Advice for the Class of 2012: Don't Try to Be Great


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Commencement speakers who urge you to aspire to great things don’t have your happiness in mind.

Charles Wheelan, an economist who has studied well being, says commencement speakers should instead advise you: Don’t try to be great. “Being great involves luck and other circumstances beyond your control,” Wheelan says in an article for the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.). “The less you think about being great, the more likely it is to happen. And if it doesn’t, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being solid.”

If you read obituaries—and you should, Whelan says—you will see that “interesting, successful people rarely lead orderly, linear lives.” And don’t spend too much time at work, Wheelan says, in a bit of advice labeled “Don’t model your life after a circus animal.” If you leave a task at work undone to meet a friend for dinner, you might view that as shirking your work. But if you cancel dinner, you are shirking your friendship. “Don’t let your life decisions be distorted by the fact that your boss is the only one tossing you peanuts,” he says.

Wheelan says meaningful connections with others are associated with happiness. “Your time in fraternity basements was well spent,” he concludes.

Hat tip to Pat’s Papers.

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