I don’t spend much time wishing I was wealthier. Sure, every now and then, particularly when tuition bills are due (here’s looking at you, kids), I think having a really large bank balance would be nice. But, all in all, I am remarkably content with my wealth level.
Right now, I wish I was fabulously wealthy, so fabulously wealthy that I wouldn't notice an expenditure of about $1500 a year, so wealthy that I wouldn't think that if I was spending that much, I was depriving my family of anything. I am not sure how much wealth I would need so that I didn’t notice $1500 a year, but it would presumably be a lot.
The object of my desire. A book.
I just finished Charles Murray’s, The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don’ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life.
Having read it, I now want to hand a copy to all my students as a graduation present, though I would want to give them that graduation present at the end of their sophomore or junior year. I’m guessing I could easily hand out 100 copies a year. Roughly $15 a copy (as of this minute, $13.32 at Amazon). $1500 a year (or at the current price a mere $1332 a year). Every one of those students would benefit immensely, immensely, from reading this book. Indeed, in all honesty, I cannot think of a book of advice I would more whole-heartedly endorse for a college student at an elite liberal arts college than this one. I feel an acute sense of guilt that I will not be handing this book to all my students. They would benefit so much from it.
Now I do have quibbles with the book. Most importantly, the title. Having read it, the title makes perfect sense. But before I read it, I had the wrong impression; that wrong impression will limit the number of people who read this book—and that is a tragedy. This is not a book for curmudgeons on how to get ahead. It is a book by a curmudgeon giving advice to everyone, curmudgeon or not. As Murray notes, the world is full of curmudgeons. Curmudgeons, in fact, are the people who will be hiring you. You will meet them all the time. And curmudgeons judge you. You may not like it, you may wish they didn’t, but they do. And curmudgeons judge you because your behavior is not very good. You are squandering your life. You are obsessed with silly things. For example, you think judging is bad; curmudgeons judge you for such soft, brainless thinking. You don’t understand proper grammar, you don’t know how to rewrite or proofread, you don’t dress well (ouch!), and it all adds up to you don’t know how to interact with people older and wiser than you. This book will tell you how to improve yourself. The improvements will be dramatic. And they will make you happier.
It’s that last bit which will really jar my typical student. In an age in which happiness is confused with doing whatever you want at the present moment, the whole idea that reforming your actions now so that you can build a deep and satisfying life later on is anathema. And, particularly galling is the idea that anyone can tell you what will make you happy in the long run. Well, we curmudgeons can tell you what will make you happy in the long run. We can easily tell you because we are wise. Indeed, our wisdom is what makes us curmudgeons—we see so much foolishness that we get terribly curmudgeonly.
What will make you happy? Family, vocation, community and faith. You need all four. The modern liberal arts college prepares a student to achieve happiness in precisely zero of those four realms. We don’t ever, ever!, talk about family. We don’t know the difference between “high paying and prestigious job” and “vocation,” and insist that the former is what matters. We think “community” is Facebook and feel-good expressions of banal political correctness. And faith? Are you kidding?
It’s not just the deeper things and the way you present yourself that are the problem. You are going about your life all wrong. Leave home. Do real work. Stretch yourself. Build resilience. Don’t rush into a career. Reflect often on good behavior.
Indeed, this book even has the bit of advice I spend more time giving students than just about anything else. Stop worrying about your silly summer internship. Internships don’t matter. At all. Nobody cares about your internship. You will learn nothing at your “internship.” Just go get a real job, doing real work and enjoy your summer reading some books and watching some movies and interacting with people who are not carbon copies of yourself. Murray notes that there are a zillion summer resorts that want to hire college students for the summer. Go get one of those jobs. They will pay you and you will do low-skill work and you will learn more about yourself than you ever will filing papers on Wall Street for no pay. And, funny thing—you can still get that 20 hour a day Wall Street job if you really want it when you graduate, because, you see, nobody cares what you did last summer.
I could go on and on, but all this is doing is making me wish I was fabulously wealthy, so wealthy I could just start handing this book out to every student who walks into my office with her latest life crisis, to every student who is graduating, to every student is worried about her summer internship, to every student who is depressed about grades. This is the best book of practical wisdom I have ever read aimed at the college students of today. I hate modern books of practical wisdom (I am a curmudgeon). I love this book.
And if you are one of those fabulously wealthy people who wants to do some good, start giving this book out to every college student you know. Or, send me a 100 copies a year and I will hand them out for you.