The Ridiculousness of the “I’m Not Impressed” Facebook Comment

Facebook can be a…uh…special place.  People behave in ways I cannot imagine them behaving in the flesh.  I don’t think this is good or bad, it just is.  Still, it makes for some rather odd and entertaining moments.

The other day I shared a quote from a young college opt-out with whom I was emailing:

“I dropped out of university when I was 19. I had lots of friends there. My grades were great. My future was bright. But I was unhappy and restless. Most of all, I was feeling unfulfilled. So instead of taking out student loans and finishing my degree, I quit.

We talk a lot about “living intentionally.” But during my unfulfilling time at uni, I really came to understand what that means. Going to university right out of high school just because “that’s what you’re supposed to do” isn’t living intentionally. I had no idea who I was or what I wanted out of life, and it occurred to me that perhaps I would be just as clueless and lost upon graduation day.

I didn’t have a business idea or plan for what to do when I quit. I didn’t have a job lined up. I quit uni “the wrong way” according to most people. It was “the risky way,” “the stupid way.” But I survived. I made it work. And I’ve loved every second of the adventure so far.

We’re hardwired for thinking that taking risks and making changes will only end in disaster. We like certainty. We like predictability. We like routines. But there’s a certain danger in routine. Those things that we can “do in our sleep” run the risk of luring us into a slumber we may never wake up from. So I’ll take the discomfort of uncertainty over the slumber of routine each chance I get.”

Cool, right?  It seemed pretty self-evident that I shared this because I thought it was inspiring and some of the many other young people I know who are slowly decaying in college but are afraid to buck social and parental pressure might take heart in her story.

It got some likes and shares, and then this comment popped up:

“This sort of thing brings out the grumpy old man in me. She quit college at 19 and now she all of 20 and not dead yet. What an inspiration! Insert sardonic face here. How much of a risk is she taking? I bet she has parents backstopping her. And I’m supposed to be inspired by her and follow her on Twitter and soak up all her wisdom? Give me a break. I’ll change my tune when she actually, you know, does something.”

I couldn’t help but laugh.  So many hilarious thoughts went through my head.  I don’t normally respond to comments, but considering this girl was insulted by a stranger after I shared her story, I thought I’d post something to stick up for her just a bit.  I had a lot of ideas for responses, but opted to keep it simple with this:

“I think you underestimate just how much pressure young people face to unthinkingly go to college whether they gain anything from it or not. I share this not because this young lady has “arrived”, whatever that means, but because it takes a ton of courage to stop and think about your own life and live it on your terms instead of the conveyor belt you’re pressured into.

Anyone who’s not just bobbing in the current deserves respect.”

There was so much more to say about the comment though.  Here are some of the other responses I considered…

Thanks for your comment!  Maybe, just maybe, you aren’t the intended audience. Maybe you don’t need to follow her on Twitter for inspiration. Maybe middle-aged dudes who are not facing challenges similar to a 19-year-old aren’t supposed to be inspired by her.  Maybe somewhere, some other 19-year-old hates school and is scared to death to face the social pressure of doing something more tailored to her.  Or maybe she should be chastised for not doing something impressive to you yet…

Thanks for your comment!  I wonder what “done something” means?  Could you define what activities and achievements this young lady must complete before she is allowed to have a website or talk about her story in her about section?  What challenges are big enough that she should be allowed to talk about them?  To what authorities should she appeal before sharing her journey or posting a Tweet?

Thanks for your comment!  You’re right, no one is really inspiring who hasn’t succeeded.  Then again, what’s the definition of success if not living a fulfilling life with pride in your choices and accomplishments?  If she earned a million dollars and hated her life and felt shame for her choices, would she be inspiring?  She clearly said this was a big challenge for her to overcome, she did it, and now she’s happy.  Is that not success because you think that challenge would have been easy for someone else?

Thanks for your comment!  FWIW, this young lady is working at a business in Poland right now and started her own accent reduction service for non-native English speakers on the side.  But that’s not relevant.  What’s relevant is that you were offended by the fact that her story was not directly inspiring to you.  Sorry about that!  In the future I’ll make sure to ask if what I post is personally inspiring to you, even if you’re not the intended audience.  I’ll also advise this young woman to seek your permission before feeling proud or sharing her story in the future.

Thanks for your comment!  Let me see if I can boil down the heart of it in summary:  You’re upset because something someone posted to Facebook doesn’t inspire you.  Your post could be shortened a bit to, “I’m not impressed.”  Got it.

Thanks for your comment!  Though it does bring out the grumpy young man in me.  So you’re all of middle-aged-something, you shot down a young stranger’s story on Facebook, and you’re not dead yet.  What, you want me to follow you on Twitter now to soak up more of your dismissive derision?  Please.  Call me when you’ve, you know, done something that piques my interest.

