Journals do sometimes become books, films, and college lecture tours...
Michael Gates Gill is convocation speaker at Middle Tennessee State University this afternoon, recounting his fall from Master of the Universe at J. Walter Thompson to Starbucks barista, in his sixties. But the happy moral of this story is that the fall was really a rebirth. "Leap to a new life" is his exuberant Kierkegaardian counsel:
"I could never have gotten out of the box I had created for myself [joblessness, unhappiness] if I hadn't leapt without thinking... You can't think your way out of a box. You have to leap, and leap with faith that if you do take a chance, there will be angels of grace who will catch you and help you on your way."
Reading that, I knew why my colleague said Gill's book was bad. But though I'm no Kierkegaardian irrationalist, I disagree. This is a good piece of practical wisdom, for all of us in uncertain times. You can land on your feet and come up smiling, if you're willing to stretch and bend a bit. That's a strong message.
But I won't be endorsing the general proposition, in the classroom, that thinking is a waste of time. Even an irrationalist has to think about the ground he leaps from, if he wants to give himself a fighting chance of landing right-side-up.
My colleague probably also resisted the saccharine homiletic notes in Gill's book, but I think a little sprinkle of pluralism neutralizes the cloying sweetness. I have to agree with Gill on this one too: "By truly seeing each person I met as a unique individual, I discovered a world of amazing variety and surprising wonder..."
Most importantly: "I discovered so late in life that trusting your own heart is your greatest--and only--path to real happiness. It was only through trusting my heart as my guide that I discovered this. I believe everyone is given a unique path to happiness..."
Gill's Dad, btw, was Brendan Gill of The New Yorker.
Here's Michael Gates Gill featured on CBS Sunday Morning, "so much happier serving than I ever was being served." And here he is, speaking with gratitude, at the Google campus: