Life, Value, and the Paradoxes of Risk

Mar 04, 2010

Came across Charles Sanford Jr’s graduation speech at the University of Georgia here. It’s a great read – I definitely recommend it. 

If pure self–seeking is so pervasive, it’s because those who seek only for themselves imagine that they are the whole world. If they are satisfied, then the world is by definition satisfied. But mere self–satisfaction is, in our paradoxical world, never satisfying. A famous financier understood this when he asked and answered his own rhetorical question: “When does a man have enough money? When he makes his next million.” Time and time again, we find that the people who are truly satisfied and enriched in this life, the ones who have achieved what is indisputably happiness, are the ones who have sought to create value for others. There is simply no arguing away the paradox of risk: if you fly in the face of conventional wisdom and take the risk of committing yourself to creating value for others, you are taking a large step toward insuring your own happiness and achieving a more meaningful safety.

You will have to use your imagination. You’ll have to think, and think for yourself, as creatively as you can. Simply “doing what you’re told” will only achieve other people’s goals. As a result, you will find yourself having to do things differently from some of the people around you — occasionally, it will be different from most of the people around you. That won’t be as easy as it sounds: working your way against the conventional wisdom never is. It may be easier if you think of it as a kind of dare, and accept it.

You will have to work hard, of course, which means not only long hours but tough decisions. But at the same time, you must remember that hard work doesn’t qualify you to think you’re the only person around you working hard. In other words, if you lose your sense of humor and take yourself too seriously — if you squeeze all the fun right out of whatever you’re doing — you only defeat your larger purpose. Have confidence that what you’re doing is worthwhile and important. But don’t let it escalate into an arrogance which presumes it’s the only worthwhile thing to do.

You will note that in all this talk of “state of mind” I have not mentioned “quality of mind” or intelligence. That is simply because I don’t believe that unusual intelligence, an off–the–graph I.Q., is necessary to create value and achieve personal satisfaction. There are a few people who are mentally gifted far beyond the norm, just as there are a few who are physically gifted in the same way. But that particular quality doesn’t mean that they will achieve any greater amount or level of personal fulfillment.

True boldness lies in moderation.