Hi. I’m Bob. I Went to Yale.

I really am Bob.  But actually, I didn’t go to Yale.  Not even for a visit.  I did however go to Harvard.  It actually it was just a visit-a couple of visits.  It wasn’t far from where I grew up.  I did attend an executive development program at a top notch school but I don’t brag about it.

Most people who graduate from top notch schools like these rarely broadcast it.  They’re more modest.  They don’t need to say anything.  Sometimes, their modesty or their intelligence or confidence just shows it.

images-10A doctor from New York visited our gallery recently.  When I told her I grew up in Boston, she told me she went to med school there.  I knew it was Harvard by the way she said it, and later someone else confirmed it.

Going to the best schools and not boasting about just seems so elegant.

When I meet someone new and the second sentence out of their mouth is where they went to school, I wonder does this person have anything else going on that is worthy.  If the only thing you have to your credit is where you went to school years ago, you really need to get something else going.

It is part of living in the present, embracing who you are.

I was at an event earlier this week and met someone new, an artist.

Their second sentence really was, “I got my MFA from Yale”.

Should that impress me?  Honestly, I could care less.  I wanted to know about the work he is  doing now.  I want to know what drives him to create.  I want to know about his dreams, how his work and he keep changing and growing.

It’s tempting to trade on the reputation of a university but the people who are successful and sincere don’t need that.  The people who are doing something with their lives don’t need it.

It’s tempting I know.  It is a source of identity.  I taught for many years at one of Japan’s best universities, but when I meet people, I tell them I’m a writer, a consultant, a gallery owner, a dog owner.  I don’t tell them, “I used to be a professor at X University.  It would be honest, and although it is a part of who I am, it is not who I am now.

youkeepthinkingaboutitBetter for me and you to be comfortable with who you are now, and say, I’m Bob, or Yoshi or Grace, and experience the joys of sharing.

When I was a kid at summer camp, the camp director showed us how he looked when he was younger, with a great athletic body.  I thought it was so weird.  I thought the guy was a jerk to begin with, and him showing us this photo made me think he was even more of a jerk.

Ted Cruz, the Tea Party Texas senator, went to Harvard. But he is no credit to the school. And the fact that he went to Harvard doesn’t make him less of a jerk.

I don’t want to know who you were.  I want to know who you are. I don’t want to know about what you did. I want to know what you are doing.

Notice how you talk about yourself and how others talk about themselves.

Do they talk about the past, who they were, the way things used to be.

No one will fall in love with you or like you for very long because of where you went to school or where you used to work.

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  1. This is very interesting like everything you write, though I think you are not acknowledging sufficiently your vantage point.

    You are an established gallery owner (who has very successfully created a sense of mystery and exclusivity with your gallery) and the young student was (clumsily) trying to impress you. “I went to school in Boston” is in fact no less a signifier than the explicit “I got my MFA from Yale,” it is in fact -more- of a signifier to the in-crowd. The art student will learn to say “when I was in New Haven,” or “when I was studying with such-and-such a professor” to indicate their pedigree.

    The upper classes in America, specifically New England, found parvenue bragging abhorrent, but then again who has to brag when your name is in the Social Registrar? To brag was to confess that you were unknown, transparently not in the elite. This is not anti-elite by any measure.

    Japan, as I mentioned on the Facebook post where I saw this, is an especially hard place not to get labelled by your school or company’s. Even if you generally share the idea presented here other people will introduce you accordingly. Its a silly but effective shorthand, from getting a visa to getting a job or selling a client, associations matter here much more than they should.

    There is an old Yiddish joke with the punchline: “Don’t worry, you’re not so great to be so humble” which I think also might apply here. Going to Harvard or Yale or teaching at Keio or even Todai are in the scheme of things actually not such big deals, mainly because as you say it is achievement that matters. So mentioning it as a matter of fact or as part of your history really should not be a problem. No one who knows anything will be overly impressed. Perhaps the art student was simply saying what they have been up up to and agrees with you that her or his art is most important.

    Lastly, (with great respect) please consider that using the title “Dr.” is also a way of signifying rather than demonstrating. It is easier to call yourself “Bob” when everyone knows you are in fact “Dr. Bob,” not “Assembly Line Bob.”

    • Dr Bob Tobin says:

      Hello and thanks very much for your thoughtful comments.

      Your comments about the New England elite and the Yiddish jokes brought back a lot of memories.

      As for the young artist, I would have preferred to find out more about the work.The Yale part was really a negative for me, although you are right that it was important to establish position in the hierarchy here.

      I am not impressed by schools or companies, and I can’t help but feel that the information was shared in order to impress. In choosing artists, the work is paramount. The personality is also important since I will be working closely with that artist.

      The overriding feeling I get when I meet someone who shares the company or school information with me early in the conversation, is “are you not enough?” I have always resisted labels and name tags, and try to communicate that character is the most important.

      Best regards, Bob

  2. Chizuko Tezuka says:

    Dear Tobin sensei,
    Nice to read this wonderful message and to see one of my students, probably your student as well, Olfa san in this photo together with you! Please tell me a bit more about your gallery!
    You are so multi talented!
    Chizuko Tezuka