Go with a smile!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

What really matters

I think a little about when I was 15. There were a few doors that I opened that year. In a large way I’m still expounding on the doors that I opened that year. In a way I wasn’t that lucky that year: when I was 14, it had been a bad year, so that year was in a way a make up for it.

I had some good friendships that year. I found out that I mainly have 2 talents: I’m an artist, and I’m a mathematician. I went on trips that opened my mind. I went on summer camps. I’m starting to wonder how I managed to live through 9 years where so little has happened, compared to that one wonderful year. But in a way I was really lucky. A lot of the good things that happened that year took place because of the work of other people.

When I think back on the good things that have happened to me in life, I’m struck by how little they had anything to do with money. Yes, money is there to buy physical comfort, and I can’t deny that it’s a good thing. But when I think about stuff like a shiny, snazzy new sports car, it leaves me cold. I think I will tip my hat to people who think that way, only enough to hide how I think that it’s extremely weird.

I think that it’s important to keep myself from being cold, starving and miserable. But beyond that – when I think about some of my happiest moments, it doesn’t really have to do with all that.

So I’ve read some articles about the coming bubble in higher education and it leaves me very concerned at the path I’ve always wanted to take.

To be sure, I’ve always wanted to do a PhD, rather than a masters. I’ve only ended up doing a masters because I know that there’s no room for me to do a PhD. It would have been easier if I had tried 5, 10 years ago. But it’s over now.

In retrospect, I did grow up in a first world country. But it’s a first world country no more. In fact, much of what we thought were first world countries aren’t like that anymore. No, we were sheltered from much of the rest of Asia. We didn’t have to face them if we didn’t want to. Now, borders are more open. And we get a lot of people coming in, and we get influenced by them. Those ppl are a lot more like the older generation, and they, even if they’re not more materialistic, are more aware of the power of the dollar. More willing to slave away for money.

Now there are debates that call into question the value of a college education in the US. It used to be that people didn’t question the economic value of an education so much, but tuition inflation has risen so sharply, and at the same time, people are graduating into an economy wrecked by unemployment that it really seemed like a dumb idea to be hundreds of thousands of dollar in debt after graduating with a liberal arts degree, and find it incredibly difficult to land a job.


But does that mean that education absolutely has to be utilitarian? I didn’t want to choose. I tried to pack both aspects into my uni education, with greater or lesser results. Ultimately I didn’t think that it was right that a liberal education left you bereft of useful skills. That would have been defeating the ideal of an all-inclusive education.

In the end I thought there was something dreadfully wrong about putting a monetary value on everything and worshipping it. As many of you know, I have become a music freak in my early years. There seemed to be a complete disconnect between the quality of music and whether it goes up high on the charts. A lot of top 10 hits are completely dreadful, and a lot of wonderful music never gets anywhere near the charts. And I slowly lost respect for the possibility that money could buy you better music. A shitty album and a great album cost exactly the same. OK, the obscure but great album might cost you more money because it would be harder to find it. That is one of my early life experiences which made me lose a lot of respect for money. That, and the fact that I didn’t really have to earn it.

Then again, if the main purpose of college is not really to give you the means to earn a lot of money, then why does it cost so much? Technically, you could have a good, broad, liberal arts education for very little as well. In fact, 90% of what I had learnt in uni are things I could have learnt by spending years on a desert island with a good library.

But gradually, it started to creep in, especially from the 2-3rd year of work onwards. It just seemed that the people who had more respect for money seemed to be leading more meaningful lives. Those who didn’t give a shit, they realised that they were on this fucking treadmill for basically nothing. I think it was just something you had to do in order to keep yourself sane.

I’ll admit, I kinda lost my initial vision of what was really precious in life for the last few years. But now that I’m starting to sorda remember, it seems like the endless possibilities of youth. Not very helpful for a guy who’s just a few years away from 40. But I have to invent something that goes beyond that old 5Cs paradigm, that idea of money as keeping score. I have to invent something special again.
And this education thing – well I shouldn’t corrupt it. It was mainly for interest, and this idea was conceived at a time of my life when I was still in the mode of, I can afford to pursue stuff for interest. Maybe I will always be in that mode, in that frame of mind. Now, it has to be dual purpose. I don’t want to squeeze my head too hard in the utility vs education as a higher purpose debate. I want something dual purpose, as I did the last time. And I have to remember not to get any more lost than I had been.

It’s also a sad factor: often, when I’m starting with a blank sheet, I tell myself, I want A. Then I think about it a little more, and I decide, in order to get A, I need to do B. In order to do B, I need C, and so forth. And in the end, I end up getting fixated on F, and slowly forget the original connotation, the original connection to A in the first place. Maybe the ground had already shifted, and there’s no more connection, I’m left with a dead link. I have to be so mindful of that these days.


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