If you have had a chance to read the last blog entry “Choosing College, A Hierarchy” and have had a chance to look over the flow chart, hopefully one of the conclusions you came to was: You have to take ownership of not only your education but your future too.
Teaching English at the university level, I have met hundreds of students—all with varied goals and aspirations. I saw a lot. I met students who knew exactly what they wanted to do with their lives and how a college education fit into that vision. I met students who thought the goal of life was to get a college degree. I also met students who had no idea what the goal of their life was, but they thought they should be in college because they thought somehow they would figure out life simply by being in proximity of those who had a firm handle on their own life vision.
One truth I can tell you is this: you have to manage your educational pursuits yourself. Let me reword this three different ways—I feel extremely passionate about this issue and I want to reach as many individuals who do not quite have a vision as possible. You are in charge of your life and thus the things you will or will not do. God has given you life and free will—outline and live a lifestyle that will bring glory to God. Even if you do not believe in God, this makes your life—your limited amount of time here on earth—that much more sacred, do not waste it thinking that you cannot do the things you want to do—spend your life chasing after the worthwhile pursuits you want to do and even if you come up short in the end, no one will ever say you wasted your life, because you tried.
So, this business of choosing what type of education you will pursue is tied intimately in with the overall goal you have as a human being. Do not go to college unless you know what your goal is. Abstain from enrolling in a university until you know what you wish to do with your life. Avoid institutions of higher learning unless you have a vision of your life. If you know what you want to do, say you want to be a doctor, then find a mentor to help you choose the path that makes the most sense and pray on it before you start the admissions ball rolling.
What if I have no idea what to do with my life? The one thing I can tell you is not to go to college—and here’s why. If you were given a package by a friend and they said they needed you to deliver it to a location for them, but they would call and give you the directions later in the day, you surely would not get in your car and start driving anywhere beyond your driveway. You would have no idea where to take the package and you might end up driving for miles in the opposite direction. True, you might end up going in the right direction, but this is not an either or scenario. A compass has 360 degrees of choices: your life has infinitely more than that and you have to decide where you will go—don’t let your friends decide for you.
So what should I do? Sign up to see the world. Volunteer to serve the underserved. Get a job in a car factory. Sign up with your church or local humanitarian organization and dig wells for families in Central America, South America, Africa, and/or Asia. Go see the world. Go see something strange. Go do something ordinary. Go do something unordinary. I am certain when you return, you will know a lot of things that you do not want to do, as well as a few things you do want to do. If you decide you need to go to college after your service, you will be much more engaged and interested in your studies than the majority of your classmates.
But if I don’t go to college right after high school or if I don’t choose the life path my friends and family want me to pursue I’ll be considered a failure. Not true. Would you consider anyone who, during WWII, graduated high school and immediately served over seas and went to college afterward? Not immediately going to college after high school does not disqualify you from ever going to college—bad choices after high school disqualify you from college. I have not met too many high school graduates who did not know what they wanted to do with their life and who also acted completely responsible while attending college and “figuring out” life. These students were idle. They had no group of fellow majors to collaborate with—they were also much less likely to join clubs and other social organizations. What usually happened to these students? They joined a collection of idle or delinquent students who also had no vision for their future and together they simply existed on campus. They participated in activities that I label “Time Travel” activities: e.g., smoking, drinking, drugs, sex, video games, etc.
In moderation and for recreation—when you’ve earned it—some (some is the key word here) of these activities are fine to indulge in (taking into account state and federal laws as well as respect for women and the sacredness of marriage). But, let’s be honest, none of these activities will lead to a successful life or career that fulfills what God calls us to do with our lives (and maybe you want to start a ministry through video games, okay, but you will have to complete a host of other activities to achieve this—playing video games 24/7 will not bring your vision to fulfillment). “Time Travel” activities are available to individuals whether they are in college or taking a year off before starting college. Their temptation is real and it is strong if you do not have a vision for your life. Like driving around with the package in your car waiting for your friend to call, it is tempting to stop at the local tavern and get a burger and a beer—who knows how long it will be before you hear from your friend. The worst occurrence, that I’ve seen happen too often, is an individual realizing their vision for their life, but they have dug themselves into a hole that overwhelms them with despair and they never attempt to realize their vision for their life. They adopt a lesser one, call it their life vision, and in ten to twenty years become disillusioned and claim that the whole life vision thing is a lie—well, if it isn’t your first choice, it is a lie.
