My friend Tom (Carol writing here) pointed me yesterday to the May 30, 2011 NYTimes piece of David Brooks. I adore Brooks. He’s so dang smart.

Tom knew I’d enjoy Brooks’ thoughts (as I usually do) not only because he writes in the piece about college students — the lifeblood of both our life’s work — but probably because he writes about humans and their relationships with, well, other humans. You know, us tricky, emotional, happiness-seeking, sorta-crazy, always-seeking, usually-striving, oft-dissatisfied people.

What Brooks has to say surely did get me thinking about relationships (… and marriage .. and partnerships … and happiness and self-centeredness and defensiveness). His take on the current generation got me thinking more about what we all – no matter age or generation – must (yes, must!) consider about who we are, what we need, and how we (of course I throw this one in here) go about finding “happy couple-ness.”

While you might not like what Brooks has to say, might it be because we don’t want to believe about ourselves what he says?

Below I’ve excerpted a few points from Brooks’ editorial “It’s Not About You.” Toggle on over to for the entire read. You won’t be sorry you spent the extra time getting there. Either way, consider the happy couple question of the day: what can “I” learn about how “I” go about “my” marriage/partnership/relationship given that “I” (okay, we) live in a culture of “ME and MY HAPPINESS FIRST, please and thank you.”

His thesis sure got me thinking. What about you?

May 30, 2011
It’s Not About You
Over the past few weeks, America’s colleges have sent another class of graduates off into the world. These graduates possess something of inestimable value. Nearly every sensible middle-aged person would give away all their money to be able to go back to age 22 and begin adulthood anew. But, especially this year, one is conscious of the many ways in which this year’s graduating class has been ill served by their elders. They enter a bad job market, the hangover from decades of excessive borrowing. They inherit a ruinous federal debt. More important, their lives have been perversely structured.

… Through their childhoods and teenage years, they have been monitored, tutored, coached and honed to an unprecedented degree. … Yet upon graduation they will enter a world that is unprecedentedly wide open and unstructured. Most of them will not quickly get married, buy a home and have kids, as previous generations did. Instead, they will confront amazingly diverse job markets, social landscapes and lifestyle niches. Most will spend a decade wandering from job to job and clique to clique, searching for a role.

… If you sample some of the commencement addresses being broadcast on C-Span these days, you see that many graduates are told to: Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself. This is the litany of expressive individualism, which is still the dominant note in American culture.

But, of course, this mantra misleads on nearly every front.

College grads are often sent out into the world amid rapturous talk of limitless possibilities. But this talk is of no help to the central business of adulthood, finding serious things to tie yourself down to. The successful young adult is beginning to make sacred commitments — to a spouse, a community and calling — yet mostly hears about freedom and autonomy. …

… Today’s grads enter a cultural climate that preaches the self as the center of a life. But, of course, as they age, they’ll discover that the tasks of a life are at the center. Fulfillment is a byproduct of how people engage their tasks, and can’t be pursued directly. Most of us are egotistical and most are self-concerned most of the time, but it’s nonetheless true that life comes to a point only in those moments when the self dissolves into some task. The purpose in life is not to find yourself. It’s to lose yourself.