Last week, Dave Kurz wrote about finding truths, “absolute and bound up with goodness,” and using them to decide how to live our lives. To me, however, there is very little in the way of absolute truth or of knowing absolute truths, and there is certainly no absolute goodness. So looking for absolute truth in the world isn’t going to get you far in terms of finding out what is “good” and what is not or what you should and should not do. It shouldn’t dictate what you do in the world, and it certainly shouldn’t dictate what you do here.
For example, I think there is this large and somewhat absolute conception of “success” that floats around this campus. Often, as a community, we are characterized as these pursuers of success, “… a culture of overachieving,” as Cameron Langford called it in her article. Some praise us for it, while others lament our ostensible neuroticism toward working hard or taking on perhaps too much. I have nothing to say as far as how much a person should do or the manner in which he does those things. He knows what makes him happy much better than I ever could.
But I will say that we collectively tend to take ambition too seriously sometimes. We tend to take other people’s ambitions too seriously and to contextualize ourselves within it. Yes, I think ambition is necessary. Yes, I think it is good. But to what extent does it dictate our lives in a necessary way? Do we inflate views of success for each other? There is no absolute or “good” way to live your life, at least insofar as anyone or anything else can tell you. The same goes with the level of “success” we think we are obligated to achieve.
Kurz also talked about “intellectual opportunity” at Princeton. People here are often talking about “opportunity” or “intellectual opportunities.” Many say we have it, that this campus is teeming with it, that we would be fools not to grab the opportunities around us and shake them for everything they are worth. Often, this strikes me as taking opportunity for the mere sake of taking opportunity. Yes, you should recognize the opportunities around you. They exist, and maybe they apply to you. But don’t worry so much about them. Certainly don’t worry too much about missing some (or, in the larger context, most) of them.
Don’t ask your professors a question simply because they are considered important, because you want to say something to that person who is considered a pretty big deal. Ask a question because you genuinely have something to ask. Don’t allow people or things to be important to you for no other reason than that other people find them important.
College may not get you anywhere in knowing about “truth” or knowing about yourself. It might; it might not. Don’t think you have to do anything other than learn about the things in which you are interested. Don’t worry that you are missing out on “intellectual opportunities” or that you aren’t hobnobbing with the right people or applying to companies with the right name.
Perhaps we take some things a bit too seriously here. Bicker and club life. Hookup culture. There is no absolute to dictate the way you live your life here. It’s ridiculous of us to think that we can offer some absolute opinion on the way these aspects of our Princeton lives should proceed. Don’t spend your four years on what other people tell you is or is not good, for what opportunities they think you should take or how they think you should spend your time. They wouldn’t know.
As far as seeking out truths that address the fundamental questions related to life, the universe and ourselves, well, I’m inclined to disagree with Kurz on that subject. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: You are probably not going to unlock many truths about yourself, let alone life and the universe. And that’s OK. Just learn to do something for yourself, rather than believing that there is some absolute anything that you should achieve with your life.
Kinnari Shah is a chemical and biological engineering major from Washington, N.J. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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