A few months ago, I posted one of my graduate school essays in an effort to be more open about my thoughts and feelings - and connect more with others. Now that I'm done applying, I wanted to post a few more essays which reveal some things about me which I normally shy away from talking about.
I feel so lucky to have applied because the process of reflecting to write these essays was incredibly therapeutic to me and have helped me understand who I am and what I value much better than I ever have before.
Here are three things to consume. This will be my last post about this topic on Civic Yuppie, but I'm planning to do more reflection about all this stuff on Scraps.
1 - This is a multimedia essay that I never submitted. It was optional and instead of a video, I submitted a short essay instead. Ever wonder why I have an Orange Juice obsession? Here's the story. This is only a draft cut; I never made it professional grade because I never submitted the essay.
Here are the other two pieces. I invite your remarks:
What matters most to you, and why?
More than anything, spending time and having deep relationships with other people makes me happy. For example, I love hosting people – whether it’s cooking them dinner or meeting up before a night on the town. I love being part of great teams; the feeling of doing something extraordinary with other people exceeds the measure of any extrinsic reward. Speaking personally, I hope with all my heart that I’ll be blessed enough to be a good husband, father, and citizen someday and that I’ll have deep, committed relationships in each of those realms [Author's note: I almost wrote an essay about the notion of wanting to be a good husband, father, and citizen (It's a really powerful hierarchy of identity in my life). I didn't work because it wasn't "deep" enough and the essay never flowed correctly.]
Because deep relationships are my greatest source of happiness, telling the truth is far and away what matters most to me. I don’t think deep relationships – let alone any relationship – can exist without trust. Trust can only exist between people, I think, when all parties tell the truth and act honestly. As I see it, telling the truth is the magic ingredient that unlocks the possibility of having deep relationships at all.
Even though I’ve always had a sense of why deep relationships and the truth are important to me, I finally understood how the ideas connected while on a trip to Thailand in August of 2011. On the trip, two friends and I visited a Buddhist Temple and we talked for a few hours with a group of Buddhist monks. We immediately started asking them about Buddhist philosophy and our conversation, fortunately for me, quickly turned to the subject of happiness.
The monks drew a link between happiness and permanence. Their view was that only “permanent” things, the pinnacle of which is a relationship with God, can lead to happiness. This is because impermanent things, like wealth and fame, are always fleeting. One can never feel secure – or happy, ultimately – by impermanent things because they must constantly be maintained and the longevity of impermanent things is never guaranteed. I’ve realized that this is why I’ve come to find happiness in deep relationships with other people – next to a relationship with God, they’re probably the only things in life that even have a chance of being permanent.
This gives truth tremendous importance in my life because it is the anchor to which my greatest source of happiness, deep relationships with others, is tied. Truth is the foundation from which everything that matters to me is built. To me, truth is a prerequisite for deep relationships and thus a prerequisite for happiness itself.
In addition to underpinning my individual happiness, telling the truth guides my thinking on how to rebuild communities and institutions, which is what I hope to do in Detroit over the course of my adult life. In my experience, communities and institutions – whether it is families, companies, or cities – crumble when people do not, or are compelled not to tell the truth.
I don’t think it’s possible to rebuild institutions without designing systems which support and encourage honesty or think it’s reasonable to expect institutions to function effectively if individuals act dishonestly. In my hometown, Detroit, this hypothesis has been disturbingly accurate; over the course of decades, dishonest behavior has triggered everything from the crippling of city finances to the fueling of racial tensions between Detroit and its suburbs.
But even beyond its implications to my happiness and my aspirations to rebuild institutions, telling the truth matters to me because it makes me feel like I’m respecting the gift of life. I’ve come to value my life a lot because of the many examples of beauty, suffering, loss, and joy I’ve witnessed or experienced as I’ve come of age. By this I don’t even mean that I’ve come to value the opportunities I’ve had because I was born into a middle class family in the United States of America, instead of abject poverty. More simply, I mean that I value the fact that I’ve woken up every day for over 25 years and can take a deep breath as I emerge from underneath my bedcovers. That’s a privilege I appreciate and I think that trying to live as a man of character – which starts with honesty, I believe – is something that honors that privilege.
What do you want to do – REALLY – and why [School Name]?
In our world today we’re trying to solve 21stcentury problems which are complex and fast-changing, with 20thcentury institutions which are siloed and slow and it’s not working. In particular, if Detroit’s institutions are not rebuilt, I worry that all of the City’s resurgence and revitalization will evaporate and that another generation of Detroiters will be lost in the shadows of economic, political, and social decline.
Quite simply, I am determined to prevent that from happening – I intend to build institutions and communities which unleash human potential rather than perpetuate human suffering. In my career, and civic life, what I want to do (REALLY) is rebuild Detroit’s institutions so that they are enduring and meet the City’s needs in the coming century. More specifically, because Detroit struggles to address cross-sector issues – like talent development and homelessness – I want to create new models for solving cross-sector problems and engaging citizens. Moreover, rebuilding Detroit’s institutions is something I feel a duty to do because too few young Detroiters understand that it’s necessary.
Detroit is the first city being rebuilt in a world of constant disruption, so I don’t just see transforming Detroit’s institutions as a regional matter, either. I consider Detroit to be a testing ground for the next wave of community redevelopment which will occur in coming decades. In addition to serving Detroit, I want to make a broader impact in the world by reforming institutions in Detroit and helping others adapt and adopt our models elsewhere.
After thinking about the audacity of wanting to do something like rebuild the institutions of a major American city, I’ve realized that the most critical thing I need to develop further – more than any set of business skills – is my passion, courage, and confidence. I know I can learn what’s necessary to accomplish my goal to rebuild Detroit’s institutions, so long as I have the motivation, tenacity, and fortitude to go after something so difficult. That is why I want to attend the [School Name] – in my view it’s a place which cultivates passion, courage, and confidence in its students and helps them get a management education as part of that that larger, more important aim.
I noticed this ethos most clearly when visiting the [School Name] for a prospective student day. I was grabbing a bite to eat at an outdoor buffet and I started chatting with a student passing through on her way to the library. The first question she asked me was what I was passionate about and interested in, making it very clear to me that passion is truly what drives [School Name] students. This theme extended to all the people I met and all the programs I heard about, like “[Program #1]” and “[Program #2]”. Passion, I think, is part of the [School Name]'s DNA. That is exactly the type of community I want to be part of, want to contribute to, and feel like I need to be part of to have a fighter’s chance of rebuilding Detroit’s institutions.