In economics, we sometimes talk about "reservation wages." These are the lowest wages that one would accept to participate in the formal labor market. It is the wage that moves someone from being outside the labor force to being a participant in that labor force. I thought of this recently as I attended a dinner party for some of our students honoring the milestone of turning 21, the lowest age at which one is considered an adult.
Every year, Ursuline College hosts a dinner party for all of its students who celebrated their 21st birthday in the past year. Each student is allowed to invite one faculty member to accompany them to the dinner, where the students and their lives are celebrated. Although I have never been invited before, I was invited this year, and I was impressed with the evening. On top of good food and real champagne (should one want it), we had a chance to enjoy the company of the new adults in our midst outside of the classroom. I was particularly impressed with the talk given by one of my fellow faculty members, who offered some words of wisdom to the group.
This faculty member made three points as she spoke to our group, and I found them resonating with me as I thought back over my own life. I wish someone had told me such things when I turned 21 many (many) years ago. As she spoke, she implored us not to waste our talents, not to waste our time, and not to try to be someone we are not.
The speaker illustrated the idea of not wasting our talents by telling a story about how she always knew she was a good writer, but found herself writing things that she had little passion for in her role as an attorney. It was only after she decided to write a book about the work of balancing motherhood with being a lawyer that she began to enjoy writing again. Her book will be published soon, and as she spoke it was clear that she felt this was an endeavor that was worthy of her time. I recall my own interest in writing as a younger person, and realize that I traveled a similar path, although, for me, it has not (yet) resulted in a book contract, as it has for her.
She also suggested that the students not waste their time, and this was a point that I completely agreed with. It was not long ago that I thought my time was very limited (and it might still be -- no one really knows how long they have to live)
Finally, she said that we should not try to be someone we are not. I realized that there are always incentives as we navigate our careers in or outside academia to try to be someone we are not in order to obtain the rewards that are offered, such as tenure or promotion. It was good for someone to remind me that being true to ourselves is an important goal in itself.
The words that struck me as most true, however, were at the beginning of her talk. She looked out at the room filled with young people and their accompanying faculty members, and asked the question, "So, who here feels like a grown-up?"
It is telling that not even the most senior of the faculty members in that room raised their hands. I know that I am still waiting to begin to feel like a grown-up. Until then, I "fake it" as I go to work and pay my mortgage and my taxes and parent my daughter. So, dear readers, how many of you feel like a "grown-up," and when did you realize you had reached that milestone?