Get Out of Your Comfort Zone and Take Risks
Story posted November 10, 2000
Well known alumnus and benefactor to Bowdoin Stan Druckenmiller ’75 spoke on Friday to members of the local community and to students, faculty and staff. He began the day speaking about financial markets at a Bowdoin Business Breakfast, but his visit to Common Hour coincided with the visit of 140 prospective students, and he had a different message for them.
Druckenmiller decided upon three questions that he thought might interest students and prospective students.
1. Is there a common thread that links Bowdoin and the financial success he has attained?
2. Did Bowdoin affect why he decided he should distribute a portion of his wealth in ways that will work for the Common Good?
3. How can students get the most out of the Bowdoin Experience?
Druckenmiller attended a private school in Virginia, made up mostly of white students, the vast majority of whom attended the University of Virginia. Though he applied there as well, a teacher suggested that Druckenmiller look at Bowdoin, and when college began, he found himself in Brunswick, Maine, rather than Charlottesville.
The atmosphere of Bowdoin was much more diverse than that at his high school, and he found himself embracing the chance to meet many different people and take classes in new and differing topics.
"I had no master plan while I was at Bowdoin, but my whole experience was defined by risk-taking," he said. He ventured out of his comfort zone in class and out of it.
Determined to major in English and become a professor, he took an economics course during his junior year, to help him understand the newspaper, and it changed the course of his life. He found friends who were Latino, African-American, gay, straight, white, jocks and scholars.
"My group of friends could not be categorized," he said. "What I learned in the Bowdoin classroom was exciting, but what I learned out of it was exhilarating."
Straying outside of his comfort zone to take different classes led him to a career in the financial markets, but what he took away from Bowdoin was not specific to one particular career.
"What I learned at Bowdoin was it’s not the answer that counts, but the process of arriving at that answer," he said. "I learned to think."
The rewards he found when he took risks at Bowdoin, encouraged him later to take risks in his professional life, he said. He quit a job and started a business, then took a job with George Soros, all against the advice of many friends and advisors, but he had a confidence he’d gained at Bowdoin that risk-taking was worthwhile.
Druckenmiller soon found that his work brought him great financial rewards, more money than he would be able to spend. The idea of the Common Good had been instilled in him through his education at Bowdoin and people he had met along the way. Druckenmiller said he believes people with money have an obligation to engage in philanthropy and also an obligation to take this philanthropy seriously as a task beyond the writing of checks. Because of this, he and his wife have decided to concentrate their giving in four areas in which they have a personal interest: youth development, particularly in at-risk areas; human rights around the world; cancer and infectious disease; education.
"When you leave this place, there are many ways to serve the Common Good," he said. Students must decide what skills they have, and find ways to do good with their talents. He mentioned his good friend, Geoff Canada’74, who is serving the Common Good through his organization, The Rheedlen Center for Families and Children, in which Druckenmiller invests. Druckmiller, would not be very useful at trying to run an agency such as Canada’s, he said, so he chooses to contribute through his money and the time he invests on the boards of organizations he supports.
"It is imperative that you end up in a career you enjoy," he told the audience, and then to decide how best to benefit society.
As for benefiting from their Bowdoin education, Druckenmiller emphasized what anyone could have guessed from his talk.
"Get out of your comfort zone," he said, "you can only learn what you don’t know." He encouraged students to take courses outside of their major, and spend time with people of different backgrounds.
"Open yourself up to intellectual propositions from both the right and the left, neither side has the corner on truth," he said. If students do this, he said, their years at Bowdoin could be a foundation for many more wonderful years to come.
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