Before he succumbed to kidney cancer, my grandfather gave me some excellent advice on the purpose of college. Growing up during the Great Depression, he was the first generation in his family to achieve secondary education of any kind. Because he had nothing, he viewed college as a way to increase future earning potential and nothing more.
“Get your ticket punched,” he once said in his didactic, old-class Southern way of speaking.
That is, where you go to college and the subsequent grades that you receive matter relatively little to the vast majority of your future employers. Going to college was, and still is, a way of getting your metaphorical ticket punched.
After being so poor that he had to rely on his neighbors’ hospitality to play with toys when he was young, my grandfather went on to achieve degrees in chemistry and nuclear engineering. Later on in his career, he worked to put a nuclear reactor into orbit. None of this would have been possible if he hadn’t been able to get his ticket punched, to get through school, to push forward.
De te fabula narratur — the story applies to you too. Sometimes, it’s easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of college.
When every day is reduced to another class to attend, another exam to cram for, another homework assignment to complete, the light at the end of the tunnel becomes increasingly dim. Getting through college sometimes requires burning the candle at both ends. As the late Christopher Hitchens once said, you will find that “it often gives a lovely light.”
Your life may revolve around school, but it doesn’t have to be school. It is a dangerous prospect to make your mental health reliant on the status of a semester’s classes. Reorient your mindset to having a good life outside of school instead, and you will find that you feel more valued and fulfilled. People are meant to exist outside the realm of being note-taking and homework machines.
My grandfather used to have another saying, which I only recently understood to be closely linked to the latter.
“Sometimes, you just have to get down and grunt, and that’s OK,” he said.
If life is a train ride to success and contentment, college is the equivalent of getting your ticket punched. That doesn’t mean that you won’t have to work to pay your fare.
Everyone who’s been through it knows that it’s no easy job, and frankly, there’s no point in icing it with platitudes such as “college will be the best years of your life.” By sewing impossible expectations, we reap only disappointment.
College is not intended to be a non-stop thrill ride; it’s not fun. If we continue to tell young people that now is the best they will ever feel, we risk hampering them for the rest of their lives.
That doesn’t mean, however, that your life while in school has to be miserable. This can be achieved by a thorough and complete separation of your being from the university. At the end of the day, you are a person, distinct and separate from your work. Start living like it.