I decided not to post any of those.  It seemed like it would have been mean.  Plus, the Facebook inspiration police might have swarmed and pointed out with deep insight and profound erudition that they’re not impressed anyway.  That would have been crushing.

Check out this podcast episode about call-out culture and the dangers of playing the critic:

Episode 2: TK Coleman on Comments, Critics, and Call-Out Culture


Maybe You Should Feel More Fear

Zak Slayback and I were talking about some people we’d recently met who desperately wanted to do something exciting and new, but in the end they couldn’t pull the trigger.  I told him I was surprised by how much fear can hold people back.  Zak’s insightful response was that their problem wasn’t too much fear, but too little.  Too many people will do anything to avoid the experience of feeling afraid, and if more people would embrace it, they’d be happier.

As usual, I stole this wonderful conversation and turned it into a blog post.  It’s up today at the Praxis blog, where I riff a bit on this theme.  Thanks Zak!

From the post:

“If we believe that experiencing the emotion of fear is the worst possible thing we can go through, we will do only those things that are not accompanied by that emotion.  We’ll stay safe, stay home, stay in he comfort zone, only try what we’re already good at, only talk to who we already know.  The avoidance of experiencing fear is a recipe for stagnation.”

Read the whole thing here.


Who is College for?

Slightly modified from the original publication on Thought Catalog.

It is commonly assumed that everyone who can should go to college. Sure, maybe a few super-brilliant techies or people with a crystal clear path can skip it and do well, but everyone else needs to go, just to be safe. This is completely backwards. Most people can do a lot better than college. There are really only a few groups for whom college is the best option.

The legally-bound
Sadly, a number of professions have lobbied to secure barriers to entry in order to keep out plucky young upstarts who might undercut monopoly pricing. If you know beyond a shadow of a doubt you want to work in one of these professions, you’ll need to get the magic paper. Just be careful not to let the paper do all the work. For the sake of your customers, try to get more than just the legally required credential. The most common jobs with degree requirements are lawyers, doctors, and CPAs. If that’s you, bite the bullet.

The well-to-do, insecure partier
College is a consumption good for some people. It’s a four (or five or six) year party covered by mom and dad. If you’ve got stacks of cash and your major goal for your early twenties is to chill at frat houses with a Solo cup, maybe you should go to college. Let me take that back. You see, you can move to a college town and party without enrolling. But if you’re really insecure and worried about not having official student status at parties, you’ll need to pay the piper. Tuition and sitting through classes are a small price for a well-off party junkie who can’t think of non-credentialing methods of having a good time. Go for it!

The parental pleaser
A lot of parents will be mad at you and ashamed to talk about you to their friends if you’re not in college. Luckily, most parents don’t care too much if you’re actually getting value out of the experience, as long as you’re enrolled and passing. If keeping mom and dad reasonably happy without challenging them to rethink what happiness means to you is your top priority, go to college. There’s nothing else with the same mystical power to elicit parental pride.

The college professor
If your dream is to be a professor, you’ve got to do your time. In fact, the entire education system top to bottom is optimized for the creation of professors. Every other profession to emerge from 20+ years of institutional education requires a deschooling process, because only academia plays by the same rules and incentives as the school system. All other industries are remarkably different, what with their accountability to customers and emphasis on value creation. If the system is your first love, and doing research and teaching within its walls your sole dream, do it. You can be an intellectual without a degree, but not a university-sanctioned professor.

The bureaucrat
Government isn’t known for rewarding merit, but it’s great at rewarding rule-following and form-filing. If you dream of reviewing building permits or vehicle registration documents, you’ll need a degree of some kind. The nice thing in this field is that the things you’ll do in school are pretty similar to what you’ll do at work. Comply and complain about the non-compliant. As an added perk, you really can’t be fired for being rude to everyone once you’re in.

The frightened 9-5er
If security sits atop your personal hierarchy of needs, and working for a big corporation with a massive HR department that specializes in sameness and risk-avoidance sounds like the life you’ve been waiting for, go to college. It’s changing, and a little faster than you’d probably like, but most big companies still filter out non-degreed applicants for entry level jobs that require a heavy dose of repetitive process-oriented labor. You’ll be competing with machines and software, but for the time being, there’s still a slot for you.

Everyone else
If you don’t fit into one of these categories, college may still provide some value, but it should in no way be considered the default option. There are myriad ways to tailor your own learning experience or gain skills, knowledge, and a network to discover and do what makes you come alive. College should be treated as one option among many, and no more or less valuable or open to scrutiny and cost-benefit analysis.

Are You Living on Purpose?

Humans are not like other earthly creatures.  We cannot live for only the biological imperative to survive and procreate.  Humans require purpose.  Lack of purpose is the greatest disease against which all of humanity must daily fight.  It is the one disease that will not and cannot be overcome by advances in medicine.

