University Secretary Kim Goff-Crews’ Keynote Address

Kim Goff-Crews addressed the “Being Useful” audience at Saturday’s memorable Careers, Life, and Yale event.

You can click on the link to watch it, or read it beyond the link!


Click here to watch Secretary Crews’ Address

OCTOBER 17, 2015

Good morning. For those of you who don’t know me, I am Kimberly Goff-Crews, and I am the Secretary and Vice President for Student Life at Yale. On behalf of the university, I’d like to welcome you to the inaugural Careers, Life and Yale event.

As Secretary and Vice President for Student Life, I spend a lot of time thinking about ways to help all 12,000 students develop the personal and professional skills that they can use to navigate life when they leave the Elm City. I am thrilled that the AYA has begun this series of workshops. They and our alumni are critical partners in the work we do to show students the many faces of life after Yale. I’d like to give a special thanks to all who have been involved in organizing this day, particularly the AYA, alumni volunteers, students, and alumni speakers and panelists.

Well-being, Work, & 90,000 Hours

This transformative new program intersects with so many of my own passions, particularly the one I’ve devoted the past year to: well-being. I have done lots of research about well-being, especially as it relates to work. Did you know, for example, that productivity soars when we are fulfilled by our jobs? And that on the flip side, workplace stress costs U.S. employers 200 billion dollars—two hundred billion!—per year in stress-related expenses? Work clearly matters, both to those doing the work and to those they serve.

But when I think about work, there is one particular statistic that I like to bear in mind:

90,000 hours

Can you guess what this number represents?

In her book Happiness at Work, Jessica Pryce-Jones estimates that we spend 90,000 hours on the job during our lifetime. If those 90,000 hours aren’t spent doing meaningful work, what happens to our well-being? It plummets. We lose a sense of engagement, a sense of purpose, and a sense of personal growth—all ingredients of a flourishing life.

So, you might ask, how do you find meaningful work? How do you make your work meaningful?

All of you here today are already on the right track. Your Yale education is an exceptional platform for professional and personal enlightenment—for learning ways to think and engage with some of the most challenging issues our world faces. But there’s more. Let me share some stories to show you what I mean.


Once there was a diligent law student who, during her free time, worked on criminal defense cases for the young and uneducated. Most had substance abuse issues. After graduating, she joined a firm and went into mergers and acquisitions. She found the hard work and international travel an incredible experience, but it simply didn’t engage her full self.

Taking a 50% pay cut, she returned to the work that interested her and began a career in health policy and substance abuse prevention, with much of her work focused on youth.

Now, she’s an executive at an institute that helps children with emotional and behavioral challenges. “There is nothing more gratifying and exciting than mission-driven work,” she says. “It requires immense stores of creativity, optimism, and tenacity.”


Once there was an ambitious journalist taking national network news by storm. She was hired as vice-president of programming for the entire cable division of NBC and was responsible for bringing news to a new platform called the internet. Then, her daughter was diagnosed with autism, and she decided to devote all her energy to finding answers.

Today, she runs the Autism Science Foundation, a non-profit that supports research, educates the public, and spreads awareness about the needs of those affected by autism. She also serves on a national committee that helps guide federal spending for autism research. “If you had told me back when I was [in school] that I would be the founder and president of a nonprofit organization, I would have thought you were crazy,” she says.


Once there was a young, highly successful owner of a major credit reporting agency cruising down the highway in his air-conditioned black BMW X5, playing “Pink Cadillac” from the speakers. He turned off the highway and pulled into a mini-mart to buy a Pepsi, a bag of pork rinds, and a pack of Marlboros. Sugar, salt, and nicotine—what he calls the substitute for what was missing in his life.

His cell phone rang. It was his assistant passing along information about a job opportunity. Did he know anyone that was interested in being executive director of a nonprofit housing agency that provided affordable housing to low-income families? The salary was sixty thousand dollars.

He sat there listening to Bruce Springsteen and was instantly whisked away to his college years, when he listened to spiritual teacher Ram Dass lecture in New Haven. He remembered a quote from the speech: “Success without service is merely self-indulgence.”

Guess who took the job with the housing agency?


Finally, there was once a young woman who worked and studied hard. She saw people she admired pursuing careers in medicine, corporate management, and law—and she assumed that this was what success looked like. So she passed the bar and worked at a law firm, with her eye on making partner. And she felt unfulfilled.

Today, she is helping students succeed, at the world’s most student-centered university. And she is always fulfilled.

If you didn’t guess, that last one is me. In fact, all of these stories are about fellow Yalies. One of them is here today. Ken Inadomi is the person who became the head of a housing agency. Ken, are you here? Welcome.

How to Use Your 90,000 Hours

Now, the point here isn’t that the ability to change is a great career skill to have, though that is true. With the socially aware and entrepreneurial culture at Yale, we’re pretty comfortable with that kind of agility. The point is to think about those 90,000 hours and how to use them.

This doesn’t mean that you have to forego a lucrative career to do meaningful work. In fact for some, the meaning is in knowing that they can financially provide for themselves and their families.

