Obama’s final exit interview

william_james_this is real me

President Obama talked with historian Kearns Goodwin at the White House for one of his last open-ended interviews before leaving office. The two discussed the president’s legacy, Lincoln, the importance of long-term thinking and Obama’s ‘writer’s sensibility.’ But the discussion over FDR’s ambitions and his struggle with polio is particularly interesting.

GOODWIN: For example, young F.D.R. seemed a pretty ordinary guy. At 28 he’s a clerk in a law firm. He hasn’t done anything particularly great in college or law school. He gets his first chance to run for the state legislature, and somehow, when he’s out there on the campaign trail, something clicks in. William James said, “At such moments, there is a voice inside which speaks and says, ‘This is the real me.’ ” And F.D.R. knew then that’s what he wanted to be.

OBAMA: I think F.D.R. is a great example of what I mean. If you look at his early life, it is ambition for ambition’s sake …

At some point in life, meaning trumps ambition. You still want to be successful but you want to do it with more authenticity, i.e. true passion. In FDR’s case, enduring life with polio only strengthened his resolve, an attitude he echoed in his first inaugural address: “Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself.”

As Steve Jobs would later say during his fight his cancer:

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Of course, death is not a pre-requisite for chasing meaning. Your fearlessness may depend on well you love yourself. Perhaps Bill Murray said it best:

So what’s it like to be me? You can ask yourself, What’s it like to be me? You know, the only way we’ll ever know what it’s like to be you is if you work your best at being you as often as you can, and keep reminding yourself: That’s where home is.”

In short, we all know what we’re born to do. It just takes time getting comfortable with ourselves while we figure out what our role is.


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