Is something I often hear because once we’re out of college — out of our own self-made micro-universe, the rules of life change.
We want to do well in life as we want to do well in school. And it’s obvious that we would want that. We’re told that pursuing the perfect GPA, the ideal extracurriculars, the exemplary student-teacher relationship, brings us closer to our shared societal goal: to be successful in life.
Yet how does this melange of school curricula prepare us for a successful life beyond its purely theoretical foundations? Colleges aren’t reverse engineered from fulfilled adults; they were shaped over hundreds of years of evolution, Medieval monasteries, a mixture of French national aspiration and ideology, 19th century German educationalists and a sprinkle of Horace Mann.
It’s important before we move on to define a “successful life”. Is it measured financially, geographically or socially? A value judgement? Perhaps a successful life resumes itself to something that its meaning seems to have historically evaded us: happiness.
So how does our educational system help us find happiness? For the sake of this question let us establish that happiness can be measured even so lacking the accuracy of a “hedonimeter” as pictured by Edgeworth. It can involve multiple dimensions that are not quantifiable but instead approximate measures like one’s meaning and purpose i.e. something that fulfills us.
Now to return to our initial question: do schools train us towards pursuing fulfilling work? Meaning? Purpose? I argue that no.
I find myself and those around me battling with a deep tantalizing question: do I pursue money or? And what is that “or”? Do we all know our passion? That “thing” that makes our hearts tick just a little bit faster? Or perhaps we feel the need to prove ourselves. To be and feel extraordinary. Or perhaps compromise.
Or do we feel stuck? Stuck as a result of the bad habits of schools such as inhibiting originality in favour of tradition and “proper format”; teaching us to deliver rather than change, create; teaching us to raise our hands and wait for permission; wait to be chosen; teaching us that only those in authority know rather than letting our imagination take centre stage; teaching us to be realistic rather than dreamers; teaching us everything other than the skills that determine our quality of life: knowing, having the courage and steel determination to choose the right job for you alongside the emotional maturity to form and maintain fulfilling relationships. We’ll know Latin and soil composition before the two most important things: Passion (work) and Love.
That being said, so far it seems life requests two things of us: be an over-achiever for 20-ish years whilst simultaneously never really mindlessly believing in the seriousness nor validity of what we are studying. In honor of “Joker” coming out, he put it best “why so serious?” because that’s a widespread tendency: we take life seriously whether we lead serious lives or not.
We must have a job immediately. We must make money immediately. We must pay taxes immediately. We must get perfect grades immediately. We must be obedient immediately. We must be realistic immediately. We must immediately or else.
My politics professor from 1st year of college coined the phenomena most naturally: you change the system from within as life is a paradox: it requires us to be outwardly compliant whilst inwardly intelligently and devotedly rebellious. We mustn’t lose ourselves whist we’re caught in this century’s system.