I’m not an inspirational speaker. I’ve never lost a limb on a mountainside or otherwise. And I’m certainly not here to give career advice because well, I’ve never really had what most people would consider a job. However, I have passed my first 3 years of my university career fairly well in a course most would fail at if they’re not careful and it’s given me an inflated sense of self-importance. So, I will now, at the ripe old age of 21.2, bestow upon you 6 Student Life Lessons.
1 – You Don’t Have to Have a Dream:
Americans on talent shows always talk about their dreams. Fine, if you have something you’ve always wanted to do, dreamed of in your heart, go for it. After all, its something to with your time, chasing a dream. And if it’s a big enough one, it’ll take you most of your life to achieve, so by the time you get to it and are staring into the abyss of the meaninglessness of your achievement, you’ll be almost dead so it won’t matter. I never really had one of these dreams so I advocate passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals. Be micro-ambitious. Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you. You never know where you might end up. Just be aware that the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery, which is why you should be careful of long term dreams. If you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out of the corner of your eye.
2 – Don’t Seek Happiness:
Happiness is like peeing in your pants. Everyone can see it but, only you can feel it’s warmth. Keep busy and aim to make someone else happy and you might find you get some as a side effect. We didn’t evolve to be constantly content. Contented Homo Erectus got eaten before passing on their genes.
3 – Remember, it’s all Luck:
You are lucky to be here. You are incalculably lucky to be born. Understanding that you can’t truly take credit for your successes, nor truly blame others for your failures, will humble you and make you more compassionate. Empathy is intuitive, but is also something you can work on intellectually.
4 – Be hard on Your Opinions:
A famous bon mot asserts that opinions are like arseholes – in that everyone has one. There is great wisdom in this, but I would add that opinions differ significantly from arseholes in that yours should be constantly and thoroughly examined. We must think critically and not just about the ideas of others. Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out onto the verandah and hit them with a cricket bat. Be intellectually rigorous. Identify your biases, your prejudices, your privileges. Most of society’s arguments are kept alive by a failure to acknowledge nuance. We tend to generate false divisions and then try to argue one point using two entirely different sets of assumptions – like two tennis players trying to win a match by hitting beautifully executed shots from either end of separate tennis courts.
5 – Define Yourself by What You Love:
I found myself doing this thing a bit recently where if someone asks me what sort of music I like, I say, “Well, I don’t listen to the radio because pop song lyrics annoy me.” Or if someone asks me what food I like, I say, “I think truffle oil is overused and slightly obnoxious.” I see it all the time online, people whose idea of being part of a subculture is to hate Coldplay or football or feminists. We have a tendency to define ourselves in opposition to stuff. But also try to express your passion for things you love. Be demonstrative and generous in your praise of those you admire. Send “thank you” cards and give standing ovations. Be pro-stuff, not just anti-stuff.
6 – Don’t Rush:
You don’t need to already know what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. Don’t panic. You will soon be dead. Life will sometimes seem long and tough and damn, it’s tiring! You will sometimes be happy and sometimes sad and then you’ll be old and then you’ll be dead. There is only one sensible thing to do with this empty existence – fill it. Life is best filled by learning as much as you can, about as much as you can, taking pride in whatever you’re doing, having compassion, sharing ideas, running, being enthusiastic, and then there’s love and travel and wine and sex and art and kids and giving and mountain-climbing. But you know all that stuff already. It’s an incredibly exciting thing, this one meaningless life of yours.
Thank you for indulging me.