Advice from UVA Administrators, Professors and Staff
Larry Sabato, Professor of Politics
My advice is simple. In life, do what makes you happy and gets you up early in the morning. Do what generates passion inside of you—for if you do not, you will never be able to sustain a long career in your field of endeavor. Money is certainly not irrelevant, but you grasp the brevity of your time on earth, it will never become your overriding motive. When I came to my own fork in the road back in the mid-1970s, I had a choice between a very lucrative legal career, and the unexpected offer of a $14,000-a-year teaching post at the University of Virginia. Much to my dear late Dad’s dismay, I chose—well, you already know. And I have never regretted it, not for one single day, and I’m delighted to report that my father came around, too! Follow your heart and your gut, not just your head and your pocketbook.
Can I also make a final plea that you find a little time for politics in your life, too? I’d love to see all Wahoos active in some aspect of politics. You can run for office, work for those who do, contribute time or cash, or just lead by example—stay informed, lead opinion in your circle, and always vote. We are the inheritors of Thomas Jefferson’s own activism, and that legacy is proudly ours and should be shared widely with others. Yes, politics IS a good thing.
Karen Bonding, Professor of Finance
On a recent trip to California on Highway 1 north of La Jolla, I found myself following an SUV with the Virginia Cavalier sabers and the license plate frame showing alumni of University of Virginia. At a stoplight, I was able to get up alongside the SUV; I rolled down my window to ask if she really was a Hoo, but before I could get the words out of my mouth, she screamed at me: “Oh my God, Professor Bonding, I took your Personal Finance class two years ago!” We both got out of our cars at the side of the road and started chatting. She said that what she remembered most from my class was the phrase: All of your decisions have a financial consequence. With gasoline now over $3 a gallon – especially in California – she mentioned this fact, because she has friends in San Diego, and she realizes that when she wants to go to a movie with them, there’s a considerable amount of highway driving to get there, plus the movie, plus whatever else she might buy. Do you fix your own breakfast and coffee before you leave for work? How about lunch? All of your decisions have a financial consequence. Save the pennies, and the big stuff will take care of itself!
John Portmann, Professor of Religious Studies
The tricky transition from college student to professional exposed layers of vulnerability about which I can finally laugh. As a Morgan Stanley dropout, for example, I feared running into college friends on the streets of Manhattan. How would I explain the bumpiness of my foray into the real world, I anxiously wondered, particularly after I had somehow managed to make college look fairly easy. It was just easier to avoid everyone.
In saner moments, I realized that the odds of my running into anyone I knew anywhere in New York were pretty slim. Looking back, my anxiety seems about as interesting as last year’s moisturizer. Then, however, everything was just so awfully dramatic. Part of the difficulty of making the transition was managing my emotions, coming to grips with the simple fact that everyone struggles in one way or another.
It took time to realize that virtually no one cared where I worked. That came as a relief, but at the same time I also realized that no one cared where I’d been to college or how fast I had ever swum. It was the answers to those questions that had long defined me, and I now had to find new ways to manage that task. In time, the freedom of deciding my future struck me as exhilarating, rather than just scary.
It also took time to see how nice disappointment can be, once it bears curious fruit. Deep down, I had cringed when college friends had told me I didn’t belong on Wall Street, that I wouldn’t like it there. How silly it feels to learn that others know you better than you do yourself. I had only wanted a job for two years somewhere in the real world before starting grad school (one of the few constant goals in an unstable period). I became an office temp in New York and, to my surprise, had loads of fun. I no longer keep in touch with anyone from the bank, but I keep in touch with several of the friends I made in the posh law firm that soon hired me as a permanent temp (a seeming contradiction, but an apt description for an entire class of urban twenty-somethings aspiring to become actors, musicians, and writers).
Looking back, I don’t feel embarrassed about dropping out of a training program at a New York investment bank. The experience pushed me in a direction I preferred and from which I emerged a more interesting person. As confused as I might have been as a twenty-two-year-old dropout, I sometimes miss the person I was then. Since then, I’ve never felt quite so overwhelmed by hope, by the dizzying sense that the world was my oyster.
Today I see myself in some of my fourth-year students. It’s a little frightening but also fun to see naïve college grads march off into the world. They may well get banged up a bit out there, but, judging from the messages they send via Facebook, they become stronger, more ironic, more appealing. I like to think that I did, too.
Seven Suggestions for Subsequent Sustenance
Stephen Cushman, Professor of English
- Keep Reading. Or if you haven’t been, start. Aging minds go soft and flabby just as quickly as aging bodies do, and reading’s great exercise. Maybe the best. Pick a book you already like and reread it every so often; watch how it changes. (If it doesn’t, maybe you should choose a different book.) At least once a year read a book outside your usual areas of interest.
- Travel. Travel is reading through geographic space. It’s also, as Mark Twain has said, fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness. Travel in the U.S., as well as abroad. If you can’t afford to travel, get somebody else, like an employer or a non-proft organization such as the Peace Corps or Teach for America, to pay for it.
- Watch that narrowing. The division of labor means people often find themselves under pressure to do a few specific things rather than lots of general things, and since they often have to do those few specific things well to be competitive, they can end up narrowing themselves to particular specialties or particular kinds of expertise. This sort of narrowness isn’t all bad. You want your heart surgeon to be an intently focused specialist or expert, for example. But narrowing without some compensating or balancing expansion can have unpleasant side-effects. Narrowness can pinch in a life same as in a shoe.
- Find ways to turn repetition into gain. The pace at which new things come along (new people, new situations, new experiences, new ideas) can slow considerably at a certain point. If we are addicted to newness, this slowing can feel like debilitating loss. But if we can find ways to see change and difference and greater depth in the things we do over and over (think of that book you chose to reread every so often), repetition can enrich us rather than impoverish us.
- Write it down. You won’t remember all the things you thought you’d never forget, and while you’re living through them, you can’t always identify all the things you might want to remember. So write some of them down: people, places, things, events, dates. You don’t have to make a gigantic literary commitment to a keeping an elegantly written diary or journal. Just keep a log somewhere. It’s often in noting a few basic details of the humdrum, everyday texture that we enable ourselves to recall whole stretches of our lives.
- Remember the meaning of “study.” Through its Latin root the verb “to study” inherits the meaning “to be eager.” Even if you’re convinced you’re finished forever with classes and papers and exams, with formal study in an institution of higher learning, don’t convince yourself you’re finished with being eager. Eagerness is better than any vitamin supplement or cosmetic surgery for keeping you young.
- Pass it on. You may take your own eagerness for granted, so it feels like nothing special to you, but it’s really a rather rare thing among adults, and it may just be that people around you can benefit hugely from the eagerness you bring to situations you share with them. So bring it.