We’re in college to get an education, apparently. But what good is getting an education? Getting an education, in our society, is code for acquiring the knowledge to qualify for a higher-level job and, more bluntly, to earn a lot of money. We’re in college so we don’t end up doing manual labor or working in a gas station, so we can earn enough money to pay off student loans, maybe, and then rent an apartment. Eventually we’ll work up to buying a house, then maybe a Lexus and a two-week vacation to Bermuda every year. If we’ve really made it, maybe we’ll have a Porsche instead. But, again, what good is all that?
Money, to some, may be the root of all evil. More accurately, it seems, it is a necessary evil, but an evil that can be used for good as well. Sure, you can renounce materialism and move to a cave somewhere, but that does no one any good. Because though money can’t buy happiness, it can buy opportunities. By all means, enjoy money. Take it for granted. Go to a nice restaurant, because it’s not the price tag that matters but the experience. Go on vacation, take an art lesson, spend the day in a museum or even just indulge in a new book or movie. There’s nothing wrong with spending money as long as you have some balance and perspective. Use it to broaden your horizons.
No one I’ve ever talked to dreams of dead-end jobs that pay the mortgage. No one wants to be trapped, to settle. Everyone seems to want more to be wealthy, powerful and influential. Yet, choosing a path based on which tax bracket it leads to will leave you empty. Numerous polls, conversations and TV shows have shown that higher income does not lead to or correlate with happiness. Plenty of accountants, stockbrokers and lawyers hate their jobs.
There are more ways to look at college than as the means toward getting a good job. What an education can give you is a greater social awareness, a deeper understanding of what the world is, what it needs and what you can do about it. What we should learn from our expensive educations is that money is not an end in itself. Many of us already have so much more than most people in the world can ever dream of having, but we don’t even notice. We’re too busy looking up.
Ultimately, just don’t lose perspective. Decide not only what you want to do, but also why. Money can give you certain freedoms, but it can also wind up enslaving you. There are so many more meaningful things you can do with you life than to spend it chasing the next promotion. You don’t necessarily have to go build houses in a third world country, but it’s important to never stop learning, to seek new experiences, to enrich your life and those around you in ways that don’t come with a bill. What you should learn in college, if nothing else, is just how many totally different doors are open to you.
Hass is a member of the class of 2010.