So, the key is finding what meaningful work means to you and doing it. Because what drove me—and, I believe, what drives others to make a change—is a sense that work must be meaningful. All 90,000 hours of it.

All of the alumni I described earlier, including myself, made an effort to connect to ourselves and discover our passions. We discovered what was missing and what would improve our well-being and the well-being of others. And we formed relationships with people we admired—learning from them, gaining from their experiences, and seeking their assistance.

So take time to do some careful thinking. You are here because you want a career serving others, and you expect your work to be meaningful. What’s the first step in finding the work that matters to you?

It begins from within. And to help you get there, I’m going to offer a few points that I’ve found useful, for myself and for others:

Number one: Learn your values, and craft your personal mission and vision.

Number two: Define success for yourself.

Number three: Embrace tradition, but defy convention.

Number four: Learn to fail, and fail in order to learn.

Finally: Connect with others, and ask for their assistance.

First comes learning your values. When I experienced that lack of fulfillment I talked about earlier, I realized that I had to start finding my way by learning my values and crafting a personal mission. What could I truly envision myself doing with my life?

When I began this process, I was working long hours during the day. But on nights and weekends, I hit the library. I read everything—biographies, self-help, novels. I talked to a broad range of people to gain new perspectives—mentors, former professors, colleagues, family, and friends. And this was before the internet—it can be much easier for you today!

At the end of that process, I had defined my mission, which I now state as a three word mantra:

Education. Enlightenment. Evolution.

This means that, personally and professionally, I am committed to educating myself and others in the broadest ways possible to become more enlightened. Newly enlightened, we evolve, gaining the tools needed to change the world around us for the better. Professionally, my mission is to use what I know to put structures in place that help people succeed. And it’s an ideal mission for student life.

The second tactic emerges from your personal mission: define success for yourself.

I’ve learned that successful people have one thing in common: they’ve honed their own definition of success. They have a fairly clear sense of what matters most to them, whether that is having a family, building their immediate community, maintaining incredible friendships, or pursuing a specific career. In other words, they experience success in—and on—their own terms.

Understanding what success looks like for any one of us is not always clear or easy. We can be led by notions of success expressed by family, friends, society, and yes, colleges and universities. You can certainly use these sources as you craft your individual definition of success, set your goals, and determine how you’ll measure your accomplishments. But ultimately, your definition of success has to fit your life and your goals.

Next comes a step that can take some balance and extra effort, but the results are worth it: embrace tradition, but defy convention.

What does this mean? Well, a tradition, in the true sense, ensures that precious information is passed on. It’s tied to what we value. A convention is simply a practice or method—and it’s based largely on standard, habit or custom. For instance, at Yale, we have a tradition of service—that’s tied to value. Sticking with convention would mean we could only carry out this tradition in one limited way. Embracing tradition gives you something to work from, while defying convention invites innovation into the process. Defying convention opens up new possibilities. Yale is currently full of this kind of innovation, and this event is just one example.

The next step, learning to fail, is maybe not so much fun. But it’s just as important. I want you to give yourself permission to fail—and sometimes fail big.

I’ll give you an example of a time I successfully failed. One of my earliest student life positions at Yale was assistant dean of the Afro-American Cultural Center. During my first year, I organized an event for Black History Month. I invited our new president, the Yale College dean, and the university chaplain. I booked LC 101 and waited for the crowd. Not a single person showed up. Why? Because I just assumed I knew what students wanted. I never consulted with them. I also didn’t know students had organized an event at the same time. And I didn’t know the excellent program I designed wasn’t the type of event students wanted to attend.

Successful people through the ages have taken risks and made lots of mistakes. But they embrace their failures because they know that they are integral to success of any kind.
When things go wrong, it points to a way forward. This is the mantra that entrepreneurs and scientists embrace on a day-to-day basis. Every lesson I learned that day stuck with me. Today, I make sure that everything I do is done with input from others, especially students.

Which brings us to the final strategy I’ll share with you: connect with others and ask for their assistance.

Asking assistance from mentors, teachers, and people I admire is part of what brought me to this place in my life. Looking at my situation years ago, you can see that if I had connected with others and asked for help, it would have increased the chances of my event’s success.

And connection is also a big part of what brought us all here to Careers, Life and Yale. Even when we’ve found the path we want to take in life, even if we’re secure in our missions, we’re committed to spending some of those 90,000 hours connecting with others and seeking assistance.

I encourage you to make the most of the opportunities afforded you through Careers, Life and Yale. Listen to the wisdom of the alumni. Ken’s here. Neal Keny-Guyer, a former member of the Corporation, will give a wonderful keynote address. Ask them about their personal and professional mission. Find out how they define success—you may be surprised.

Listen as they tell you about their choices, the ones that went against the odds. And I am sure that they will love to tell you about their favorite mistakes.

This event, the first of many, is not just about finding a job. It is about the continuous journey of creating a meaningful life. I hope one day to see you back here, sharing your insights—helping the next generation improve their well-being, connecting with their passions, and finding fulfilling work that changes lives for the better. I hope you will return to tell tomorrow’s students your story about how you used your 90,000 hours.

Thank you.