Be Smart About Higher Education: Three Do's and Three Don'ts of Doing What Matters

Get heard up in the pursuit of higher education and commencement day comes quickly. The time at school is a process that hopefully has fond memories of meeting exciting people and developing friendships that will last a lifetime. Ideally, the coursework was rewarding and beneficial in preparation for a fulfilling career. The college experience is inclusive of these things, but the most rewarding opportunities can easily be missed.

The opportunities can take on numerous forms, but it starts with students asking: "What am I doing that matters?" What matters is some transcendent cause that is the right thing to do, helps others, and expects nothing in return. Usually people doing transcendental things are not only offering personal talents and time, but their treasure (finances) as well to help a cause, person or organization.

Graduate school for me had great experiences and challenges that built a lot of character being a young adult. However, out of all the experiences offered at college, there is no recollection of doing anything that really mattered. Took courses, learned a few things and did okay. Did fundraisers for the fraternity. Had fun at parties and made a lot of friends only one of which became a life-long best friend.

Graduate school included the above, but with additional experiences that took on a lot of meaning. Twice each week a poor nearby neighborhood was visited to distribute clothing and offer counsel and prayers. Helping people spiritually, emotionally, and physically was not convenient or comfortable, but it mattered.

Also went on a few mission trips. Making rounds in New York City to hand out hygiene packs and blankets to the homeless during the winter, so rewarding. Sweeping up the rolled teeth of kids in a poor Columbia South America village and seeing the joy on their faces for being relieved of the pain of toothaches, so rewarding. Crying myself to sleep after seeing the blank stare of a gamine or homeless street child in Bogota scavenging through a garbage can in the middle of the night, unforgivable.

Whether choosing to do something that matters locally, domestically, or on the other side of the world requires getting out of the comfort zone. Tests are coming up, papers are due, finances are short along with any number of good reasons not to participate in a transcendent cause. Funny thing is I vaguely remember any details about the papers, tests, and money shortages, but the aforementioned memories are vivid, priceless, and last a lifetime.

What does it take to begin getting involved in things that matter?

Three do's

  • Have the right attitude . Being all excited is part of it, but ambivalence, confusion, and fear are common. Attitude is a commitment to follow through and make the best of whatever situation arises.
  • Do the right thing whether or not anyone is watching. Be intent on serving, giving, and accommodating fellow team members as well as those that are the focus of the outreach.
  • Be wise . Realize in extremely indigent societies desperation is prevalent, prevent being an easy target.

Three don'ts

  • Impulsively give. Providing material necessities is good. Alleviating a poverty mentality and teaching skills to self-sustain is best.
  • Expect anything in return . When this is sincere, far more is received by the giver.
  • Come home as a martyr. The contrast of coming from the scarcity of an indigent country into the wastefulness of an affluent society can at first be repulsive.

Being a hero, having a lengthy resume, or expertise in a particular field is not necessary. The only qualification is a willing heart to serve. You can do this! Pursue opportunities and be amazed at how many friends and relatives would support a worthy cause you've chosen to undertake. Using a skill is great, but plenty of support positions are needed for grunt work too.

What does this have to do with being smart about higher education? Meaningful experiences stir thinking and take the focus off of self-interests. All the knowledge and learning of the academic environment have a transcendent reason to be directed towards. The world becomes a better place when students learn early in life that hurting people need help. If not you, then who?