– Mahatma Gandhi
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
In exactly one week, I will graduate from the University of Michigan, moving the tassel from right to left and in doing so, progressing into adulthood. It’s surreal how quickly the culmination of four years of college arrives; our first blue-book exams and all-nighters seem like just yesterday. Obtaining a diploma from the University is indeed a formidable accomplishment, signifying commitment, a strong work ethic and presumably some basic level of intelligence, but the piece of paper is just the first step.
The real challenge now is what to do with the degree.
For most, the next logical step is to enroll in graduate school or begin the arduous climb up the corporate ladder – but is this really the right way or just the path of least resistance? Economic competition, coupled with the undeniably exorbitant price of college, have commoditized and distorted the value of education. Learning is simply a means to a larger end. Parents and graduates want fast results – and a big house, a flat-screen television or the facility to one-up the next person is the most blatant way to show a return on investment. But given that we, as graduates, will spend on average about 9.2 hours per day working and commuting, for the next foreseeable 43 years, keeping up with the Joneses can quickly turn into a long, vicious cycle.
Instead of jumping headfirst into a life that may very well end up unsatisfying, this pivotal moment requires intense self-reflection. I urge graduates to redefine their own success. Think not in terms of the number of zeroes you bring home on a paycheck, but rather in regard to the opportunities created and the lives that you leave an indelible mark on. It’s one thing to have $100 million, and another to invest that money to help teach and empower generations to come.
Find your passion and live it. Whether it is a traditional 9-to-5 route or something wildly off the beaten path, an inner love for what you do will help you endure the long hours and hard times.
Stepping outside of the box is difficult – there’s no doubt about that. It’s always easier to follow the herd or some arbitrary national ranking than to forge one’s own destiny. In addition to societal (or even worse, parental) stigma, the spoils of the road less traveled might take longer to manifest, and maybe they never will at all. Being cognizant of the risks and the ability nonetheless to embrace the struggle builds invaluable fortitude, which is half the battle anyway. And if failure is imminent, so what? Now is the time to make those mistakes, before the toll of bills and mortgages supercedes everything else.
It probably seems ironic that as a business school graduate, I seem to be preaching the polar opposite of all things capitalism. But if I have learned anything in college, it is that greatness has no mold. The happiest, most self-fulfilled people are those who have chased their dreams without sacrificing their sanity or scruples in the process. Making money and being successful are neither mutually exclusive nor one and the same.
Personally, I’m not sure what the world has in store for me – and I for it – once I step down from this soapbox. As I search for my calling, I can only hope to remain a lifelong student, with the same blind passion and belief in a better tomorrow that have carried me thus far. Whatever is out there, I am ready to face it head-on. Life is too short for regrets.
Krishnamurthy an be reached at email@example.com.