The Wall Street Journal has an article out titled, The college of Chinese Wisdom. The article is not very well thought out, in fact the two authors misinterpret some points quite badly. But it is useful to demonstrate a couple of important points for today’s young seekers of knowledge.
When students arrive at college these days, they hear a familiar mantra about the purpose of higher education: Find yourself. Use these four years to discover who you are. Learn flamenco dancing or ceramics, start a composting project, write for the student newspaper or delve into 19th-century English poetry. Self-discovery, they are told, is the road to adulthood.
If you’re paying $50,000 to find yourself right at the moment when you’re about to enter adult life then you’re seriously deluded. If you’re advocating young people to do this then you’re a crook and a charlatan.
The two authors go on to discuss how this mantra can lead to student anxiety. I can understand that. I mean, I’d be anxious as shit if I was paying 50 grand to find myself with no real hope of gainful employment at the end. The article goes on about Chinese philosophy and how to have experiences to find your path in life. Then there is this part:
“But if there’s no true self and I’m always changing,” more than one student has asked, “how can I decide on the career that’s right for me?” Today’s students want a plan for their future, which makes sense. Their high-school activities—AP classes, varsity soccer, the service trip to Haiti—were aimed at the goal of college admission, and they believe that a clear road map will help them to take the next step toward a fulfilling and profitable career.
Read that and weep. We are a gloriously decadent civilization now if young adult’s biggest problem is whether to be a violin player or a diplomat. No more going down the coal mines at the age of twelve. We have other big problems now.
Listen up and listen good. There is no road-map for your life. There is no clear path. And you certainly cannot ‘have it all’. Nobody in the history of the world has been able to do that. Life is just a series of choices. Every day you will be presented with choices, some big and some small. In each case you can answer yes or no. Taken over the almost limitless series of decisions that a single individual will go through over the course of a single year makes the possibilities endless.
That leads the youth of today into crisis mode. Because they have had a clear path up to this point. All through school their path has been defined as getting them into college. All of their extra-curricular activities have also been engineered towards this goal. You didn’t go on that service trip to Haiti because you wanted to; you went because you thought it would look good on your college admission.
So when they do get to college … they go off the rails. Apparently now they need to “find themselves”, which is the linear opposite of everything they have done up to that point.
The thing is though, all of those choices and potential paths give you a great number of opportunities. The thing that freezes people into inaction though is that there is no guaranteed result. They want to know which will be the best choice for them before they choose. They haven’t ever had to choose like this before in their life and they don’t want to choose badly.
I understand the angst. They’ve probably been raised by helicopter parents who continually told them how they were the best at everything. That’s a lot of pressure sitting on you when you finally need to make a decision for yourself. No wonder they crack up.
I have been awake today so far for one hour and fifteen minutes. Here have been my choices so far:
Get out of bed when I woke up at 6am or roll over and go back to sleep? I got out of bed.
Doodle around on the internet for a bit or get this piece written for my blog? You’re seeing the result of that decision.
I have a decision waiting for me as to if I will do a work-out and for how long, and then the rest of my day will revolve around how much work I do on my next book and a few other things. My wife is away on a business trip and will probably call me today needing advice about a big issue so I’ll have to decide how best to respond to that call.
There you go, that’s a quick example of yes and no decision making. That’s what life is, so you’ve actually been doing it up to this point. The question is whether or not you’re any good at it.
In my youth I was a very talented actor and musician. I had major opportunities to go in either of those directions at two critical moments. In both of those moments I chose not to. I said no to the acting opportunity because it didn’t feel right. With retrospect I think I made the right call. I didn’t follow through with the music opportunity because I met a girl and chased her across Australia. Was that the right call? I don’t know, but I’m happy with my life and the choices that I’ve made.
I’ll repeat it again, there is no clear path. You do not have a road-map for life. Anyone trying to sell you one is a charlatan trying to sell you something. What you can do is make a decision, and when you’ve decided hit it with everything you’ve got. Don’t spread yourself too thin. Become the best at what you’ve decided to do.
Is your chosen option really you? Who gives a shit. Nothing that I’ve done in my life is really me. Your choices only define you to the extent that you let them. And no choice is final. That goes both ways. While you’re not beholden to a choice, don’t think either that you can make one big choice and then that’s it. Life is all about choices and it will be right up until the day you die.
My first book is all about how I did exactly this. How I made decisions and followed or didn’t follow through with the choices I made. It’s an example of someone finding a path through the endless series of choices. Not the path; a path. One that I am still on.