In less than nine months, I'll be (1) in college and (2) 18 years old. Both of these facts are kind of scary!
College is my "last stage" before I enter the real world, where I'll have to get a job, pay taxes, figure out housing, and basically act like a functioning adult human. It's weird! Sure, being an adult comes with an overwhelming amount of freedom, but it also comes with tons of responsibility.
Before I enter the real world, I have to figure out the answers to a lot of important questions. For example:
- What do I want to major in (in college)? My choice is a large determining factor in my college enjoyment and job prospects.
- What college should I even go to? I've already been accepted into A&M and Purdue (woo!). But making a decision that will likely bind me somewhere for four years requires a lot of thought.
- What kind of friends should I surround myself with (in college)? My friends will absolutely influence my behavior, so I want to make sure I pick good ones.
- What do I want to do with my life??
I want to focus on that last question. How do I, and how do people in general, figure out what to do with their lives?
Let me start off by stating the obvious. It's impossible to do everything you want to do in life. There simply isn't enough time: we humans max out at about a century of life. Even if humans lived for millennia, we wouldn't even get close to completing all that life (which is vastly complex) offers.
So the question becomes: what stuff should we aim to do? I think there are two general views on how you should spend your life:
- People with an 'specialist' mindset think it's best to become exceptional at one or two things.
- People with a 'generalist' mindset think it's best to become good at a lot of different things.
I fall in the middle of the two mindsets. I think it's best to become great at a small number of things, and "layer" those things to do well in life. I'm basically describing skill stacking.
But "just get good at a bunch of different skills" isn't really helpful advice, and it doesn't offer good answers to the question of "What do I want to do with my life?".
Now I'll outline my approach for figuring out what to do with my life. I break my life up into 6 categories, then set an ambitious yet achievable goal for each of them. Here are the categories, and my goal for each:
- Academics: Maintain a 3.6+ GPA in college while majoring in engineering or applied math. (I can't really start this until I get into college. Until then, my goal will be to score 4s and 5s on all 4 of my AP exams in May.)
- Career: Apply to at least 5 internships before my sophomore summer in college. (Again, can't really start this until college. Until then, I'll continue growing my blog and sharing AP study resources on the internet.)
- Relationships: Continue hanging out with my friends and hosting hangouts at least once per month. (It's hard to set an exact goal for this, because relationship success can't easily be measured numerically.)
- Physical Fitness: Consistently work out 3x/week. (Tough, but I know I can get there!)
- Spiritual Health: Continue attending church, and meaningfully interact with a Bible study group in college. (I'm a Christian. It's easy to forget the importance of worship in such a secular world, so I have to continually remind myself that it's really the most important category on this list.)
- Hobbies: Continue playing chess & writing weekly articles on this blog! (Thanks to everyone who subscribes!)
I enjoy video games, and as such, I like to think of each category as a 'skill'. Every time I work towards a big goal in that category, I think to myself: "Hey, I'm leveling up to level [X]!" It's a fun mindset shift.
I recommend doing this exercise yourself. If you're feeling lost in life or stuck in a rut, just define some goals, then start to work towards them.
I know this article is very self-reflecty and cliche, but I have some final thoughts about life. Here they are:
I've been playing a lot of Ticket to Ride: Europe recently. It's a great game, and the objective is very well-defined: get the most points. Likewise, in chess, the objective is simple: checkmate your opponent's king. In these games, the way to win is very clear. If you're Magnus Carlsen, the best chess player in the world, as long as you follow a certain set of strategies — even if they're complex — you're likely to win.
College admissions is also a game. People tend to agree that acceptances to the Ivies and T20 colleges constitutes "winning". But the way to "win" isn't so clear-cut. There's no way to guarantee admission to top colleges like MIT, Stanford, or Yale: even if you're the most qualified applicant to ever walk the earth, you might get rejected.
Everyone follows basic strategies to improve their admissions chances — keep up your grades, have high standardized test scores, show leadership, etc. — but there's no magic formula or way to get admitted. The game of college admissions is way more complex than Ticket to Ride or chess.
Life, however, is the most complex game of all time. It's far more complex than any other game ever.
First: no one can even agree on what "winning" at life means. Do you "win" by having the most money, by positively impacting the most people, or by having the most fun? No one can agree!
Second: even if the way to "win" life was well-defined, it's nearly impossible to know what strategies work better than others. If the way to "win" is having the most money when you die, what's the best strategy? Be a bank robber, snake oil salesman, friend of Jeff Bezos, or startup founder? Is the strategy to "hustle" 24/7, or is it better to take strategically allocated breaks to improve your productivity?
My point: it's really hard to "win" at life. I think the best strategy is to follow God, do good work on the things you're passionate about, and have lots of fun with the people you love.
I thought this article couldn't get any more cliche, but here are my final thoughts: life is too short to worry too much. And life isn't about your final destination — it's about the journey you took to get there.
WOW what a cliche article. I had fun writing it though. Maybe next week I'll write a humor article — we'll see!