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Among the most disheartening expressions in the work world is “Thank God it’s Friday.” Implicit in that “prayer” is disdain for Monday and the rest of the workweek. Unfortunately in the current job market, that is too often a reality. Today’s graduates are entering an economy that is growing sluggishly. Great jobs are few and far between. Today’s university graduates feel lucky when they get even boring jobs. Too many quickly settle for a workweek that sustains itself on looking forward to Friday and the work-free weekend.
You’re all too good for that. And not because you’re graduating from a great university, but because every human being should aspire to a job—a career—that has them saying “thank God it’s Monday.” Don’t take a job unless it is fulfilling. It is better to struggle economically than to settle into a career that gives you little or no gratification.
Not everybody can create a startup. Not even every Harvard graduate will become Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. But many of you can start new enterprises, can find gaps that need filling in or apps that need inventing. Set your sights high.
My generation graduated into an expanding economy. We all knew that we would be better off economically than our parents, who came of age during the Great Depression. We had it easy. You don’t. Adversity requires creativity, determination and innovation. What has been called “The Greatest Generation” followed almost immediately upon the Great Depression and came of age during a terrible war. Adversity creates opportunity. I am not suggesting here that survival of the fittest is a morally sound approach to life. What I am suggesting is that difficult economic times require young adults to create their own futures rather than to fit into the pigeonholes of a thriving economy.
When I was growing up, my mother always told me “Don’t start up.” (She meant don’t start fights or talk back!) Now every mother and father should be telling their children “Start up!” You can become the start up generation.
Israel has been called the Start Up Nation—it has more start ups, more patents, more NASDAQ listings, more high tech innovations than any country of comparable size and nearly any country regardless of size. Why Israel? Because of adversity. When Moses took his trek out of Egypt, he turned north instead of south. Had he turned south, he would have put the Israelite people atop oil fields. By turning north, he gave them nothing but barren deserts. Those countries with the oil fields, such as Saudi Arabia, and the Emirates, have never needed to innovate. All they need to do is drill baby drill. It is countries without natural resources that need start ups, that require the use of human capital. In the world in which we live, human capital—you—are the key to success.
A smart person once observed that adversity causes some to break, and others to break records. Shakespeare talked about embracing adversity and making sweet use of it. So you are blessed with adversity. Take advantage of it. Innovate. Start up. Create.
Don’t settle for humdrum work lives. Don’t live for the weekend. Seek interesting work. Make your work fascinating. Live the passion of your times. As another wise man put it: “You live only once.” You can become the greatest generation, hopefully during peacetime. You can help turn around the economy. You can help preserve the environment. You can pursue justice. You can and will make a difference.
We’ve all heard the cliché that “nobody on their death bed ever regretted not having spent more time at the office.” Sure! That is, if you achieved a high degree of professional and financial success during your lifetime. But the reality is that there are many people who should regret not having spent more time at work. These are the people who failed to achieve their potential because of laziness or misplaced priorities. We rarely hear their deathbed regrets: “Damn, I should have spent less time working and more time with my ungrateful kids and the wife who left me for a more successful guy.”
Strike a balance between work and play, career and family, doing good and doing well. That balance should include looking forward both to Monday and Friday.
Alan M. Dershowitz is the Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.
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