Nicole, Student and Aspiring OB/GYN, CA
Imagine your child (or one you care about deeply) is now in their 30s – out of school and starting into adult life. What do you hope for them about their life? What would make it a ‘good’ life?
I think what would make a good life is if you felt fulfilled, and if you didn't feel like you were stagnant. To me, I think if you're stagnant, and you're stuck in a routine that doesn't end, then that really voids a lot of things. And this of course is assuming that you have everything else accounted for (food and shelter). But if you can participate in some kind of employment that brings you joy and makes you think and inspires you, and you're able to relate to the people around you in a deeper and more emotionally satisfying way, then I think that would be a good life.
I also think that part of finding fulfillment and finding joy is learning how to not compare yourself to other people. It can make people incredibly miserable if they're always stacking themselves up against others who are in their same age range who have done such and such, or who went a different route. I think if you are able to compare yourself to yourself, then you can find a lot more happiness in your life.
Do you think everyone agrees with you about what a good life is?
No. I think that a lot of people [at Stanford especially] like to quantify happiness, and to quantify success, whether that is a salary, or the level of your position. It is more about attainment than anything else. That’s what I see a lot of people describing as a good life—it’s loud, it’s lavish, and it looks good on social media.
What role do you think schooling should play in achieving that ideal good life?
I think one of the best things that schooling can do is introduce you to ideas and to people that believe different things and are fundamentally different from you. Because I think that forces you to get out of whatever little box you were so comfortable in, and to actually learn. So much of what learning is now is about memorization and skills, instead of being conceptual or being a building block—something to expound upon. And I think we're missing that.
And it's hard, because when you're really really young you do need to learn all kinds of skills just to be able to function. But, at a certain point, I hope you can look back and say "oh, everything has been building on itself so that I am able to shift paradigms or pretend that I am this person for a minute and be able to see the world in a different, more creative way.”
Do you think everyone agrees with you about the role of schooling within that?
And what do you think are some other common perceptions or ideas around schooling?
That it's a dog eat dog world, and your schooling should keep you competitive. It should give you an edge, and it should allow you to eat all the other competitors around you so that you can come out on top.
What is the purpose of education?
I think education is there to get you to the place where you can be the best possible version of yourself. I think it looks different for different people. For example, in Germany and in France you get to a certain point in the education system where some people are going to go into higher education, and others are going to learn more technical skills. And it's not looked down upon if you go to one or the other—you go to the place that suits you. Someone's going to be a better pilot, someone else is going to be a better business man, someone is going to be a great scuba dive instructor. I think education should get you to a place where you feel fulfilled and you feel happy, and where you're not just comparing yourself to other people who do very well on a conveyor belt.