Make a Life by What You Give
"We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give."
Sir Winston Churchill
While many of the major fellowships and awards out there—Fulbright, Marshall, Rhodes, Mitchell, and Truman, for example—have their differences, they all exhibit striking similarities in what they're looking for. In most cases, it's some combination of service, leadership, strong academics, and ambassadorship. There is a very good reason for this, because these are usually the traits of real difference-makers in this world. Part of maximizing your education involves developing in these important ways.
In the college years, one of the important things that ought to occur is a shift from being a consumer of the world you live in to a steward of it. In your growing-up years, the world likely felt like it belonged to someone else, and you were learning how to live in it, navigate it, or play by its rules. But now you stand at the threshold of something else. Soon—now?—you become part of the group of people making the rules and building the society you want to inhabit. You won't do that alone, of course. And to do it well requires a sort of mindful, strategic generosity.
One common way college is thought of is as the staging ground for your career. It's all but conventional wisdom that you go to college to prepare for a job. That's not wrong. But it's woefully insufficient. The Winston Churchill quote above offers a bit of profound wisdom on this score. We all, perhaps, need to make a living, yet so much of the energy in that calculus is about what we get. It's a bit like the consumer mentality of your childhood; it's someone else's world, and you need to learn how to get yours. But college done rightly is not just about how to make a living. It is about how to make a life. And Sir Winston Churchill is right: we make a life by what we give.
Physician and philosopher Richard Gunderman has pointed out that the greatest gift anyone could share with us, or that any of us could share with another, is assistance in becoming the greatest persons, families, institutions, or communities we are capable of being. Gunderman, of course, is not the first person to observe something along these lines. We humans yearn innately, it seems, to flourish. Consider the energy we orient toward becoming our best selves: We devote time and attention to learning. We cultivate habits and practices for spiritual formation. We attend to friendships that enrich our lives and form our character. We rest. We give. We receive. We forgive. We consider and wrestle with our callings and purposes in this world. We long, by the grace of God, to be made whole, for life abundant, for the “life that really is life.” We yearn, that is, to flourish. And when we are called, in no uncertain terms, to love our neighbor as ourselves, it seems we have an important vocation: if we ourselves long so deeply to flourish, shouldn’t we also long to see that for our neighbor?
Scroll through the news, and it is immediately apparent that this world is full of struggle, and flourishing is far from given. For too many of our neighbors near and far, there are complex factors—systems, structures, and macro-forces—that ensnare their lives or imperil their wellbeing: poverty, racism, health disparity, educational access, environmental inequity, economic immobility, social isolation. Or, perhaps as often, our neighbors face some gnarly combination of all these things. These forces are daunting and complex.
And yet. If indeed it is our calling to help our neighbor discover life abundant, then is it not also our calling to attend to these big forces, to do our part to mitigate the barriers to flourishing?
Now is the time to transition from life as a consumer to life as a steward. It is time to begin thinking about how you will help your neighbor flourish. It is time to start thinking about how you will make a life by what you give.
That's what Layton did. A Waco native, Layton committed himself to learning with and learning from his neighbors experiencing homelessness. He devoted his research as undergraduate to illuminating the struggles faced by unhoused persons during a pandemic. He worked on housing policy, attempting to understand why some communities succeed and others don't. And as he embarks on a career at the intersections of law and policy, he does so making a life by what he gives.
Much like Layton, they key to giving well is to apply your intellect—to learn and develop expertise, and then to apply it to what the world needs from you. Keep reading to learn more.
Academics, Academics, Academics.