Be Smart About Higher Education: Why Are You Going Nowhere, Anywhere, Or Somewhere?

Where are you going in life and in the pursuit of higher education and why? Twentieth century writer Mark Twain said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Life is great as it moves along with good things happening, but what happens when (not if) the tragedies come along? What is it that enables some people to get through tough circumstances while others breakdown?

The answers to the last two questions revolve around two different aspects of the word why. Mark Twain used why in the context of a person’s existence. Seeking why we were born is smart because it opens all kinds of purposeful engagement in life that directly or indirectly involves benefitting others.

In contrast, repeatedly asking why an unexplainable tragedy occurs, a person emotionally ends up going nowhere. The brain tries to answer all the questions asked of it. Asking the brain to answer the unanswerable is comparable to a computer crashing. When given a problem that the computer has insufficient capacity to handle, it goes into what’s known as a freeze. Sustained freezing of the brain is not smart.

When a computer crashes, all that’s necessary is to reboot. Restoration of the human psyche is not that simple. Asking why to unsolvable questions has some PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) characteristics at one end of a spectrum of psychological conditions. Sudden or prolonged seemingly unresolvable trauma coupled with unanswerable questions can bring about serious emotional issues like PTSD.

Another outcome with those same traumatic experiences is the less publicized PTG (post-traumatic growth) that has the opposite effect. Instead of the traumatic experience resulting in a disorder, the person has an emotional fortification that serves to help in future challenges. Whether one develops PTSD or PTG is not a judgment of character since everyone has a breaking point, but a person can develop skills and focus on an attitude that hinders PTSD and promotes PTG.

Nietzsche stated, “He who has a why to live can deal with almost any how.” Viktor Frankl observed this concept personally in Nazi prison camps where people underwent horrific conditions. Many died, no one thrived, but a number survived by focusing on a desirable somewhere which in most cases was home. Viktor observed, “Those who cannot see an ultimate goal in life for existence, end up not having a life.”

Having a meaningful why in the pursuit of higher education is smart. Students knowing why they exist can answer the question why not just going anywhere to school is important. Knowing why higher education is advantageous leads to a more enriched experience because it makes sense. The perspective for the seemingly most boring marketing course for an engineering major can change. When the engineering major understands that marketable features included in the designing of a product radically improve sales, the course becomes relevant.

Knowing why a particular university and major are chosen enables the student to work through the most difficult challenges of academia and the accompanying circumstances – homesickness, peer pressure, and character building. When encountering any challenge, knowing why enables a person to generate the creativity necessary to figure out how. In contrast, without a clear vision and purpose, students can feel like Sisyphus, the Greek character who continuously rolled a stone up the same hill only for it to roll back down to the same place to do all over again.

College or any form of higher education does not last forever, but can be prolonged literally and figuratively due to lack of purpose and knowing why it is more than just getting a job. The majority of students are taking an average of six years to complete four-year degree programs. Others that finish within the four year window crawl to the finish line only to get a job totally unrelated to a major that cost many thousands of dollars.

The frustration of Sisyphus going nowhere does not need to prevail for those in academia. Mark Twain’s reference to that most important day of finding out why we’re born is within the grasp of students. The higher education experience can be fun and fulfilling, but it requires being smart about it.

Be Smart About Higher Education: 5 Steps to Determine When and How You Begin Change

Change can involve excitement and looked at as a great opportunity or be scary and as the worst thing that can happen. Whether it is a good or bad experience is contingent on a person’s attitude. Regardless of how it is experienced, normalizing change is the pathway to a fulfilled life.

A baby’s first steps are shaky, but eventually result in a flop. Moving from middle school to high school for the first time is something to look forward to, but upper classmen can be intimidating. Leaving home to go to college means freedom and independence, but also the potential for homesickness, intimidation with arrogant professors, and hard-to-get-along-with roommates. Day one on the first real job is the start of a new chapter in life, but feeling totally stupid is common.

The aforementioned experiences are a common pathway for students pursuing higher education. Real change begins by making difficult choices. After getting to high school, will the student respond appropriately or react negatively to bullies and gossipers? Are the challenges of pursuing higher education leaned into rather than avoided or denied? Does the fear of asking questions and false pride dictate how the new job goes?

Tough choices continue as life goes on. Mel Robbins, author of The 5 Second Rule attributes that personally coming out of bankruptcy and heavy drinking began with a process of counting backwards 5-4-3-2-1 to launch out of bed in the morning. The story is mainly about a desperate need for change of direction in her life by ignoring feelings and making a commitment to act on improving. Mel claims the seemingly insignificant process of counting 5-4-3-2-1 and launching out of bed instead of hitting the snooze button began the road to recovery that led to being one of the top speakers in the world.

The key to Mel’s success is being smart about what needs done and taking the action to do it by not giving in to what feels comfortable. Another bad guy is analysis paralysis that involves too much thinking eventually resulting in talking yourself out of doing anything. Although the research varies, many would agree it takes at least 21 days to create a habit. The time leading up to creating a habit is hard because change is a challenge! Failed New Year’s resolutions are ongoing proof.

An accompanying bad guy to analysis paralysis is cognitive distortion. Cognitive distortions are simply ways the mind convinces itself of something that isn’t really true. The inaccurate thoughts reinforce negative thinking. The tricky part is, a rationale is built around the false ideas. Following are some common distortions people use:

Pessimism – amplifying the negative while filtering out the positive.

Helplessness – feeling helpless over what happens in life.

Overgeneralization – basing an opinion on a single piece of evidence.

Blaming – “it’s not my fault, you don’t understand.”

Emotional reasoning – feelings are automatically indicative of what is true.

Attempts to change are unlikely with dominant cognitive distortions. That’s why The 5 Second Rule is so effective in completing a predetermined decision. The only thing to think about is repeating the 5 second count down to take action. Distortions based on feelings or over thinking are to be ignored.

Answering five questions serves as additional help in determining when and how to change:

Where are you? Take an honest and objective look at your status right now physically, emotionally, relationally, mentally (academically), spiritually, and financially.

Where are you going and why? Write down dreams and get a vision and purpose to stay focused.

Who are you? Know every person is talented, gifted, and destined for great things. The hardest person to convince of that is you.

What are you doing that matters? Pay it forward.

When and how are you going to start the changes needed to be smart about higher education and live a life that matters?

Begin using The 5 Second Rule: 5-4-3-2-1, start answering these questions now!