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In the end, all people are ever going to see is the degree.

September 3, 2009

Today at the gym, I actually heard a girl say…

“But are these friends and stuff really important. In the end, all people are ever going to see is the degree.”

I really, really hope that I took this out of context, or I misheard what she really said. But what scares me is that this kind of sentiment is real. I experienced it in undergrad and even though I changed schools for graduate studies, I’m still hearing it.

Can it be that we, the next movers and shakers of the world, are really this focused? I say ‘focused’ because it has the least negative connotation associated with it. I could also say, “are really this closed minded” or “are really this short sighted” or “are really this stupid?” But the thing is, these kids are just that, stupid. They’ve been taught or, after years of being beaten down, learned, that the only way to make it is through hard work. That the joys of life are secondary to the success. That becoming a doctor is the ultimate goal, not happiness. That success will bring happiness.

I think the most important, and sobering, lesson of my life was that we need to teach ourselves how to be happy. If there’s one thing that does not come with a manual, it’s our emotions. Somehow, in the big genetic mess that is our genome, the hardware of life, we code for how our personality will come together. And through positive and negative events in our development, we shape our cells to trigger genes a certain way, a certainly complex way, that ultimately determines our personality. So no one but you can figure out how to make you happy.

But who am I to judge. We all have to make choices. And we all have to live with the choices we make. It’s not my place to impose my will on others and say you should take college for what it is, an extended summer camp where you can learn what you want to learn, see what you want to see, and experience everything and anything that comes along the way.

College is a ramp to your future. That is definitely true. But like all simple machines, you have a choice: to make the ramp short and steep, or make the ramp long and gentle. I say made my choice. I used my ramp to bypass all the steps ahead of me, but I made that ramp as smooth and enjoyable as I could. You only live once, so you’d might as well make it long and lush. And happy.

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