During time in college, happiness counts

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As a new student at Carnegie Mellon, the statistics indicate that you have good numbers. Your SATs, your ACTs, your GPA, your IB or AP scores — all of them are almost certainly topflight.

And while your time here has just begun, I wager that a lot of you are also anticipating good numbers once you’ve graduated, in the form of a high salary or, at the very least, a number of job opportunities knocking at your door.

And now I’m here to tell you not to sweat the numbers. Of course, you can’t ignore your GPA entirely, and I understand that for those going into a STEM field, the majority of your coursework will, in fact, involve numbers.

Numbers, of course, matter, and you should take steps to ensure that you have the best ones you can manage, especially if you intend to enter a graduate program. Despite that, numbers don’t measure the most important indicators of the value of your time spent here.

If at any point you’re not happy, or at least content, you should reconsider how you’re spending your time. Measure your life qualitatively, not quantitatively.

If nothing makes you happier than good grades, then by all means pursue them, but be thorough and explore other avenues. Take some courses that don’t count toward your intended course of study. Take them not just because they fill general education requirements, but because they interest you. Go to museums, parties, and places you’ve never been before.

Remember, even if you find yourself pulling six figures at the end of this decade, beginning with these next four years, it won’t matter if that money does not allow you to be happy.

It’s better to be a happy truck driver than a miserable millionaire (although there’s nothing wrong with aspiring to be a happy millionaire).

You should learn about things that exist beyond the classroom just as much as you need to study for your next test. Interacting with people in social settings, navigating interpersonal drama, and discovering yourself and the world around you are at least as important as developing the skills you will need in your intended field.

Beyond leading a more fulfilling existence, these life skills are what will give you upward mobility in many organizations. Simply being a skilled programmer, engineer, musician, architect, statistician, writer, or any other kind of professional will only get you so far. High technical skill will get you a job, but interpersonal skill and an ability to understand and empathize with others, as well as an understanding of how messy life can get, is what will make you a leader.

If you are content to do one thing well and to not look far beyond that, then by all means do so.

But take advantage of the opportunity for personal growth presented to you at Carnegie Mellon. The university itself will give you a very useful set of skills with quantifiable applications, and while that might make professional life easier to live, it is what happens outside of the classroom and outside of the work itself that will ultimately make life worth living.