A case for being broke and happy

The last three and a half years of college have been a lesson in “What to Care About.” And I realized that in high school I’d been doing it wrong.

Note well: this is a soap box editorial about following your heart, so you’ll want to get on board or move on.

I spent all of high school fighting to be in the Top Ten. I played year-round soccer to be captain of the varsity team. I put in my hours of community service at school and in town. And I tried to make some lasting friends on the side. Meanwhile, I was bored as hell in most of my classes, hated my soccer coach, volunteered for student council because nobody else would help set up for school dances and my friends…it took me until about junior year to get that part right.

And here I am, a senior in college, wondering how I’ve done the second time around.

We’re taught to live for the future: do all the right things to get into a good college to get a good job to get a nice house to hold your 1.7 children, 1.5 dogs and 3.6 goldfish, move up in the job ranks, save your money in case of fill-in-the-blank misstep or catastrophe, and send children to college to start it all over again.

I don’t buy it anymore.

I’m a good student. But I’m not a perfect student. Though I admittedly keep an eye on my academic record, I complete an assignment to the best of my ability, hand it in and let it go. I go out on the weekends. I go to talks and performances on the weekdays. I get off campus in the middle of the day. Hell, I even manage to visit my family every once in a while.

Remember that grades are subjective. GPA is a number. And rank….I recently heard a rumor that one of my classmates is in the bottom fifty of the class with a 2.7. That’s a C, folks. If those are the rankings we’re carefully filed into based on .001 of a point (when a C is supposed to be “average” by most academic standards) we’ve got a whole different can of worms to deal with.

I’m not a resume builder. My extracurriculars may look alright on a job application, but I’m doing them because I totally dig them. I wouldn’t commit 20 hours a week to the Echo or help people with rough drafts of lab reports (which I assure you is no easy feat for an English major) if I didn’t LOVE what I’m doing. Sure, I don’t enjoy it every minute of every meeting or shift, but at the end of the day, as I slump down exhausted in bed, I know I’ve poured myself into things I care about.

In participating in activities I enjoy, I am figuring out what skills I have and where my passions lie—and those things will help me later (or rather, now…) as I’m looking for jobs. But that causality is important—don’t do things now for the person in the blazer you anticipate seeing in an interview in two years.

So, to my wee baby first years who are still young and dewy eyed and just beginning their optimistic trek down the path to success, and we seniors who inch warily towards the finish line with trembling knees and fear in our hearts, here’s my wizened wisdom: prioritize. Your passions will lead you towards the most fulfilling (though admittedly perhaps not the most lucrative) career, job opportunity or adventure. Work hard on the academics you care about, while also recognizing that there are only so many chances to catch a free poetry reading or see your peers crack jokes to a crowded auditorium or casually hang out with and pick the brains of Gloria Steinham, Jonathan Safran Foer or Coach Hermann Boone.

“Following your heart” may be a stale ideal, and I might be your broken record. But scan your mental to-do list. What’s on it? Are any of those things making you happy? Igniting excitement? Feeding a passion? How far down on your list are they?

It’s not too late to prioritize.