Removing yourself from the current American culture is a great way to stimulate deep thoughts about your life, the world, and your place in it. “Time Travel” activities most often deny you deeply reflective moments and deliver you into the future unchanged and uneducated—you have in essence simply hit the skip button for a portion of your life. You will never get that time back. Do not listen to popular culture. You are not a loser or a failure if you decide to go and serve in an underdeveloped country for eight months after high school. Failure is not taking the time to envision your life. Failure is never planning a path to bring about your life’s vision. Failure is never starting in on your life’s vision and purpose because you voluntarily gave up your God-given free will to the culture you live in—a culture that will never truly love you they way you wish to be loved and will never sustain your soul in the way you hunger for it to be sustained. A college degree, in and of itself, will not make you happy.
A college degree is not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. A college degree, when you pursue your life’s purpose, is like a patch on a quilt. One square is not an overwhelmingly great reason to start a quilt nor will one square—by itself—complete the quilt. The square is a part of the quilt and is there to bring the vision of the quilt, that its maker had, into reality. When you pursue your vision, if you need a degree to bring it to fulfillment, you will earn a degree to help you along your path—but, it should only be done because it is necessary—if it is not necessary, you really are wasting your time and life. A typical undergraduate degree takes 4-5 years of your life. The average lifespan of an American is 80 years (I rounded up from 78.7). That is 5% of your life. That’s not a big deal. Oh no? Add that to the 18 years of your life you must pay until you are recognized as an adult and you are out 27.5% of your life. Deciding to invest 5% of your life into something is a big decision—even bigger if you are considering graduate school.
If you are having trouble getting yourself ready to apply the flow chart to your life and plan a path to reach your vision, I’ll finish this post off with a few activities that can help you generate ideas and get you thinking about what you might like to spend your life doing.
- Figure Out How You Like to Help Others
If you look at great leaders like Jesus, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mother Teresa, what we notice right away is their devotion to others. You hear it all the time from people who have gotten out there and served—it makes them feel satisfied, fulfilled, content. It is not just a bunch of bull that people are trying to get you to believe. Get out there and do some service. Sign yourself up for a whole bunch of different things in your community—small and large. It is extremely unlikely that after a few service missions you will feel the same as before you started. Keep this in mind too, even mentally impaired individuals enjoy helping others—it is simply part of our DNA. It’s who we are, we are helpers.
- What Careers Would Enable You To Do the Service You Enjoy the Most
Reflect back to your service and think about which types of service you enjoyed the most and why. Not everyone likes working with people one-on-one. Some feel best working behind the scenes and remaining anonymous. You have to be honest with yourself what you prefer. Make a list of possible vocations that would enable you to pursue your service preference.
III. Have the Hard Heart-to-Heart With Yourself
Subtract everything—as best you can—from your life vision but you and God. Narrow down your career choices to three. Imagine you develop a rare disease, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), and you know that your body is going to slowly deteriorate and you will lose motor function. What career would you choose despite this physical handicap?
The truth is, if you chose wisely, you don’t have to stop pursuing your passion at 65. If you want to serve through teaching—you can teach for a long time. One of my oldest professors in college was a 90 year-old woman—and she was sharp as a tack. The point is, you are planning for the long haul, so keep in mind, if you are young, feeling all the strong feelings that come with being in your prime, that is great, but it will fade as you get older and you will want to take this into account. There is nothing that breaks my heart more than when an athlete retires and their life is over. Be practical and realistic about what type of service you will be able to continue to do over the course of your lifetime.
Thank you for reading. My name is Joshua R. Franklin. I am a Christian and a writer. Currently I am working toward a Doctorate in Biblical Studies at Colorado Theological Seminary.