I ask my students (U. of Minnesota) in a course for junior and senior students, called “Issues in Cultural Pluralism,” to write a brief “contract with your future.” It could be a page or a page and a half. “It won’t be graded. I think it’s a very good thought exercise. Write me in 20 years, and let me know!”
“The contract is with your idea of your longest life. Think about what’s really old for you, say 70, 80, 90…What will it take at that age for you to look back at your life, and tell yourself: I’ve lived a pretty good life?”
The idea of the “contract” is drawn from some Journal comments of Søren Kierkegaard, who contrasted character with virtuosity:
Why is it, I have wondered, that whereas authors, poets, et al in earlier eras produced their most important works in their later years, it is characteristic of our age to begin with the climax, also a distrust of life; thus almost everyone considers quitting early, a professor for a few years, a poet for a few years, an actor a few years, etc – in short, as if the tasks were not enough for a whole life.
I think it can be explained this way, that instead of being character tasks, all tasks have become virtuosity tasks. This is why they are not enough. The ability to express the highest, to understand the highest, to present it, etc., can be achieved before thirty. But to do it – that changes everything and gives one a task large enough for the longest life.
But this is not what they want. They want to scintillate with virtuosity – and sneak away from character. This is why they turn aside…
Journal #4475 (1851)
The idea of the contract, is that students thinking about their “longest life,” may feed-back to this day and each next day, in contemplating the nature of their own character. (A study in being and becoming.)