Fall 2017 /Work vs. Life/

Stray Thoughts: Excelling Wisely

G. Gabrielle StarrPOMONA IS EXTRAORDINARY. We remind ourselves of this proudly when we marvel at the brilliance of our students and faculty, the accomplishments of our alumni, the talent of our staff, the amazing marks Sagehens leave on the world. How many high-achieving people, people who never give up, do we see every day?

What a wondrous thing! Yet I wonder something else, too. How much room do we give ourselves and each other to slow down? To choose which amazing thing we are going to do—today? There’s a lot of pressure on everyone to take advantage of all of the gifts and opportunities in front of us. We advise each other to excel.

Maybe we can talk about excelling wisely.

Sometimes people ask me for advice, and this column seems a good place to give some, if you’ll let me. Most of us acknowledge that you have to seek balance in life; equally, we acknowledge that finding such a balance is hard. This truth deserves more than lip service.  We need to tell ourselves and each other that we can achieve and excel without taking every drop of energy from our reserves. That we all need to take some time to laugh.

Parents, friends, professors, bosses, coworkers and mentors routinely use language that raises expectations: We challenge, we press and we exhort. Even this magazine—always full of stories about people doing extraordinary things—can sometimes seem to be ratcheting up the pressure to achieve. There’s good reason for all of that. Everyone needs to be reminded that they can do great things. But we also need other reminders. Creativity requires freedom, space and room to grow. And achievement isn’t the only thing that adds meaning to our lives.

This issue of the magazine is, as usual, about some amazing Pomona people, but it’s also about the sometimes blissful, sometimes thorny relationship between the work we do and the lives we live. It’s about achieving lifelong dreams and coping with life-or-death stress. It’s about life-changing choices and what happens when everything falls apart.

Most importantly, the stories in this issue are about dealing with timeless, and timely, questions. I hope you pause and give yourself permission in your work, your studies and your relationships to make the life you desire.

—G. Gabrielle Starr
President of Pomona College