Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Phil Sparks, a 21-year-old student at Arizona and cousin of Mastermind Group member Aaron. This is a letter (slightly adapted for this publication) written by Phil to his younger brother.
Congrats younger one! You’ve graduated high school. I know this is a time to feel happy and all, but I’ll leave that to everyone else to write about. Read this the day after you’re done celebrating. Cause after all the hugs and pats on the back, it’s about to get real.
Before we begin, watch the YouTube for “Rocky Motivation.” I’ll wait, it’s about two minutes long …
Okay, done? Now Stallone is not Jesus, or Gandhi, or even an author, but he is the narrative I will use, because higher education does not force one to actually read anyone of substance today.
“This kid is gonna be the best kid in the world.”
You know, in today’s world, EVERYONE is told they are gonna be the best kid in the world. There’s a lot of best kids in the world. A LOT of kids are being thrown HS graduation parties who deserve it, A LOT who don’t deserve it, and there are even kids who deserve it that didn’t get one! You will be competing with kids from not only your class at this point forward, but pretty much kids about ahead of the game as much as my class to the kids who are currently freshman in HS within the next few years. Barring a new plague, that’s a lot of people who feel “special.”
“But somewhere along the line, you changed.”
Now, I’ve been hearing reports from the frontlines that you’ve been acting up lately. Your parents are stressed as hell and worried that they have not taught a fully functioning human being yet. I am under the impression that this is normal. You’ve gotten smarter, learned that things aren’t as they should be, that people who tell you not to do things once did them and you have started to resent that a bit (or a bit much). That’s called growing up dawg, get used to it.
“…when things got hard, you started looking for something to blame…”
Believe me, life is gonna get hard, even if it feels like it is already. My life as a college senior is going to get exponentially harder, that’s why I decided to stay in school another year instead of graduating in three. But you know what you cannot do? Blame! Because everyone feels their life is hard, and no one gives a damn. Sure, there will be people who say nice things and might have jobs that depend on you feeling fine (these are rare, BTW), but ultimately, no one cares. So whatever self-righteous feelings of entitlement you believe you have need to end yesterday. I’m a hypocrite, but I’m only trying to help.
“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there if you let it.”
If you have ever watched or experienced competitive fighting (wrestling, boxing, MMA) you have implicitly and explicitly learned that lesson. But that same mentality happens in life and college all the time as well. Your professors will not care. Your peers will directly or indirectly be competing for the same success as you. When you have someone sprawled on the mat, you don’t just keep them there. You try to flip, pin, and knock them out if possible. Unless you’re Manny Pacquaio. (Too soon?).
“But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how you can get hit, and keep moving forward.”
There is never a fight where one does not get hit, thrown, lose points, or come dangerously close to getting pinned. Nothing worth doing will not do these things to you. If you did high school right, you may never want to work that hard again, but in order be successful – no – in order just to maintain yourself as a human being on this planet, you will need to tap into some of that competitive drive and push yourself to keep moving. If I’m losing you, remember this: LIFE IS GETTING HARDER.
“If you know what you’re worth, then go get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers…”
This will be the last time in life when all of your peers will basically be striving for the same goal. After today, people’s goals, jobs, and desires will all be increasingly different, even if you end up meeting a group of like-minded individuals like yourself in college. This also means that there are no guarantees that you will do anything you want to do once you graduate college. You will not just walk into a job by studying Naviance like you did for college. Anything you want to do at this point will be determined by your individual goals and how hard you work for them. Because you are guaranteed NOTHING from this point forward.
“…saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him or her or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!”
If there is one plague that is affecting the college-educated youth, it is that people are increasingly becoming pussies. You know what I mean. Whenever you see people complain about the weather, about their professors, how hard their major is, how useless academia is, that exercising is too hard, that their RA does not like them, these are all symptoms of people becoming pussies. Do not become one of those people and most importantly, do not let stupid reasons like those hinder you from achieving your goals.
While you’re at it- Get some goals. Something. Otherwise you’ll be aimlessly wandering through college and the rest of your life from here on out. They don’t have to be outstanding, important, or even what your mom and dad want. But just decide that something is going to get you out of your bed today because, believe me, it probably will not be class after a year or so (if that).
“Don’t forget to visit your mother (and father).”
I sincerely know that you do not want to heed this advice right now. That’s cool. But somewhere along the line in the next few years you’re gonna realize that no one in this world cares more about you than our parents. I have seen parents care about their high school dropout, ganja totin’, sleepin with prostitutes lookin’ mugs. Do the right stuff and I sure they’ll lend you a hand when you really need it. If you have two caring parents you’ve essentially won the lottery as far as America is concerned in 2012. But even if you just have one, or even just one person who treats you like their son or daughter, be thankful for that too. Like a hard math problem, do as much on your own and then ask for help. But finish the problem because ultimately, it will be your problem.
Now, having said all that, I absolutely hate when others put out lists of things one shouldn’t do and give zero advice about what one SHOULD do. So briefly, because this lecture is getting long, while you’re in college you need to:
- AGAIN (it’s B.S., I know), get the best grades as possible. Doesn’t matter what you do next. From graduate school to selling blow, they’ll want to know your GPA. It’s a (very sketchy) indicator of how you work. And when you are deciding you want to work for someone, that is ultimately the only thing they will care about. How hard you work. So go to class (it’s like your job, some class is better than no class).
Sidenote: If you don’t get good grades, that’s okay too, but it gets a lot harder if you can believe that. Right now you have unblemished grades, we’ll talk when that isn’t the case anymore.
Double sidenote: If your GPA indicates that you aren’t good at school, GET GOOD AT SOMETHING. There are tons of (good) skills you can pursue. You’ll have to get good at something if you want to do something more than be someone’s b**** in a dead-end job for an indefinite period of time. It’s already difficult to stand out with so many people striving and moving around.
- Be social. You can learn the vast majority of things in undergraduate education online these days (hint, hint: Scour the internet for all your educational needs, it IS there). But the social element is something that the internet will never be able to fully replace. Meet people. Join a club/cause/church/Save a Panda if you wish. You should interact with people because this is learning about others and learning about yourself. If you do not connect with people in college, you won’t even believe how fast you will end up back at home.
AND…that’s pretty much it as far as general advice on college goes. Be happy, enjoy the journey, all that cliche nonsense. Sure, I’ve left out some details and tutorials (girls, partying, employment, and academic BSing are four things that come to mind), but I can only write so much in one sitting. So, as my philosophy professor once said, “Wake up early, and work hard.” That was his suggestion to succeed in college, and it’s one thing that still rings true today. Later.