Be smart about higher education: why aren’t you going anywhere, nowhere, or somewhere?

Where are you going in life and in pursuit of higher education and why? The 20th century writer Mark Twain said: “The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Life is great as long as it goes on and good things happen, but what happens when (not if) tragedies happen? What is it that allows some people to overcome difficult circumstances while others collapse?

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

Conversely, by repeatedly wondering why an unexplained tragedy occurs, a person ends up going nowhere emotionally. The brain tries to answer all the questions that are asked. Asking the brain to respond to the unanswerable is comparable to having a computer crash. When it encounters a problem that the computer doesn’t have enough power to handle, it goes into what’s known as a freeze. Sustained brain freezing is not smart.

When a computer crashes, all it takes is a reboot. The restoration of the human psyche is not so simple. Asking because to unsolvable questions has some features of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) at one end of a spectrum of psychological conditions. Sudden or prolonged seemingly unresolvable trauma, along with unanswered questions, can lead to serious emotional problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

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

Nietzsche said: “He who has a why to live can deal with almost any how.” Viktor Frankl personally observed this concept in Nazi prison camps where people went through terrible conditions. Many died, no one prospered, but some survived by focusing on something desirable. in some place which in most cases was home. Viktor observed: “Those who cannot see an end goal in life for existence end up not having a life.”

have meaning because in pursuit of higher education is smart. Students who know why they exist can answer the question of why it’s not important to just go anywhere to school. Knowing why higher education is advantageous leads to a richer experience because it makes sense. The perspective of the most seemingly boring marketing course for an engineering student can change. When the engineering student understands that marketable features built into a product’s design radically improve sales, the course becomes relevant.

Knowing why a particular college and major is chosen enables a student to overcome the toughest challenges of academia and the circumstances that come with it: homesickness, peer pressure, and character development. When faced with any challenge, knowing why allows a person the creativity to figure out how. Conversely, without a clear vision and purpose, students can feel like Sisyphus, the Greek character who constantly rolled a stone down the same hill, then rolled back to the same spot and did it all over again.

College or any form of higher education doesn’t last forever but can literally and figuratively drag on due to a lack of purpose and knowing why is more than just getting a job. Most students are taking an average of six years to complete four-year degree programs. Others who finish within the four-year window crawl to the finish line only to land a job totally unrelated to a major that costs many thousands of dollars.

The frustration that Sisyphus is going nowhere need not be prevalent in academia. Mark Twain’s reference to that important day of discovering why we were born is available to students. The higher education experience can be fun and fulfilling, but it requires being smart about it.