"Nobody Likes The Perfect College Kid"

The Axe Files, a podcast hosted by former Chief Strategist and Senior Advisor to President Obama David Axelrod, is home to the best political interviews in the podcast world. The guests are A-List, the questioning goes beyond surface-level (the interviews are usually between 45 min and an hour), and usually you get an interesting personal glimpse into the interviewee's life. David does a great job of getting people to go beyond talking points (before he worked for POTUS, he was a journalist. He's still got it.). 

Today I listened to the Congressman Seth Moulton episode.

Moulton has a stellar profile. Three degrees from Harvard (BS in physics, MPP and MA). Earned rank of Captain in the Marines; four tours of duty in Iraq, two as Gen. David Petraeus's Special Assistant. Primaried a Democratic incumbent -- and won by 10 points. 

Now he's a 38-year-old Congressman from Massachusetts, serving for less than three years.

Michael Kruse wrote a fascinating piece on him for Politico titled "Generals Love Him. Top Democrats Despise Him. Can He Be President Anyway?"  

The title basically captures the buzz. He's young. He's got extremely compelling military and leadership credentials. He voted against Leader Nancy Pelosi and regularly talks about the need for a "new generation" of leaders in the Democratic Party.

Side note: This is a fascinating and worthwhile debate. I think it's 100% true that the Democratic Party needs younger, more dynamic leaders with new ideas (new policy ideas and new political ideas) -- but I also think Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are proving themselves deft in navigating the incoherent politics of the Trump era. I have no clue if that will translate to winning elections -- or if others could be doing even better than they are given the circumstances.

Side note 2: Yes, I recognize the irony in me saying we need younger leaders in the Democratic Party while also wanting Joe Biden to run for president. The short answer for why is that he checks both boxes: ☑ best person for the job, ☑ most likely to beat Trump. 

My favorite exchange from the conversation was while Moulton was discussing a college mentor named Rev. Peter Gomes. Moulton said Gomes helped keep him balanced and navigate through difficult decisions and situations. Here's the very end of the dialogue, a brief discussion on the philosophy of how to do college right: 

Congressman Seth Moulton: "It’s good to have some moral guideposts when you’re in college. God knows I wasn’t the perfect college kid and sometimes got myself in trouble.”

David Axelrod: “I don’t think you want to be the perfect college kid.” 

Moulton: “Well I certainly enjoyed not being the perfect college kid.” 


Axelrod: “Nobody likes the perfect college kid.” 

Definitely makes me feel better about the dumb stuff I did in college. But there's an inverse relationship between age and cultural acceptance of doing stupid things. Basically, you're supposed to screw up and learn in college, and maybe there's some leeway in your early 20s, but there's pretty much no tolerance for still making dumb decisions by the time you're mid 20s.

"Fail often so you can succeed sooner." - Tom Kelley

It's interesting to compare my thought process now vs. my thought process during undergrad. I have no interest in crazy drinking or partying all the time while I'm here. I'm (voluntarily) in bed by midnight and up by around 7. I'm cooking my own food, keeping houseplants alive (so far). I'm planning on doing almost all of the reading for my classes. I'm organized and efficient. A pretty insane transformation in just a few years. It's also made my life immeasurably less stressful but significantly more productive -- and happier. 

And yet, all things considered, I'm lucky I had an unfulfilling undergrad experience and I'm lucky I made dumb decisions in college. I'm lucky that things sucked for awhile. I think the drive and focus that I have now are a direct result of it. I also think that a re-alignment of my goals and values and behavior was inevitable, it was just a question of how quickly it would happen -- and the sooner the better.