As a student at the University of Michigan, you could say I have it pretty good. I’m attending the best public university in the country, learning from world-renowned professors, utilizing state-of-the-art facilities, and singing along to the catchiest fight song of all time.
But, as any college student, I am ceaselessly striving for more; the better grade, the next internship, the most impressive addition to my resume – whatever sets me apart from the rest. In Ann Arbor, it’s almost impossible to not feel the insatiable desire for success that seems to saturate every aspect of the university. There is an undying hum of energy in the air at the Law Library at 2 AM and a recognizable light of ambition in the eyes of students when asked the unavoidable question, “So what do you want to do after school?”
What do we want to do?
Most of us will spit out the well-rehearsed goal that we’ve been chewing on since early adolescence: we want to earn a college degree, attend grad school, find a well-paying job in a respectable field, get married to our other halves, raise a loving family, retire comfortably, and support our children so they can attempt to go through the same motions we did. For our purposes, that is the working definition of success in two minutes or less.
I’d be lying if I said I haven’t built my future in my head around those generic milestones; but I’d also be lying if I said those goals are the primary motivation behind why I get up each morning. Although it’s convenient to buy into the cookie-cutter, step-by-step, one-size-fits-all future, it’s such a complete and utter fantasy. Your life will most likely not go the way you have it planned in your head. In fact, it’ll probably be better.
It’s too easy to get caught up in broad ten-year plans and to forget about this year, this semester, this individual day of your life. Yeah, I want to get married someday, but I also want to travel around the world, immerse myself in wildly different cultures, meet new people every day, and change as many lives as I can. Of course, I want to be financially stable, but I also want to give back to my parents and to the community and to people who haven’t been given half of the opportunities that are handed to me on a daily basis. I am determined to earn two degrees in my four years, but I mostly just want to learn to understand and appreciate the literary genius of the classics and to wrap my head around the overwhelming power of this momentous thing we have today called social media.
I’m not going to say that your personal milestones aren’t valid because they are undoubtedly honorable goals to work towards. However, I think it’s critical to keep in mind that these aren’t always the most consequential dreams you’ll accomplish, and (plot twist) you can even skip them altogether if that’s where your passions lead you.
The simplest goals such as making connections with people who inspire you, saying yes to opportunities that scare you, and diving headfirst into seemingly impossible endeavors could be the most life-changing aspirations you achieve; a degree is just a piece of paper – what makes that piece of paper worth countless hours of work is the work itself and how it changes you. The end result is not the diploma, it’s you.
I do have it pretty good here at the University of Michigan, and we’re all going to attain goals that we cannot yet imagine – just don’t forget to enjoy yourself along the way. Breathe it all in and remember why you’re doing what you’re doing in the first place. What you want now may not always be what you want tomorrow, next year, or in ten years – this is not just normal, but absolutely necessary for growth. You are constantly evolving into someone new, and the easiest way to limit yourself is to shape your identity around who you are expected to be and what you are expected to do with your life.
“The end result is not the diploma, it’s you.”
Walk your own path, not just in your studies and in your overarching objectives, but in your individual, distinctive, incomparable way of being. There are no prerequisites for happiness; it isn’t some light at the end of the tunnel, it’s the tunnel itself. You don’t have to wait for your graduation or wedding day or retirement to be happy – just start chasing that feeling now and, I promise you, the rest will come easy.