You can’t have purpose on accident

Our existence is couched in a series of accidents.  That we were born, when, where, and to whom are accidents (they were not accidents to our progenitors, but from our own point of view).  Our genetic structure is an accident.  The first language we hear, and therefore learn, and the first beliefs to which we are exposed, and therefore predisposed to, are accidents.  Purpose can not come from accidents.  We do not discover or live with purpose naturally, the way we grow physically.

None of these accidents are good or bad.  The simply are.  In your exploration and creation of purpose you may find that a meaningful life demands radical differences from the norms and beliefs in which you were raised.  You may find that it demands beliefs and norms almost identical to those in which you were raised.  Whatever the end result, the one consistent demand is that you choose it.  You cannot discover and live a purposeful life by simply following rules handed down to you, taking the path of least resistance, and sitting idly on the conveyor belt you were plopped on.  It’s not where it takes you that matters as much as who decided to go there.  If it was not your decision, you will never find fulfillment from it.

Suffering with and without purpose

Suffering is terrible.  It can also be valuable, in the same way the physical sensation of pain is valuable.  Without it we would soon die of unattended wounds.  Because pain is valuable doesn’t mean it’s noble or to be sought.  Psychological suffering is the same.

To suffer is no noble deed.  If the suffering is avoidable it’s a worthless or even cowardly thing to suffer.  If the suffering is unavoidable your response to it can be heroic.  There is nothing heroic about the suffering itself, but heroism can be found in someone who chooses to respond by finding meaning in unavoidable suffering.

Do not mistake your suffering for heroism.  If it’s at all avoidable, the heroic thing to do is to escape from it.  If not, create purpose in it.

There is no right decision

There is no decision that will give you purpose.  Your life is not a series of binary choices, with the door on the left leading to meaninglessness and the door on the right leading to purposefulness.  What you choose at each juncture of your life matters little compared to the fact that you, not someone else, choose.  You can’t find a perfect version of your purposeful life.  You have to create it by the undivided, definite choices you make.  Consciously choose to do things you value and find meaningful.  Consciously exit those that aren’t.  It doesn’t matter what you choose so much as that you choose.  Complaining about a path someone else pushed you down and against which you did not resist will not do.

Purposeful living is a process of exploration, experimentation, feedback, adjustment, and joy in the midst of it.  There is no pressure to get it right because there is no right.  There is better and worse, as determined by you.  It requires self-knowledge and self-honesty to find your own scale of better and worse.  It requires courage to abide by it.

Are you the 2%?

At any given moment 98% of us will choose – or rather not  choose – to live by default.  It is only the 2% who decide with definite purpose to act according to their own wishes who are really living.  How often are you among them?

The Expedition of Our Age

unnamedNothing is guaranteed.  There is no plan or path that can ensure the kind of life you want.  There are only opportunities with varying degrees of risk.  And sometimes the least risky opportunities are also those least likely to result in fulfillment.  The great success stories are the result of daring expedition and pursuit of unique goals.

There was a time when a college education was something of an adventure.  It was exclusive, not easy to get, and signaled something special.  Leaving your home town for a university was a big deal, a great expedition.  This is no longer true.  Going to college is not difficult today.  It’s not elite or rare.  Most young people can easily travel and live away from their home towns and many have even before college.  Today, college isn’t much of an adventure.  In fact, it attracts some of the most risk averse individuals, and perhaps paradoxically the higher ranked the school often the more risk averse its students.

There is a small but growing number of young people who see this and they’ve got the itch.  They go to college only to realize it’s a warmed over version of all the years of safe, institutional schooling they’ve just completed.  No one will question their decision to go.  No one will call them crazy.  The risk of flunking out is as minuscule as the risk of standing out.  The sense of adventure is gone, replaced with a sense of perpetual adolescence and paternalistic planning.

Those with the itch for real adventure realize that no one is going to give it to them.  The prefabricated social life and conveyor-belt career track isn’t enough.  If they want to embark on a daring expedition, they’ll have to do it themselves.  The great secret is that it’s far easier than anyone imagines.  All the resources exist already within arms reach.  Anything in the world you want to learn or do, anyone you want to meet, any personal challenge you want to give yourself, any skill you want to devote yourself to: they’re all doable, without anyone’s permission.

The world is waiting.  It won’t be found on dorm room couches.  It won’t be found in cinder block classrooms.  It won’t be given to those who simply follow the rules and don’t upset the apple cart.  It will be discovered – it will be created – by those daring enough to seek adventure and live life on their own terms.

The geographical territory of the earth has been largely discovered.  But we’re only on the borderlands of human potential.  It lies before us vast, untamed, full of mystery and possibility.  It will be explored by those brave enough.  No special qualifications are needed beyond courage, self-honesty, a hunger for self-knowledge, and willingness to break the mold.

The great expedition of our age is the self-created journey; the self-directed life.