Excellent Sheep by Deresiewicz

Clearly, by the types of novels I compile my synopses on in this blog, non-fiction is not usually my cup of tea. Nor is a novel that is almost self-help and motivational. In fact, I can’t even remember the last time I read one of those, let alone finished one. As I said, not my style. BUT, I do love a good calling out, in other words: “this system sucks, this is why, this is what you should do about it.” Those kinds of people have integrity like nobody’s business.

Excellent Sheep is one of those books that you read, contemplate what the author is discussing, and then stumble across a sentence that you just want to scream out and say “YES!” Deresiewicz lays everything out there on the table and immediately all you want to do is climb a soap box and share in his sentiments. The novel is split into two sections: one that discusses the scholastic system and what makes up the student population at “the Ivies” and the second section is a discussion as to what students should do to make the most out of their college experience. Obviously, the first section is geared more towards the general public and the latter section should be read by all high school seniors. However, many of the big-picture themes that comprise the second section can be applicable to adults in the real world with careers.

Now, you’d think that a man who writes a novel all about how messed up the system of academia is and what’s wrong with the Ivies would be a disenfranchised doofus who never had the hopes to attend such schools. See, this is what gives the novel credence because Deresiewicz was an excellent sheep who went to Columbia (undergrad and grad) and then was hired by Yale to be a faculty member. To be honest, however, he was denied tenure at Yale, but being denied tenure and speaking about the student population are two drastically different topics. He lived as an excellent sheep; his father was also an excellent sheep as well as a crazed parent (similar to that of those Tiger Moms). In other words, the author knows exactly what he is talking about with respect to what is expected of students who want to attend the Ivies.

Overall, any person who is in academia and saddened that they are not going to Harvard or any of the like should really pay attention to what is important in their lives. If school name is the only driving force to your career, what happens once you graduate? Do you expect to get a VP job right out of undergraduate because you have Harvard on you CV? Most of the students who do attend thing it is owed to them and this is part of Deresiewicz’s argument. More importantly is that Ivy League does not directly equate with success, on both sides of the coin. You CAN be successful if you do not go to an Ivy, and if you do, you may NOT be successful. This is life. Success comes to those who earn it, moreover, those who find it. I think if I went to a Harvard I would probably be in a nut-house currently. The amount of backstabbing, lack of sleep, and craziness that students have nowadays is exhausting just to even think about, let alone compete with. Honestly, sometimes it’s better to be “a big fish in a little pond, then a shrimp in the ocean.”

These are all very important things to ponder as one either enters undergrad, graduate, or the work force. Do something you love, don’t kill for it, just be who you are. Being driven will get you far, but being conniving will bite you in the behind. One of my biggest regrets in college was not taking a single class that did NOT count for anything but that I wanted to take. Isn’t that pathetic? College is a time to spread your wings and learn things that you will never get the chance to ever again. Enjoy the time while you can, and don’t drive yourself crazy with stupid minutiae. Life’s too short. And I think that’s the ultimate take away message Deresiewicz was trying to say.


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