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This letter is going to be about a fictional character, who shall be given the arbitrary name of Aspen Shorelion. Young Aspen is a freshman at UCSB, and he’s feeling a bit lost. It so happens that he doesn’t know what he wants to major in and isn’t particularly excited about any of the classes he’s taking. He got good grades and test scores in high school because everybody said it was important to do so, and he didn’t want people to think he wasn’t smart. Genuinely learning something interesting that he would be able to make use of throughout his life was never much of a concern, the A’s were what mattered.
He decided to go to UCSB because it was close to the beach and he liked singing the “Ole … Gauchos” chant. When he gave this explanation to his parents and other adults they thought it was odd, but no one ever really explained why it was important to have a really good reason for going to college, just like no one had ever explained why it was essential that he take trigonometry and chemistry and history in high school. No one had ever mentioned that there was any other option after high school besides college, so off Aspen went, content to let the crowd do all his thinking for him.
Now we move forward three years in time, and Aspen is a senior. He spends a lot of time alone in his room, not because he likes to, but because he never overcame his anxiety about social situations, so he generally avoided them. He’s on track to graduate, but he has no idea what’s going to happen to him after college. There haven’t been any classes titled “Determining Your Creative Interests” or “Identifying Your Passions” or “Envisioning Your Ideal Life and How to Get There”, so Aspen’s just been going along, getting good grades, like he always has.
The geography professor talks about mountains, the biology professor talks about protozoa and the physics professor talks about gravity, but no one explains to Aspen why it might be important for him to know about these things once he’s through with school and living in society itself. He could go to the Career Center and have someone help him select a field or career to focus on, but he generally doesn’t follow other people’s advice.
He wants to do great things, but doesn’t know specifically what those great things are or how he might achieve them. With his reluctance to try anything new, risk failing or challenge his fears, he’s on a track that will lead him gently back to his old room at his parents’ house.
Maybe there has never been anyone like Aspen in the history of UCSB or any other university. But if there is someone out there who feels like they haven’t yet acquired a sense of direction or purpose, who wants to start forming daily habits that will spark positive momentum, there is a course you might try, and it’s called Living Outrageously (really, that’s the actual title).
Living Outrageously is the class that ought to be required for every student entering college, but isn’t. What it actually is is a video podcast on iTunes that is hosted by two very enthusiastic Australians. What it does is give you the tools to identify where you ultimately want to be, and show you what actions you can take to make progress towards your goals each and every day. It forces you to answer the fundamental personal questions that will give you a direction, and reminds you that if you don’t make the effort to assume control of your life, you leave your fate in the hands of the sloth.
Connor Hastings is a graduate student of environmental science and management.