Grand accomplishments go hand in hand with the personal traits and skills associated with hard work, rigor, grit, diligence, dedication, determination, fortitude, perseverance, and commitment. I will maintain, however, that these characteristics are not and simply can not be manifested because of extrinsic motivation, directives, coercion, and brow beating as our culture would have us believe. While also recognizing that, oftentimes, the amazing feats we celebrate are, in fact, false, because the criteria has been manipulated to make the tasks less daunting, intimidating, and of little consequence, or in some cases even designed to inflict harm (emotional and physical) on others. I am convinced, through both experience and research, that success (bold or modest), which can only be a direct result of intrinsic motivation fostered and guided by pursuing individual interests and enjoyment, passions, enthusiasms, personal concerns, and desire to solve a problem, should be measured by the authentic positive impact your achievements have on others. These particular thoughts are swirling (colliding) through my head today, less than twenty four hours after watching my son, Ian, receive his degree from Hampshire College during an emotionally charged ceremony that was replete with speeches recognizing the hard truths about life on a college campus as well as recrimination for administrative response to critical situations. For those unfamiliar with Hampshire, it is a rigorously academic school with no tests, grades, or majors, but above all, it is a place where students are expected to take charge of not only their educations, but all of their actions and decisions, and, it is where young people are encouraged to actively participate in local, regional, and global issues. Yes social, LBGTQ, and environmental activism are all alive and well on the Hampshire Campus. But even there, within all that, the accusations of being protected by the “Hampshire Bubble” were tossed around by graduating student speakers. Ian chose Hampshire College before speaking to anyone on campus, entering any buildings, or visiting any classes; he simply knew it was the right fit the first time he walked on campus at the age of sixteen, nearly six years ago. I am convinced it was because he has always been a highly creative, independent, intrinsically motivated, self-directed student and he immediately felt that strong vibe and energy of people getting important stuff done. (He would probably argue that point, but considering this is my version we'll go with that.) He spent three years narrowing his focus by taking classes at Hampshire, and the other four surrounding colleges, that interested him and informed his eventual Div. 3 culminating project. Ian spent his entire fourth year researching (everything from the Bible to Arthurian literature), writing, editing, conferring with his advising committee, revising, rewriting, editing and revising again his one hundred page, thesis entitled, “Be Ye a Good Knight:” Justification of Warfare in Three Evolutions of Idyllic Knighthood. This entire process required an extraordinary amount of resolve, hard work, tenacity, and resilience of spirit, which was all, sustained by his love and passion for his subject. As a young child and teen, Ian refused to listen to anyone who told him that he needed to study particular subjects, take standardized tests, or, most importantly, conform to societal expectations to become successful; he rejected proffered notions that studying and drawing knights and castles, and playing with swords was a waste of time. Ian, however, has always approached cultural messages and directives from authority figures non-combatively, by doing his own thing and simply presenting, the typically extraordinary, results as fait accompli. He is of the mindset – just work hard at what is best for you, at that moment, and ignore the critics and naysayers. Within that philosophy lays the foundation for his academic success, his kindness and empathy for others as well as his exceptional ability to have fun and be incredibly silly. As Peter Gray points out in his latest Psychology Today article, when you are given the opportunity to fail, struggle, and ultimately accomplish your goals, no matter what it is, you will feel the joy of having attained your hard won objectives, simply because they are your own ideas and aspirations created out of your passion and fervor. I will also add that the ability to choose a supportive, encouraging, and loving environment (whether a place of learning or job site) in which to engage in that work is an essential component to achieving the success you envision.
This is another nod to Ian's resolve and determination during this last year, which has not been easy, by any stretch of the imagination. Saturday's graduation ceremony was his opportunity to celebrate the whole experience and revel in his accomplishments. Congratulations, Ian! You are an amazing role model for the young people you work with and we are so incredibly proud.