Thursday, October 8, 2015

On Status

When I was a senior in high school, I was the captain of my It's Academic team, the Washington-area equivalent of Quiz Bowl.  One of my teammates is a world-renowned harpsichordist.  The other is high up in the Obama Administration, helping to direct environmental policy.  I was the president of the archaeology club.  One of the previous members just got a MacArthur.

My classmates in college include an Academy Award-winning screenwriter, a Broadway playwright, another very successful playwright, a world-famous composer who wrote a new opera staged at the Met, the founder of Upworthy, at least five nationally-recognized journalists, a state senator who is now a candidate for the Lieutenant Governor of Washington state, Harry Reid's press secretary, a novelist and short story writer to whom the Paris Review provided a major award, a successful entrepreneur who sells vodka and -- they can't all be so impressive -- Jonah Lehrer.

A student a couple of years below me is an SNL cast member.  They were already famous, but the year below me included Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Julia Stiles and Anna Paquin.  Jake Gyllenhaal, who was a year above me, dropped out.

This does not include the brilliant academics I knew, among them Mellon scholars.  More than a few of them have contracts with OUP and HUP.  You may not recognize their names, but they will probably be in the top ten in their individual fields in 20 years if they aren't already.

Of course, most of the people I knew became lawyers.  At least 75% of them graduated from one of the top five -- Yale, Harvard, Stanford, NYU and Columbia -- or Duke, Penn, Northwestern, or received full scholarships elsewhere.

I also knew a few geniuses who mastered fields I didn't know exist.  I don't need to name them.

I tell myself that there's no binary between success and failure.  I tell myself that all status is bullshit.  Both those things are true.  I tell myself that if I achieved anything like my colleagues achieved I would still be missing something.  True too.  I tell myself to be happy for my old classmates, which I am, because most of them were good people and they were nice to me.  I tell myself that I've amassed an enormous amount of experience in the 13 years since I graduated, with a few highlights along the way that I would tell my grandchildren if I ever were to have grandchildren.

Still, as much as you tell yourself those things, and as much as you know that the real pleasure lies in the process, you really want a gold star.

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