There is an alternative, however, and it may be one that hasn't occurred to you. Let me try to explain it by telling you a story about one of your peers, and the alternative that hadn't occurred to her. A couple of years ago, I participated in a panel discussion at Harvard that dealt with some of these same matters, and afterward I was contacted by one of the students who had come to the event, a young woman who was writing her senior thesis about Harvard itself, how it instills in its students what she called self-efficacy, the sense that you can do anything you want. Self-efficacy, or, in more familiar terms, self-esteem. There are some kids, she said, who get an A on a test and say, "I got it because it was easy." And there are other kids, the kind with self-efficacy or self-esteem, who get an A on a test and say, "I got it because I'm smart."
Again, there's nothing wrong with thinking that you got an A because you're smart. But what that Harvard student didn't realize—and it was really quite a shock to her when I suggested it—is that there is a third alternative. True self-esteem, I proposed, means not caring whether you get an A in the first place. True self-esteem means recognizing, despite everything that your upbringing has trained you to believe about yourself, that the grades you get—and the awards, and the test scores, and the trophies, and the acceptance letters—are not what defines who you are.
再說一遍，認為得了優秀是因為自己聰明的想法並沒有任何錯，不過，哈佛學生沒有認識到的是他們沒有第三種選擇。當我指出這一點時， 她十分震驚。我指出，真正的自尊意味著最初根本就不在乎成績是否優秀。真正的自尊意味著對此問題的足夠認識：儘管你在成長過程中的一切都在教導你要相信自 己，但你所等獲得的成績，還有那些獎勵、成績、獎品、錄取通知書等所有這一切，都不能來定義你是誰。
She also claimed, this young woman, that Harvard students take their sense of self-efficacy out into the world and become, as she put it, "innovative." But when I asked her what she meant by innovative, the only example she could come up with was "being CEO of a Fortune 500." That's not innovative, I told her, that's just successful, and successful according to a very narrow definition of success. True innovation means using your imagination, exercising the capacity to envision new possibilities.
But I'm not here to talk about technological innovation, I'm here to talk about a different kind. It's not about inventing a new machine or a new drug. It's about inventing your own life. Not following a path, but making your own path. The kind of imagination I'm talking about is moral imagination. "Moral" meaning not right or wrong, but having to do with making choices. Moral imagination means the capacity to envision new ways to live your life.
It means not just going with the flow. It means not just "getting into" whatever school or program comes next. It means figuring out what you want for yourself, not what your parents want, or your peers want, or your school wants, or your society wants. Originating your own values. Thinking your way toward your own definition of success. Not simply accepting the life that you've been handed. Not simply accepting the choices you've been handed. When you walk into Starbucks, you're offered a choice among a latte and a macchiato and an espresso and a few other things, but you can also make another choice. You can turn around and walk out. When you walk into college, you are offered a choice among law and medicine and investment banking and consulting and a few other things, but again, you can also do something else, something that no one has thought of before.
Let me give you another counterexample. I wrote an essay a couple of years ago that touched on some of these same points. I said, among other things, that kids at places like Yale or Stanford tend to play it safe and go for the conventional rewards. And one of the most common criticisms I got went like this: What about Teach for America? Lots of kids from elite colleges go and do TFA after they graduate, so therefore I was wrong. TFA, TFA—I heard that over and over again. And Teach for America is undoubtedly a very good thing. But to cite TFA in response to my argument is precisely to miss the point, and to miss it in a way that actually confirms what I'm saying. The problem with TFA—or rather, the problem with the way that TFA has become incorporated into the system—is that it's just become another thing to get into.
In terms of its content, Teach for America is completely different from Goldman Sachs or McKinsey or Harvard Medical School or Berkeley Law, but in terms of its place within the structure of elite expectations, of elite choices, it is exactly the same. It's prestigious, it's hard to get into, it's something that you and your parents can brag about, it looks good on your résumé, and most important, it represents a clearly marked path. You don't have to make it up yourself, you don't have to do anything but apply and do the work—just like college or law school or McKinsey or whatever. It's the Stanford or Harvard of social engagement. It's another hurdle, another badge. It requires aptitude and diligence, but it does not require a single ounce of moral imagination.
Moral imagination is hard, and it's hard in a completely different way than the hard things you're used to doing. And not only that, it's not enough. If you're going to invent your own life, if you're going to be truly autonomous, you also need courage: moral courage. The courage to act on your values in the face of what everyone's going to say and do to try to make you change your mind. Because they're not going to like it. Morally courageous individuals tend to make the people around them very uncomfortable. They don't fit in with everybody else's ideas about the way the world is supposed to work, and still worse, they make them feel insecure about the choices that they themselves have made—or failed to make. People don't mind being in prison as long as no one else is free. But stage a jailbreak, and everybody else freaks out.
In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce has Stephen Dedalus famously say, about growing up in Ireland in the late 19th century, "When the soul of a man is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets."
Today there are other nets. One of those nets is a term that I've heard again and again as I've talked with students about these things. That term is "self-indulgent." "Isn't it self-indulgent to try to live the life of the mind when there are so many other things I could be doing with my degree?" "Wouldn't it be self-indulgent to pursue painting after I graduate instead of getting a real job?"
