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Monday, December 5, 2016

Go Learn Something New and Maximize Life

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As the end of the semester approaches at Carnegie Mellon and most people are frantically stressing to maximize their exam scores next week, I’m hanging out at Starbuck’s writing after a long walk down Forbes and Murray. I’m not looking to gloat that my workload is less than that of others (because it’s not) but rather to point out a change in priorities in my life that has led me to be more successful in life.

Because of the type of people it attracts, CMU has one of the most unique atmospheres in the world, and it’s caused me to meet more interesting people and gain more interesting experiences than I could’ve ever imagined. However, one of the things that I can’t help but notice is the large amount of the population that spends much more time in the books they are given than is necessary with the wrong motivations. So many people do this for grades alone (and in many cases, it doesn't even change their grades), when they could be doing something much more productive with their time.

I’m not trying to say you should minimize your time learning. What I’m saying is the complete opposite. You should maximize your time learning. If you stick to the books that are handed to you alone, you won’t discover much more than the person sitting next to you. However, today, we’re fortunate to have something unique that generations upon generations of people before us have not had access to: all of the knowledge in the world at the touch of our fingers. 

I can open up a website, spend a few hours, and learn almost anything in the world. When I needed to learn web development, I fired up a web development course on Udemy and taught myself at a rate faster than I’ve learned in almost any conventionally taught course. While the classroom can provide a number of benefits and I can’t discredit many of the great courses I’ve taken during my time at Carnegie Mellon, the Internet can in many ways be even more powerful, as you’re no longer confined to the syllabus.

This leads me to my greater point. The K-12 and college path has led so many people into following the conventional path. It’s the mindset that you should study only the books that are given to you to get good grades, so you get a job at your dream corporation, can afford a two bedroom house with a white picket fence, and ultimately end up riding your lawnmower through a suburban neighborhood. After you achieve all that is the American Dream, you slowly decay, until you grow old, end up in a retirement home, and finally, hope that you have a large group of people in attendance at your funeral.

By describing this, I didn’t mean to make life sound like some depressing path that you can’t escape. For me, it’s the complete opposite and if you find yourself going down this path, you too can escape. My largest fear in life is not death; it’s failing to live by failing to continue to learn. I wake up every day thinking, how can I maximize my day so that I can become the greatest person possible while enjoying it? This completely new mindset is the product of a decision that I made to begin writing every day. Each night, I pull out my phone before heading to bed, write a few paragraphs, and reflect on my day. One of my new goals has been filling this digital journal with diverse experiences and things that make me really think about why I do what I do.

That time we slept in Project Olympus two nights straight.
This new mindset in life has led to many questions from the people around me. Why did you build that app? Was it for a class? Why are you traveling there? Why are you spending a Saturday night at the bar with friends when you could be working? What they don’t realize is that each of these decisions that I’ve made that have went against conventional thinking have turned me into the person that I am today and have caused me to learn way more than I would otherwise. If I would’ve stuck to the conventional path, I wouldn’t be the engineer, writer, entrepreneur, or person that I am today.

For me, I don’t think of what will maximize my conventional success but what will maximize success in my eyes. Stepping foot on every continent, finally releasing an app on the App Store, and seeing something that I created fills me with more happiness than any grade could.

Don’t take this as an excuse to throw away classes; you shouldn’t. I’ve gained a lot from many of the great courses that I’ve taken at Carnegie Mellon, and you should in fact study for your final. You can gain a lot of skills that will help you in the future through classes, but you won’t actually learn anything unless you apply these skills.

There are so many cool things to discover in Pittsburgh, like this random ketchup triceratops.
However, if you have an hour or two free during the most stressful time of the semester, maximize it. Go step foot in a new part of the city that you’ve never seen. Go check out something new you’ve always wanted to learn. Do something just because you want to, not because it’s required for some class. Go maximize your time and live life to the fullest.
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