us,” he continued. Those things happen within us. For Mr. Romney, making the world a better place through your work is the result of “conscience in action,” and the never-ending commitment that it takes to always be ready for it.
His speech was a different from Mr. Romney’s as his audience.
For the President, the application of your values to your work is similarly self-defining. But while your career may lead to internal changes, his approach to work focused almost exclusively on value-driven engagement in the external world of politics. In other words, it is by transforming the world that you transform yourself.
The graduating women of Barnard have their own commencement as well as a larger ceremony with the other university schools. Until recently, Columbia College graduates received apples with their diplomas to symbolize the “core” curriculum they had studied. That is until someone removed the fruit because year after year Columbia men delighted in pelting Barnard women with their apples. Barnard women understand the politics of gender on their campus, and Mr. Obama connected with this understanding when talking about how values should inform their working lives.
“Remember, making your mark on the world is hard,” the President said. You need “to fight for your seat at the table.” Only by doing so will you be able to “earn equal pay for equal work,” and “fully control decisions about your own health.” Somebody told Labor Secretary Hilda Solis that she wasn’t smart enough to go to college, but she didn’t let others hold her down, and you shouldn’t either. There will always be “those who oppose change, those who benefit from an unjust status quo [and] have always bet on the public’s cynicism or the public’s complacency.” [D]on’t accept somebody else’s construction of how things ought to be.”
In their commencement addresses, Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama offered fundamentally different marching orders to those approaching the work of their lives. In their starkest forms, one approach is about internal transformation, the other, external struggle. Think about these differences as you examine the work you have, and the work you want.
In his Journal column, Mr. Renninger found “less tooth and claw” in the Romney speech than in Obama’s. I think it depends on your worldview, and where the animals that need your taming reside.