Way back in the Fall of 1989, I began my career in college at the University of Oklahoma. Like many graduating high school students, college seemed like the next step in life. During my senior year, I was encouraged to consider various possible futures and to attempt to plot a path towards one of those futures, through a degree program at a university. In the last 5 years, my wife and I have had the privilege of helping our two oldest children navigate this process and we’re currently working with our youngest to help him make his own decisions for the summer of 2023.
Making these decisions is a lot more complicated than when I went about it, more than 30 years ago. The amount of information that is available to prospective students is staggering. When I decided that I wanted to study journalism with a path to potentially becoming a sports journalist (since you don’t see my name on ESPN, you can probably guess how that panned out) it was difficult to find any information about potential schools to apply to. I chose to send my ACT test scores to 4 schools, 2 in my state and 2 out of state and ultimately ended up applying to only one college.
Today, many people apply to dozens of universities and it is possible to learn more about a university on the other side of the world from your computer than I could by a short visit to the campus made my senior year. The costs have exploded as well and even though it seems like going to college is the normal thing for almost any academically oriented high school student to pursue, these rising costs should give anyone pause before making a final decision. Especially when there are many valuable career options open to those who never attend a traditional university.
My time at the University of Oklahoma was very important to me. I did learn a thing or two in the classroom and some of my professors were very helpful in training me in valuable thinking and writing skills, which I continue to use even to this day (maybe even more now that writing is a part of my daily schedule). I have several good, enduring friendships that were forged there and I appreciate the experiences during my time, but there is something surprising when I think about the most important things I learned while I was in university. The thing is, the most valuable lessons from that period of my life didn’t have to do with anything that the school provided, but instead were related to the people I met and the experiences we had together, both learning from each other and other people. The ironic thing is, I could have learned these things without ever being in a university setting.
Like many important things in life, the people we choose to spend time with impacts our life as much as anything. Surrounding yourself with some people can have them acting like an anchor, always pulling you down or even leaving damage that takes years to undo, if at all. The Bible even talks about this in 1 Corinthians 15:33 – “Don’t fool yourselves. Bad friends will destroy you.” (CEV)
The contrast of this is what I experienced for most of my time in college. I met good friends, including older, more mature people who could serve as mentors in my life, and those relationships led me to build my life around principles of Truth, which continue to serve me well every day of my life. I graduated from OU with a BA in English Literature and a minor in History, but more importantly, I finished my time there having laid many essential bricks in the foundation of my life. Here are 5 of the most important ones:
- Spend time in God’s Word every day. At the very beginning of University, I met upper classmen who took this seriously. They were able to talk about what they learned from the Bible that day, not just what they heard in a sermon on Sunday. The Bible is the main means by which God communicates Truth to His followers. If we want to have access to the wisdom of the one true God of the universe, the best thing we can do is to follow the words of the Joshua and “meditate on it day and night.” (Joshua 1:8) It helps build the lens through which we can properly see the world. This biblical worldview will help guide us away from the unnecessary suffering brought about by our own foolish choices.
- Invest in the eternal, not in the temporary. At a spring break conference in Colorado Springs, a speaker challenged us that only 2 things that we interact with in this world last forever, God’s Truth and human souls. We live our lives on this earth surrounded by many, many things that won’t matter in a day, in a year, or in a few years, but people aren’t one of them. God made us all for eternity and when we realize that every person we interact with is another eternal traveler, created in the image of God, that can’t help but change our perspective. I can’t say I’ve always interacted with everyone I meet in this way, but looking at the world in this way is something that I have kept as a goal from that time on. “For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” (1 Corinthians 15:53:ESV)
- How to continue to get along with people you disagree with. Over my 4 years at OU, I had 6 different roommates. (if you don’t count the Pakistani Muslim I lived with for less than a week while his housing was being shuffled around) I lived with people older than me, younger than me, and about the same age and there were a wide range of personality types across that spectrum. When you live with someone, you don’t always get along and you often disagree, but learning to work through those difficulties and remain friends even when that happens is an essential life skill. I can honestly say I have fond memories of my times living with every one of my roommates (okay, maybe not the first one, randomly assigned by OU Housing, but wherever you are Brian, I hope you finally got it together). “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” (Proverbs 19:11:ESV)
- Having a good Church and community of faith is more important to your life than where you ultimately get a job. This is one of those that is hard to believe unless you’ve lived it out or seen it lived out. It is often tempting to make your life and career decisions based on where you can make the most money or see the greatest personal success, but I’m telling you right now that if you move away from the spiritual and emotional support that a healthy church provides, you will suffer far more than if you end up in a job that you don’t like. This decision will impact you personally, but also your family and your marriage. Don’t neglect this one. “Let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another…” (Hebrews 10:25:NLT)
- What you learn is not as important as who you become. We are all made for meaning, for purpose. We aren’t designed to live a life centered on ourselves and only our own personal benefit. Whatever our path, we are more than just our knowledge and the things we have learned. We are all living human souls, who exist for eternity and we should make decisions today that will lead to the place we want to go and the person we want to be. Be who God created you to be, a wondrous child of the King of all creation, living for His Glory as we move towards sanctification. “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9:ESV)
I graduated from University in 1993, almost 30 years ago and somewhere I have a diploma that testifies to that fact. That qualifies me for some things. Maybe someone would hire me because of that degree. Maybe I would have respect from some people because of the work it represents. But it is not representative of the most important things I learned in those four years. Instead, the things above and many other things are much more important. They “qualify” me to be a better friend, husband, father, and member of whatever community I happen to be a part of. Instead of human wisdom, they help represent Christ in me, the hope of glory.