As a teenager I left school twice, once at 16 to go Sixth Form College, and once at 18 to go to university, and I encountered many different teachers who asked me the same questions: What do I want to do? Who do I want to be? By the end of my time in college I was sick of it. The entirety of the two years I spent in College were geared towards me making a decision, sorry, the decision, to go to university. There should have been no doubt in my mind. A degree was the obvious, if not only, next step that I could take in life. I was left, almost, without a decision to make. Yet, was it all worth it? Does the process make young people into stronger and wiser people?
I am not writing against the pursuit of education or discouraging young people to go to university. I thoroughly my university experience and would recommend the same to any 18 year old wanting to leave home and find their feet in life. I am trying to draw attention to the decision-less lives that dominate our society. We are argue that we make a decision to pursue one career or the other, but, though there is some truth in that, we are simply leaving one system (school) and entering another (work), in whichever capacity that may be. Whichever work we find, our goal is usually to climb the corporate ladder and end up middle-aged with a desk job, having completed the required years of manual labour to be allowed to sit down all day. It seems that, at whichever age you ask someone, they cannot make a decision on an important subject. ‘I’ll just go with the flow’ seems to be the motto of society. Whether we are talking about career, fashion or the food we buy from supermarket. The ones who choose to be different are singled out and idolised as celebrities or labelled as cults and life goes on without them. The title ‘celebrity’ seems to give an individual immunity from the day-to-day life that we mortals experience, and thus we continue to live without the need or desire to make a decision and be different.
I am currently halfway through a podcast series called Band of Brothers, a set of talks aimed at helping boys (that’s males over the age of 18) learn the ways of manhood and fatherhood which may not have been passed down from their father. Throughout the series the speakers repeat a 5-phrase motto that, they say, captures the essence of manhood. I would just like to mention three of them. A true man, they reiterate, must: ‘reject passivity; accept responsibility and lead courageously.’ In summary, I may add, a true man must be able to make a decision and commit to it. In the context of this topic, I am suggesting that this phrase should not only be applied to men but also to the generation of young people.
The systems of today’s society are designed so that we don’t need to think about life. We enter school at 5 and leave over a decade later. We enter College or Sixth Form and leave between 2 and 4 years later. Then we enrol at university and leave between 3 and 7 years later. We take a job, work our way up one commercial ladder, change ladders a few times, and leave over four decades later. We retire without the need to ever have made a life-changing decision. And so, in answer to the title question, yes there is more to life than a degree.
The path I have just laid does not constitute life at all. Cogs and machinery work in systems, without the need to think or decide for themselves. People have life. They are alive and awake to the endless possibilities which their lives could take. They must be. Else they die having never lived. Simply existed. Another monotonous package on the conveyor belt of modern life, containing the same dry and characterless contents as the box before and the box after. No different. If there is any thought that should motivate a young person to make a decision about their future, it should be that: the void that awaits them at the end of life if they do not ‘reject passivity, accept responsibility, and lead courageously.’
Thus, in summary, I would like to encourage you, the young person of today, to stand up for yourself. To live a brave and courageous life. One that inspires others, but not only that, one that inspires your children. Because, one day, they will respond to life identically to you. This article is not meant to scare, but to motivate, to inspire a different story to the one that society is telling at the moment. To move a generation to live proactively and courageously, and transform the passivity that strangles society today.
I’d like to leave you with a quote from one of my favourite books, The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne (pg 225), a message from one of his school teachers:
“All around you, people will be tiptoeing through life, just to arrive safely at death. But dear children, do not tiptoe. Run, hop, skip, or dance. Just don’t tiptoe!”