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The Disorderly March, near conclusion

December 30, 2010

I think I’ve just about squeezed this lemon as hard as I can – at first, when you start a fulmination, it sounds like sour grapes (to mix a metaphor).  Then you steadily build your case with the facts until you can convince others (and maybe yourself as well) that you’re right.  Then, you start beating a dead horse, as you realize that you’ve pretty much made the best case you can make, and you’re probably not really going to write it all up as a magazine article because you tell yourself you won’t submit it anywhere anyway because you don’t have the connections to get published and o what’s the use.  I think I’m building towards a summary soon, and then I’m going to move on.

I’m not the only one with ideas on this out there – Andrew Sullivan’s reliable team had a take on an article I never would have read, being I guess just not gay enough to bother with anything in the Times’ “Style” section.  In a post titled “The Elite Personified,” Conor Friedersdorf lays out the case against Orderly Marchers with pretty much the prime example of one, “Miss” Susan Nagel.  (I don’t recall ever seeing anyone in the Times repeatedly addressed as “Miss” but then like I said me ≠ Style Section Reader.  Also I can’t help seeing the Simpsons’ “Lindsey Naegle” after reading the article.) 

Miss Nagel is rich, thin, blond, an accomplished sportswoman, published writer, social justice advocate, cappucino drinker (no beer for her), Model UN founder, and, most craftily, she has found (or manufactured) a “passion” for James Madison who, she says, deserves his own monument in Washington – a clever choice of ground not covered by anyone else’s “I really have a passion for blank” spot on the resume.  Either she is the dullest grind ever or the cleverest resume builder. 

Friedersdorf sighs (emphasis mine):

She is cast as the meritocratic elite’s most accomplished overachiever. And I’ll tell you why I worry especially about someone like that. With age, everyone realizes that life isn’t as simple as it once appeared. Career and Marriage are transformed from abstract hopes into concrete decisions. Every one that is made closes off other possibilities. And every so often, we take stock of life, pondering its purpose, what it is that makes us happy, our responsibilities to others, whether meaning can be found in our work, etc.

Being raised on the Upper East Side, studying at elite schools, and winning blue ribbons in small-bore rifle competitions – or if you prefer, being part of the meritocratic elite generally – insufficiently prepares young people for these questions. Instead, the world of prep schools and top tier colleges traffic in a perverse illusion: that building a perfect resume is the same thing as building a perfect life.

I’d advise everyone in that world to remember that resume building should always be treated as a means, not an end; that impressive careers are not a guarantor of happiness or meaning; and that since every subculture has its pathologies, you’re probably not doing things right unless the other people in your world are at least slightly uncomfortable with some way in which you’re challenging its assumptions.


One Comment leave one →
  1. elisapiper permalink
    December 30, 2010 2:09 pm

    So true! Building a perfect resume is not even remotely related to building a perfect life …

    As a person who realized at about age 30 that I was fulfilling goals that weren’t really mine, I can say that one sometimes makes wonderful mistakes, in spite of oneself.

    The key, as noted, is actually taking stock at some point. Reflecting. And living deliberately – to the extent possible, from there.

    The unexamined life is not worth living – Plato.

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