Later: Life After Yale
The View from
If there is life in the “real” world after Yale College, odds would favor looking for it in the Wall Street district, where I have worked since 1972: you would scarcely believe the number of Yale graduates who come looking for life’s fulfillment in this corner of Manhattan.
Wall Street uses money to make money, and many alumni try to round out their personal lives with what their dollars can buy: a house in Connecticut or Westchester or rural New Jersey, or a luxury apartment on the East Side; a vacation in the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, or London and the Continent, several family cars, perhaps a sailboat, and more, much more.
For others on the Street, the challenge of the work has as much attraction as the money. Some of the sharpest wits around spend their days playing the one-upmanship game of institutional investing, or finding ways to make large corporations prosper, and little ones to grow large. The mainspring is money, but the Street will tax every creative faculty of a problem-solving mind, put to use every professional smile and glad hand offered. Men give themselves readily for the privilege of doing interesting things with the big money.
What is remarkable, and perhaps not immediately apparent to one still in college, is how many seek a full life here, and how few find it. Long-term reactions here run the gamut from general content to peptic ulcers to deep nagging boredom. Too often the roof on the lovely house in Connecticut, or wherever, leaks, the dentist’s bill for the youngest child is staggering, the financial markets are wavering uncertainly and your stock is down, and the weather seems to go out of its way to be rotten to commuters.
Even when superficially things are in order and all seems right with the world, the deeper unease lingers.
Why is it that Americans buy more insurance today than ever? Why do otherwise sober individuals dabble in fortune-telling, séances, and the occult, or pine over their Saturday beer and ballgame for a simpler, safer society? The more acutely perceptive a Wall Streeter is, the more real and potential menaces he can see that are not subject to his control, and he worries. His insecurity multiplied by the thousands of his fellows makes the Street the chronic hypochondriac it is.
Alternatively, he looks at the affairs that are subject to his control and sees how unessential and replaceable he is as an individual, and scrambles for a better position, or secretly resigns himself to the status of a cog in the world’s greatest financial machine. He and his fellow Americans may carry more insurance, but they have not purchased a way out of their predicament.
The one insurance no one can buy, and I suspect many seek, is a guarantee that their lives will count for something significant, before they also become genealogical footnotes to a later generation. For many, it is as King Solomon said, that all is vanity, vanity, and a striving after wind. A life without central meaning and purpose is form without substance.
There is not a job on the Street, not a compensation grand enough, nor a function in society at large important enough, to provide in itself that central meaning.
Yet many lawyers, bankers and other professional do not wake up to the inability of their careers to meet their deepest needs until late in their courses. Others do have some notion of it early on, choose to philosophize the meaninglessness of life away, and continue on regardless. But there is a whole other way to live in this world to experience lasting satisfaction, and a knowledge that your life counts, and will count, permanently.
To enter into this way, you must abandon the fixed intent to please yourself first in every enterprise, for it is almost a guarantee of ultimate barrenness. Instead of enthroning your self-interest, put God first.
Perhaps you have heard of the injunction, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” It is a commandment with a promise: Put God first in your life plans, and He will supply everything you need. If you go at it the other way around, as most people do, you may get the things you want, only to find that they do not satisfy.
A young woman I know worked last summer for a man who is easily one of the ten most famous and successful lawyers in the New York City. One day he handed her some legal documents and said, “Put them into the shredder, and while you’re at it, throw me in, too.” In several sentences he told her that the course of his life had become tasteless and wearisome and he would as soon it were over. She left his office amazed because he is a man who has obtained wealth, immense respect and considerable celebrity. This lawyer seemed to have everything a man could want, but it was not enough.
He had left God out of all his plans. Seeking to please Him first is a surprisingly direct route to freedom and self-fulfillment, whether you work as a banker on Wall Street or as a doctor in Appalachia.
I was born of Midwestern parents – my father spent a career flying light aircraft and helicopters for the Army – and I was set to go to a Big Ten state university and then into medicine, when my life took an unexpected turn. In the space of two years, I went from Tokyo, Japan to Phillips Academy, Andover, and Yale.
It was here that I at least dimly realized the underlying emptiness of the professions, per se. I gave this matter much consideration while at Yale. I had, by the grace of God, become a Christian, and I decided that I would seek to do the will of God, whatever it might be.
There is not space here to tell you how my course was altered and set, but in my senior year I discovered investment banking, where I am today. Though it surprised me at first, I had the assurance that this was the place for me.
Henry Burt Wright, a Classics professor at Yale in the early decades of this century, grasped the problem at its base, and published a study entitled, “The Will of God and a Man’s Life Work.”
For Wright, God’s will wasn’t a theory or just dogma. It was the surest key to a fulfilling vocation. God had sent His Son Jesus to die for all men, and for those who had received forgiveness of their sins by believing in Jesus, God had important work to do. He had a specific plan for the life of each believer.
The most diverse occupations have known men and women who were what they were and did what they did, by doing the will of God.
Henry Drummond, a Christian active just before the turn of the century, describes the particularity of God’s intentions on a believer’s life thus:
“There is a will for career as well as for character…. There is a will for what work I am to do for Christ, and what business arrangements to make, and what money to give away. This is God’s private will for me, for every step I take, for the path of life along which he points my way: God’s will for my career.”
“Only one thing,” said Henry Wright, “can give a man complete joy and power in his work. That one thing is the sure conviction that he is in that work – medicine, law, teaching, business, ministry, at home or abroad – ‘called of God.’
“The best test a man can put to himself is to ask and to answer fairly this questions: Dare I assert that I am a lawyer, teacher, business man, doctor ‘not from men, but through Jesus Christ – called of God – according to the commandment of God’?”
Isn’t that narrow, hard, strange? Professor Wright would disagree, vigorously; he had written his book “To do a little something toward dissipating a prevalent idea that the doing of God’s will is synonymous with a narrow, difficult and disagreeable life work. He who has willed to do God’s will completely… has for the first time fully found himself. The issues of such a life – and of such a life only – are freedom, joy and peace.”
Don’t be surprised then, at the many Yale men who have found professional standing, challenging work, and financial security straw substitutes for real life. Life isn’t in these things – it is in Jesus Christ, and those who know and follow Him have life. Imagine a life whose directions and consequences, whether outwardly large or small, are conceived by the same Architect Who spread the galaxies across the sky and taught the seashell its curvature, Who created man to know and to walk with Him.
The Bible leaves a promise to those who take Professor Wright’s study to its proper conclusion, in the first letter of John: “…The world is passing away…, but whoever perseveres in doing God’s will abides forever.” (1 John 2:17)
“Can we even faintly grasp the full meaning of these words, ‘He who does the will of God abides forever’? Abides how? In infinite knowledge, with infinite provision made for all wants, with infinite power to achieve and opportunity for development, in everlasting companionship, in perfect freedom, perfect joy, perfect peace.” (Henry Wright)
Look again at your career plans; does your Creator figure in them? Or are your hopes and dreams bounded instead by your personal limitations on either side and by death at the farther end? He who does the will of God abides forever – an eternity for the deepest fulfillment a human being can enjoy.
If you want this, what action could you and should you take now, at Yale? Another distinguished alumnus, Timothy Dwight, summed up well in telling the Class of 1814, Yale College: “Christ is … the true, the living way of access to God. Give up yourselves therefore to Him with a cordial confidence and the great work of life is done.”
Philip Chamberlain, ‘70
© 1974 The Yale Standard Committee