The Cheshire Cat - Does it matter which way we go?

Bob Bruner, Dean of UVa's Darden School of Business, gave the commencement address this past Sunday at UVa graduation. He started out with a piece from Alice in Wonderland.

Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don't much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn't much matter which way you go.
Alice: ...So long as I get somewhere.
The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you're sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.”

Bruner says that this exchange creates the adage 'if you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there.' #59in59 is not about not about walking long enough to get somewhere. I know exactly where I am going and what I am doing. As I'm about to embark on this trip though, I can't help but think of two books that friends have recently recommended.

1. John Steinbeck - Travels with Charley: In Search of America
Steinbeck's eldest son noted that the real reason for the trip was that his father was dying and wanted to see the country one last time.

2. William Least Heat Moon - Blue Highways
Heat Moon got divorced from his wife, lost his job and then decided to travel across the United States.

I'm not running from death. I'm not running from failings. I'm running towards my future. I'm just choosing to do so at a 180 mph Peregrine falcon dive.

Bruner notes: 'Many of you graduating today have a job lined up and some of you don't, but all of you do have a calling. Which is, to live a life that is worth living.  To get a life is not about getting a job, it is about getting a calling. This is hard work, it takes courage, grace, strength and wisdom. Making a living is hard enough, but making a calling is even harder and more fulfilling. It is gained by going where you can do your best work. A calling is felt not seen. One knows a calling imperfectly as if viewed through a glass darkly.'

In my previous jobs I have done good work, but I have not done my best work. I taught elementary school, but I knew I would never be the best teacher. I have been a good fundraiser, but I know I will never be the best fundraiser. This trip is not a trip into the wilderness to discover myself. This trip IS my calling. I've been been looking through the dark glass for 5 years and I know that it is time. One thing that Bruner didn't touch on is the fact that your calling can be quite terrifying when it falls outsides general conventions.

Bruner puts it most strongly when he says, 'Best work leaves the world a better place. It isn’t just sufficient to ‘do no harm’. Your best work must serve justice, mercy, integrity, joy and other virtues...service to a calling is about doing something well and it summons achievements that transcend any resume. Achievements that build character and soul, around which your eulogy will be written someday.'

I'm not in a hurry to write my eulogy, I don't even care if all of the prepositions are in the right place, I just want it to be something that I am proud of.

When you graduate from school Bruner that people start asking questions 'Where are you going? What's next? What do you intend to make of yourself?' Those questions don't stop when you get older. People just pick up on the answers in more discrete ways. 

To those of you that legitimately have it all figured out, let me say that we all are jealous and that you shouldn't be afraid to share with us a little bit of that special sauce.

To those of you don't have it figured out, but pretend to. Stop lying, mainly to yourself.

To those of you that know that you don't have it figured out. Remember what Dean Bruner said: Making a living is hard enough, but making a calling is even harder and more fulfilling.'

 I want to be a National Park expert, both on the parks in the United States and those across the world. I want my life's work to be about the parks and how we can encourage people to enjoy these wonderful places while still preserve them for our future generations. I want to teach students about the importance of the parks and take them on trips so that they can experience the grandeur for themselves.

You don't always go to the road because everything is wrong. You can go because everything is right. I'm not just trying to get 'somewhere'. I've been examining the darkly lit looking glass for several years and I am going to the road for confirmation that this is my calling. Thank you, Dean Bruner! Your articulation of this made that darkly lit glass a bit lighter for me.