Rahm Emmanuel, President Obama’s former chief of staff and current mayor of Chicago, once (in)famously stated, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” This statement came at the outset of the current worldwide recession. Politically, it was a sticky message at the time, but rationally it holds water. His statement mirrors a sentiment that Malcolm Gladwell wrote about in his book Outliers. Gladwell looks at different times in history where individuals with certain talents were able to take advantage of the changing culture, technology and economic circumstances of their time to become successful. He references the generation born around 1830 that were able to take advantage of US expansion and industrialization as examples. He also cites software giants like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Bill Joy and others who were primed to take advantage of the advent of the personal computer. Gladwell suggests that generations who miss being mired in war, depression or other societal circumstance have the opportunity that can make the difference between success and failure. With the USA winding down wars, the economy finding its feet, and the world still trying to sort out how to comprehend 1.2 Billion people on Facebook, I feel like the generation coming out of college and graduate school is primed for this type of success.
So I ask this question to you. If generations who come into the workforce as a recession is ending have distinct advantages over those who had to bear the consequences of it, what then do you have in store for us? What new industry will you pioneer? What new invention, device or service will you take mainstream that will impact every single person’s daily living? I actually wish this wasn’t so rhetorical, because I’d like to know.
Here is the catch though. That next big thing will take work and a lot of it. I talk to a lot of people about motivation and the will do the work that is presented before them. Gladwell talks about this too. He recounts a story about a turn of the century Jewish immigrant looking for ways to make a living in the New World. This man went out into the city with a pad and a pencil and wrote down everything that people wore in the streets. He noticed a few small girls playing hopscotch wearing embroidered aprons and ran home to giddily share his idea with his wife. That night they proceeded to make 40 aprons and sold them all the very next day. This was the beginning of his lifetime in the garment industry.
Gladwell’s insight is that once we find our passion, that one thing that we want to do, it will transform hard work into something completely different. His words are better than mine to describe this process. “Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have a meaning. Once it does, it becomes the kind of thing that makes you grab your wife around the waist and dance a jig.” College is designed to expose you to a diverse set of ideas that will inspire you towards meaning. So grab your pen, find your passion, and make this coming semester one that marks the beginning of the next big thing. You can even squeeze in a jig or two.
-Logan Williamson, LPC