For years, it was preached to me, “you’re going to college” and “you’re getting a degree.”
I never really understood the fascination behind a college degree as I was growing up. However, I had it drilled into me that this degree would allow me to go places, do things, and establish myself. It was depicted as this mythical thing where my dreams come true. The people who preached these lines to me wanted nothing but the best and for me to exceed what they had done. And I thank them for that.
This is the story of many families who seek better lives for their children. However, there is one caveat: even though I was fortunate enough to find myself in college and discover who I was, there are so many that didn’t. These people went through the motions of “just good enough” and never spent time discovering what made them tick. They trudged to their classes and listened to scholars; because that’s what you’re supposed to do. They went through the script; go to class, take tests, earn grades, and walah, it ends with a degree and a handshake after 4-5 years. Not many go outside the program, never really network (drinking buddies don’t really count) and some of them even got straight A’s. However, the tragedy is they never discovered what lit them up. They never dug into what would inspire them to create a better world for everyone.
This is why I write this post. For those that earned their degree and are looking at the plaque saying, “What now?”
Graduate school will solve all my problems!
No, it won’t
Many people believe that by going to graduate school, you’re guaranteed a leg up on everyone else. It’s seen as another step on the ladder for the professional; it’s the false belief that you will be treated differently because you have another two-three letters behind your name. Many don’t take the time to educate and immerse themselves in technical knowledge that will help them in the future. Yet again, students are losing out on potential knowledge that will allow them to pursue their passion and make them competitive. In the process of going through the motions of earning that additional degree, these people get even more indebted and go through the same script. They complete their thesis, ace their classes and then they look again. Now they have two (or three!) plaques and again ask, “What now?”. No one is looking at them and the illusion of special disappears with a shadow of a $60,000 debt looming over them.
This is the tragedy of many who earn higher education like a bachelors, masters, or doctorate. They expect the job market will be open for them and they’ll land their dream job. They will live happily ever after because that is the narrative that was preached.
If you’re not aware of this, please let me tell you: this is not the case.
A leader pleads his case
I intended to write an entertaining piece. However, I read a powerful piece from the man pictured above, Linds Redding. If you care about your future, it’s required reading. It’s an eye-opening piece which bluntly discusses the blindness that busy work, money, and soulless entities places on individuals. It’s a pointed criticism towards the advertising industry, but is applicable to all fields. This essay, which is one of the most insightful pieces I’ve read, was one of the last things Linds Redding created in his life.
Why? Because he passed away at the young age of 52 after esophageal cancer took his life away.
This piece resonates with me for this reason: despite being one of the leaders in advertising and marketing, he left behind this world with many regrets. This should hit you hard; a man who was so successful and considered one of the best in his field felt hollow and unfulfilled in death.
Consider what you love
I get it, work in the lab, graduate school, the office, etc is time consuming and leaves us drained. It takes hours of our day and hard work. You also need money to buy your bare essentials. However, if you have not taken the time to reflect and discover what you truly want to create, it may end up looking similar to Linds’ (and many other unwritten stories). His last written work is a warning: make sure you are doing what you love and create for a better the world, or lose your soul and die with regret.
I’m always reminded of this one bit of dialogue from Inception. I return to it every once in a while when I lose sight of my mission:
It’s something that can resonate with anyone. It’s something we all fear, “Am I doing something that I love and spending my limited time wisely?”
What if I’m unsure if I’m doing the right thing?
I’d suggest asking yourself these questions: Do you love your work? Are you making a difference? If the answer to both of these are yes, great! Carry on and keep striving to better those around you. Make a conscious effort to create a positive change and don’t look back.
However, if you said no or fall in the category of hating everything you do, but staying for the perks/money/etc., I plead for you to take the time and discover what lights you up. If this is you, ask yourself: what is the one thing I want to do that could create a positive change? It doesn’t have to be huge, but start making an effort to cultivate it.
If you are finding it hard to discover what that is, that’s okay! Take some time to experiment and read more into fields or skills you find interesting. Really dive in and see if anything resonates. If you are finding your free time occupied by learning a certain skill or discovering a new field, you may have found a winner. If this is the case, then dive deeper and develop whatever skills or knowledge you need to break into that field or area.
The absolute worst case of the process is that you end up with skills or knowledge that will further help you do something worthwhile and amazing. It’ll snowball!
It’s the little things that turn into something awesome.
Where would I even start?
Some of you may be distraught that you’ve burned so much time doing something you dislike. Maybe you’re upset that some of your soul was sucked into something you don’t care about. You may not even know what you like. You may even think it’s too late to start anything; your course is set. If you’re reading this, it’s never too late. You can start now.
Start by exploring books, blogs, podcasts, and online classes on whatever topics strike your fancy (most of these can be found free online with a Google search). Read, listen, think, and let it ruminate.
Then, ask yourself these four questions:
- Is this something I would love doing for 20+ years?
- Can I create things I care about that will subsequently benefit the world?
- Can I persevere in the face of failure, knowing that it’s my mission to make this work?
- If I start this and I achieve everything I want in this given field 20+ years down the line, would the time spent be worth it? (Credit to Jonathan Fields for this one.)
These are all questions which need to be addressed whenever you decide to pursue something new. Whether it be a business or a new field, we need to ensure our time is spent wisely. We need to constantly grow and develop into the people we are destined to be.
No excuses: start today!
You don’t have to do a lot to make this happen. It can be a small investment of time. All I ask is that you spend 20-30 minutes exploring resources that will help you learn more. Once you discover something you like, devote a little more time.
What if you already know what you want to do? Fantastic! You can start the same process, but maybe it’s a new skill that could help improve your work.
I know this is not an easy process. Stick with it. I still struggle in developing my writing (hence why these posts have been once a month.) It just takes constant effort, energy, and some perseverance to make it happen. Start the snowball and keep it rolling.
Thanks for reading. I hope this post drives you to some inward reflection and thoughts that better yourself. If you found some value in it, I’d appreciate if you shared it with someone who might need it. Have a great day!