These are the kinds of questions that young people find themselves being asked today if they even think about doing something a little bit different. Even worse, the kinds of questions they are made to feel compelled to ask themselves. Many students have spoken to me, as they navigated their senior years, about the pressure they felt from their peers—from their peers—to justify a creative or intellectual life. You're made to feel like you're crazy: crazy to forsake the sure thing, crazy to think it could work, crazy to imagine that you even have a right to try.
Think of what we've come to. It is one of the great testaments to the intellectual—and moral, and spiritual—poverty of American society that it makes its most intelligent young people feel like they're being self-indulgent if they pursue their curiosity. You are all told that you're supposed to go to college, but you're also told that you're being "self-indulgent" if you actually want to get an education. Or even worse, give yourself one. As opposed to what? Going into consulting isn't self-indulgent? Going into finance isn't self-indulgent? Going into law, like most of the people who do, in order to make yourself rich, isn't self-indulgent? It's not OK to play music, or write essays, because what good does that really do anyone, but it is OK to work for a hedge fund. It's selfish to pursue your passion, unless it's also going to make you a lot of money, in which case it's not selfish at all.
想象我們現在面臨的局面。這是美國社會的貧困——思想、道德和精神貧困的最明顯症狀，美國最聰明的年輕人竟然認為聽從自己的好奇心行動就是自我放任。你們得到的教導是應該上大學，但你們同時也被告知如果真的想得到教育，那就是“自我放任”。如果你自我教育的話，更糟糕。這是什麼 道理?進入證券諮詢業是不是自我放任?進入金融業是不是自我放任?像許多人那樣進入律師界發財是不是自我放任?搞音樂，寫文章就不行，因為它不能給人帶來 利益。但為風險投資公司工作就可以。追求自己的理想和激情是自私的，除非它能讓你賺很多錢。那樣的話，就一點兒也不自私了。
Do you see how absurd this is? But these are the nets that are flung at you, and this is what I mean by the need for courage. And it's a never-ending process. At that Harvard event two years ago, one person said, about my assertion that college students needed to keep rethinking the decisions they've made about their lives, "We already made our decisions, back in middle school, when we decided to be the kind of high achievers who get into Harvard." And I thought, who wants to live with the decisions that they made when they were 12? Let me put that another way. Who wants to let a 12-year-old decide what they're going to do for the rest of their lives? Or a 19-year-old, for that matter?
All you can decide is what you think now, and you need to be prepared to keep making revisions. Because let me be clear. I'm not trying to persuade you all to become writers or musicians. Being a doctor or a lawyer, a scientist or an engineer or an economist—these are all valid and admirable choices. All I'm saying is that you need to think about it, and think about it hard. All I'm asking is that you make your choices for the right reasons. All I'm urging is that you recognize and embrace your moral freedom.
你看到這些觀點是多麼荒謬了嗎?這就是罩在你們身上的網，就是我說的需要勇氣的意思。這是永不停息的過程。在兩年前的哈 佛事件中，有個學生談到我說的大學生需要重新思考人生決定的觀點，他說“我們已經做出了決定，我們早在中學時就已經決定成為能夠進入哈佛的高材生。”我在 想，誰會打算按照他在12歲時做出的決定生活呢?讓我換一種說法，誰願意讓一個12歲的孩子決定他們未來一輩子要做什麼呢?或者一個19歲的小毛孩兒?
And most of all, don't play it safe. Resist the seductions of the cowardly values our society has come to prize so highly: comfort, convenience, security, predictability, control. These, too, are nets. Above all, resist the fear of failure. Yes, you will make mistakes. But they will be your mistakes, not someone else's. And you will survive them, and you will know yourself better for having made them, and you will be a fuller and a stronger person.
It's been said—and I'm not sure I agree with this, but it's an idea that's worth taking seriously—that you guys belong to a "postemotional" generation. That you prefer to avoid messy and turbulent and powerful feelings. But I say, don't shy away from the challenging parts of yourself. Don't deny the desires and curiosities, the doubts and dissatisfactions, the joy and the darkness, that might knock you off the path that you have set for yourself. College is just beginning for you, adulthood is just beginning. Open yourself to the possibilities they represent. The world is much larger than you can imagine right now. Which means, you are much larger than you can imagine.
最重要的是，不要太過小心翼翼。去拒絕或否定我們社會給予了過高獎賞的那些卑怯的價值觀的誘惑：舒服、方便、安全、可預測 的、可控制的。這些，同樣是羅網。最重要的是，去拒否失敗的恐懼感。是的，你會犯錯誤。可那是你的錯誤，不是別人的。你將從錯誤中緩過來，而且，正是因為 這些錯誤，你更好地認識你自己。由此，你成為更完整和強大的人。
人們常說你們年輕人屬於“後情感”一代，我想我未必贊同這個說法，但這個說法值得嚴肅對待。你們更願意規避混亂、動盪 和強烈的感情，但我想說，不要回避挑戰自我，不要否認慾望和好奇心、懷疑和不滿、快樂和陰鬱，它們可能改變你預設的人生軌跡。大學剛開始，成年時代也才剛 開始。開啟自己，直面各種可能性吧。這個世界的深廣遠超你現在想象的邊際。這意味著，你自身的深廣也將遠超你現在的想象。