Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough: What’s Your Career Legacy?

By Ryan Manning — I’ve been a Resident Director for just around a month and a half. Thankfully, I’m a pretty fast learner, so the adjustment hasn’t been too intense for me. The biggest adjustment for me has definitely been finding things to do with the time that for almost the past 18 years has been with classes and homework.

Sure, working 40+ hours a week is a big commitment, but no longer (or at least not as often) do I need to spend my nights working. The hundreds of pages of reading that I did in grad school have been replaced by exploring Washington DC, watching every episode of The Cosby Show on Netflix (easily my favorite show of all time), and finding ways to stay current in my field when studying it isn’t my primary focus.

Having this free time on my hands has also gotten me back into reading books. Books that aren’t for a class discussion, or a paper, or something else compulsory. Thinking about it, I finished a book over the summer that I started over 3 years ago. That’s a pretty good indication of how my work and my studies have become my primary interest, though mostly because I love this Student Affairs thing. So, I recently bought the newest version of the Kindle e-reader in order to hopefully make sure that reading can be as convenient as possible for me. But this post isn’t about my Kindle, or even books in general. It’s about Michael Jackson, and what he’s teaching me about my job.

The very first book I downloaded this week was Earth Song: Inside Michael Jackson’s Magnum Opus by Joseph Vogel.

Sure, I was probably a little drawn in initially by the title’s incorporation of a Latin idiom, but more importantly, it was a whole 130 pages about my all-time favorite song by one of my all-time favorite icons.

I grew up loving Michael Jackson’s music, but really who doesn’t love a good dose of “The Way You Make Me Feel”? Or maybe you prefer something heavier like “Man In the Mirror”? And of course there’s “Thriller,” the song that inspired the video that launched 1,000 YouTube videos and red leather zipper jackets.

Hands-down, Michael and his music are legendary. But my favorite Michael Jackson song is Earth Song,” 6.5 minutes of true anthem, a chorus that calls its listener to action with it’s simple composition but deeply powerful emotion about humanity’s role in protecting the environment. And you’ve probably never heard it. What really intrigued me about the book is that Earth Song is seen as Michael’s magnum opus, his masterpiece, not only for its artful composition, but also for it’s message. Sure, it’s my favorite MJ song, but could it actually be his too?

Earth Song took over 7 years to complete, which surely indicates that it was a labor of love. So what’s so interesting is that despite it being the culmination of Michael Jackson’s work as an artist, his own Mona Lisa or Hamlet, or Citizen Kane, it’s hardly his most highly-regarded work. When one thinks of Michael Jackson’s music, I’m pretty sure that “Bad,” “Black or White”, “Billie Jean,” and others come to mind way before “Earth Song.”

So, what do any of this have to do with my job?
Well, from reading more about the work that went into “Earth Song,” I began thinking about what Michael really saw his purpose as. Those songs brought him nearly endless money and a prominent place in history as well as in the hearts of billions the world over. But were they  fulfilling what Michael saw as his destiny or the ultimate goal of his career?

Even though “Earth Song” is far from his greatest popular success, it seems to have been his greatest personal achievement, a way to inspire  others to stop and notice their impact on the world. Michael’s legacy may be evident in “Thriller,” but his purpose is even more clear in “Earth Song.”

From my time at a Jesuit university like Marquette and my general experiences in student affairs, I’ve learned a lot about why my work means so much to me. I’m not just teaching, or mentoring, or leading; I’m helping students develop lives of purpose and hopefully helping them develop that in others. When I meeting with a student in a judicial case, I almost always ask them to consider what they hope to get out of their college education, and what they want others to see in them. I guess in a way, I want that to really think about what their purpose is, what they feel called to do, and how their actions may end up with them leaving a legacy that is just a bit different.

I’m incredibly fortunate to have been able to work with students with such high goals for themselves. And the potential to achieve those. Working with students to reach these goals and create  their own legacies has helped me better live a life purpose. And while I’m not quite sure what my legacy will ultimately be (maybe I’ll get famous for a book about The Cosby Show), I’m pretty comfortable knowing that my own Earth Song will be part of the foundation for some amazing people that used to be amazing students.

1 Response to “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough: What’s Your Career Legacy?”

  1. 1 marinashifrin November 18, 2011 at 10:51 am

    Wow. I don’t know how I can possibly love this any more. Although I want to spend the next 1,000 characters drooling over “Earth Song” and the injustice of it’s obscurity from well known Michael-master pieces, I will refrain.

    This is such a great metaphor for the Student Affairs position. We are the Earth Songs of college life; Great personal accomplishments fueled by the innate need to help others and not having any qualms about going unnoticed.

    Bravo Mr. Manning.


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