College is about more than grades and future job offers

Chris Jordan

During my first week of college, I opened up an Excel spreadsheet on my newly purchased laptop in my newly stocked dorm room. For the next 30 minutes, I planned out my course schedule for the next four years. When I saw the form completed, however, I wasn’t satisfied. I needed a plan — wife, kids, house and a nice job.  

A year and a half later, as I sit and study the poetry of Samuel Johnson, one of the leading writers and moralists of the 18th century, I can’t help but wonder where the hell my plan went wrong.

With finals and their accompanying breakdowns and crisis moments looming around the corner, students — for their own peace of mind, if nothing else — need to seriously address the possibility that an education might not be economical — and maybe that’s OK.

In reality, all my Excel spreadsheet represented was the embodiment of a crippling anxiety that students across campus don’t know they’re facing — a compulsive, unceasing and obsessive need to rigorously fit every class, club, scholarship or experience into our plan to achieve, achieve, achieve. Our college experience has become a line of dominoes, each one carefully lined up to lead to the next one, to gather momentum which barrels toward an end.

But educations, careers and lives don’t line up like dominoes do. We are not project managers.

Last Sunday, the lead op-ed in The New York Times theorized that millennials are “focusing more on happiness than previous generations.” But many of us, with our heads down in the library, seem to lose this reality in the midst of stressful semesters. Maybe we would do better to remember that there are benefits to long nights in the library outside of a medical school acceptance letter.

On Oct. 23, management professor Luke Winslow gave a talk intended to complement the famous “Last Lecture” delivered by Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch, who was less than a year from succumbing to pancreatic cancer when he delivered the talk.

Winslow’s version is tailored to college students, and is a message much needed by the population of UT students who have gotten their priorities lost in the sea of University honors and the promise of corporate jobs.

“What do you want? And what will it take to get there?” Winslow asked the audience. “Let me offer three kind of answers to that. You need to have a unity of purpose, self-control and willpower.”

Winslow went on to explain that a sense of purpose will lead to self-control, and self-control will lead to the willpower needed to achieve. But, if that ultimate sense of purpose is united around the idea of a high-paying job, a prestigious scholarship or a big house, how equipped will we really be for handling the day-to-day of adult life?

A 4.0 GPA won’t help you navigate rush hour or a crowded supermarket. It won’t help you calm a screaming kid. But if we place our sense of purpose together with something greater than the next rung on the career ladder, we can motivate ourselves to think differently about the world around us and explore the different settings that we can tune our consciousness to.

The value of our education comes in the ability to place meaning — the ability to align our actions and thoughts about the day-to-day things with our desires and ambitions.

I don’t claim to be providing moral advice — I can recall many nights where this anxiety clouded my judgment and got the better of me. But if our full time jobs in college are to learn and absorb, we would be remiss to not consider what we’re learning for. After all, who are we to not consider the words of the great Samuel Johnson?

“Proceed illustrious youth, / And virtue guard thee to the throne of Truth!”

Jordan is an English and finance junior from Missouri City. Follow Jordan on Twitter @ChrisAlanJordan.