Charlie Ducey | Monday, March 30, 2015
The hyper-ambitious college student operates on a hermetically tight schedule. Following an early morning run and workout focused on core muscles with a rotating anaerobic upper-body/arms/legs exercise routine, the hyper-ambitious college student arrives in class at 9:25, well-groomed in corporate casual attire, latte in hand, the day’s assignment lifted from a labelled, multi-section folder with the appropriate syllabus laminated and bound in front. The hyper-ambitious college student asks questions, the answers of which, by principle, are already known to him, but anticipate potential misunderstandings of his peers. His comments cut to the chase, articulated with eloquence but not overburdened by jargon or stock phrases such as “in the context of.” In smaller courses, he thanks the professor at the conclusion of the lecture and proceeds swiftly to the door, minding his carriage as other students slump.
Between each class of his 18.5 credit hour course load, the hyper-ambitious college student educates himself on national and global news, the Dow Jones Industrial average and the vocabulary of several foreign languages, all via a polished smartphone. Lunch and dinner consist of punctual, measured meals in the company of whichever peer or club-member possesses information pertinent to the day’s endeavors or whose good relations are necessary to maintain in the long term. Such shared means have enabled the hyper-ambitious college student to ascertain which courses and extracurricular opportunities best contribute to his career goals and professional aspirations, which are financial in nature. One evening the co-president of the investment club began divulging emotional anxieties, which prompted the hyper-ambitious college student to quickly refer her to university counseling resources (again via smartphone) and productively redirect the conversation toward market trends.
During the first half of his college career, evenings consist of club meetings, special lectures and student government colloquiums. He rises to co-president of two course-related clubs by the end of sophomore year, holding officer positions in three more. His bid for student body treasurer succeeds the following autumn. He updates his resume and LinkedIn profile to reflect this.
Over the summers, he has assisted in the research of a prominent economics professor, presented independent findings on strategic hedge fund management and interned with the investment club’s co-president’s father, a useful springboard for a paid internship with a top-10 investment firm the following summer, courtesy of connections forged during a spring break undergraduate future financier conference in Manhattan — invitation only. He updates his resume and LinkedIn to reflect this.
In spring term of his junior year, the hyper-ambitious college student declines an offer to join the club squash team after an impressive showing during an early morning workout. He regards organized sports for purposes other than fitness as indulgent, puerile ‘time-sinks.’ Other ‘time-sinks’ include non-club-related social gatherings, conversations lasting over 30 minutes and the consumption of media entertainment. Also, art.
Over dinner, the co-president of the investment club highlights the potential benefit of non-academic extracurriculars and invites the hyper-ambitious college student to her choral performance, laying an endearing hand on his forearm. Due to the clash with a business strategies competition, he kindly declines, adding that she might consider keeping her hands in her own personal space, thank you.
The thought of artistic erudition, however, haunts him — additional aesthetic engagement might assist his career. He decides to partake in enjoyable activities that nonetheless contribute to his future financial stability, job acquisition and perceived holistic happiness. He joins an A capella group, building off his years of high school voice-lessons. The performances, he finds, strengthen his left-brain creative skills and general aesthetic appreciation. He updates his resume and LinkedIn to reflect this.
A mental recalibration sweeps over the hyper-ambitious college student in the fall of his senior year. He realizes that activities not directly related to his career might better prepare him for the intellectual demands of the financial industry. Outside-the-box thinking. People skills. Philosophical frameworks. He enrolls in a course on existentialism and joins an on-campus charity organization. Philanthropic engagement, he reads in The Economist, reinforces internal drives to earn more in order to give back. Giving back, he figures, pays dividends.
So, too, does philosophy. He finds that familiarity with basic philosophical methods allows him to talk circles around the investment club’s co-president (whom he believes is on the verge of abdicating full presidency to him). While reading Kierkegaard one night in March, he comes across a passage that vindicates his new philanthropic ventures: “ … the commandment is that you shall love, but when you understand life and yourself, then it is as if you should not need to be commanded, because to love human beings is the only thing worth living for.” Filtering out the cries of a locked-out roommate, he records this on his smartphone for reference in an upcoming Business Ethics seminar.
Graduation approaches and the hyper-ambitious college student’s GPA is stellar, his résumé resplendent, his Wall Street placement at Goldman Sachs virtually guaranteed. At a final philanthropy panel discussion, the former co-president of the investment club asks him when he last “actually did something for another person that didn’t directly benefit you?” Failing to locate the Kierkegaard quotation on his smartphone, he smiles and recites something about participation in basic human kindnesses — consoling friends, opening doors.
Four years of erudition, and he has not once considered what it means to love, not once taken a class for enjoyment, not once disclosed any semblance of interiority. The hyper-ambitious college student, in a flicker of awareness, conceives of himself as he truly is: no student at all, but a careerist.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.