Culture

A Samurai’s perspective on college

I loved college. Getting my degree after the Army was one of the happiest and most fun times I’ve had since getting out of the military — I love to learn, I enjoy pushing my limits in new ways, and I didn’t really have a chip on my shoulder about being among college students after the Army (in fact, I met a few really great people in school). Not to mention, it was a relatively stress-free time, especially having just left Ranger Battalion.

I was there to learn more about literature, and I read all the assigned books as well as additional material; I can’t express how valuable that stuff has been to me. The electives I picked — Anthropology 101, the History of Life (planet formation, evolution, basic biology, etc.), and Celtic History — were interesting and complimented my overall education a great deal.

But did it really do anything for me?

Before I keep going, I have to say that I went through school after the military, so debt wasn’t on my mind. In fact, I was getting paid to go. And granted I went when I was a bit older, and having been an adult for a while I relished the chance to learn things I didn’t know (I did not have that attitude straight out of high school).

As much as these things are valuable to me, they mean nothing if I do nothing with them. I have always viewed education as a tool, a means to an end, not the end itself.

Look at it this way: money is great, and it takes work and discipline to make and store loads and loads of money in the bank — but what’s the point if you never do anything with it? If you never contribute to the society and those around you? If you never better the life of your own family? Piles of gold mean nothing if you just sit on top of them.

There is a trap in academia, and it’s convincing you that getting the degree is the end goal. Getting a degree is an accomplishment, there is no doubt about that, but it’s an accomplishment in the sense that building a great, elegant sword is an accomplishment. It might give you experience in the realm of blacksmithing, and it might look great on your wall, but ultimately it really depends on what you do with it.

Like experience in the military, virtues like discipline, a hard work ethic, or overall intelligence — tools in your toolbox — are only good if you use them.

That might not mean you use your degree (or the other tools I listed) in the way you initially thought. You might not roll right into a cushy engineering job, you may not get into the master’s program you wanted, and you may not become a doctor, as you initially planned. But your skills go into your toolbox, and despite how difficult it was, despite how much of an accomplishment it was, it’s up to you to use it in some way. It’s up to you to decide if it was all a big waste of time summed up in a piece of paper on your wall.

Am I out here making boatloads of money from my literature degree? No. But I don’t measure my success by dollars made, and I do still consistently work in the field of writing, as I had hoped. The road into the future twists and turns, and I aim to use the tools in my toolbox to my advantage.

Maybe you didn’t find yourself in the same field as your degree at all — many literature majors find this to be the case. Even some technical degree holders find themselves at the mercy of the opportunities afforded to them in their hometown, which may be limited.

But these things can still be useful, if you let them. Writers can write in their free time, and that writing may resonate with a couple people in their inner circle. It may not change the whole world, but it might change one person’s world. The same goes for anyone with any skill.

What skills in your toolbox are going to waste?

This is not a new school of thought, just a modern interpretation of old ideas. The Samurai were known as both scholars and warriors, greatly esteemed as masters in both fields. The warrior class in our modern, Western society seems to want to be separate from the academic side for many reasons, many of which are cultural and value-based, and I won’t get into that here.

Knowledge of any kind — whether it’s garnered from life experience, academia, personal reading, or some other method of absorbing information — means nothing until it materializes. When that happens, it turns into something called wisdom. And at the end of the day, wisdom is the goal because wisdom is always practical.

If the title is what drew you in here, I’ll satiate your desire for the Samurai angle. Here is an excerpt from Inazo Nitobe’s The Way of the Samurai. At this point in the book, Nitobe has just explained that a pure academic would be looked down upon by the Samurai if the knowledge in the academic’s head had not yet been “assimilated in the mind of the learner and show[n] in his character.”

“Bushido made light of knowledge as such. It was not pursued as an end in itself, but as a means to the attainment of wisdom. Hence, he who stopped short of this end was regarded no higher than a convenient machine, which could turn out poems and maxims at bidding. Thus, knowledge was conceived as identical with its practical application in life; and this Socratic doctrine found its greatest exponent in the Chinese philosopher, Wan Yang Ming, who never wearies of repeating, ‘To know and to act are one and the same.’”

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Mason
Member
Mason

Exactly. I have gone far and wide with my Degree Luke. Doing things now that were not even part of my original education. For me the degree was just a stepping stone, to show folks I had the discipline, and the ability to carry through. I didn’t expect a cushy job, I was grateful to just get a job. I have never taken a job for granted. All the degree did was show the potential employer I had mastered some basics in life. Discipline to a certain point, and the ability to finish something I started. Everything after that was… Read more »

clluelo
Member
clluelo

That is how I look at degrees also, it show that you can stick through and finish a project . They are a good baseline not a end , we have much more learning to do in life

Miche
Member
Miche

But man, it sure does feel good when you get to spend time doing that thing you learned….and get paid for it, haha!

Mic-Mac
Member
Mic-Mac

What you write is so true Luke. College was just a beginning and got me through the door. At the time I just had a Community College degree in Business. I graduated high school at eighteen like most teenagers, but due to circumstances, left home the day after graduation. After eight years of marriage and two babies, at twenty-seven I went back to school full time, worked full time as a waitress, and tried to be a full-time wife and mother. I never actually received my bachelor’s degree but I continued taking classes for over 20 years. Some to advance… Read more »

Mic-Mac
Member
Mic-Mac

LOL, one area of learning is with this new MacBook Air. I have always used Windows-driven and I am old enough to recall using dos commands. But the LIKE THIS above works from my iPhone, my windows computer, but not from this damn MacBook. Obviously, it is a setting.

rynosbucket
Member
rynosbucket

Hey, I like your thinking. Good Stuff. 😀

GsGirl
Guest
GsGirl

My degree in healthcare allowed me to spend time in every state in this Nation, save for three. I am blessed to read your work. I am thankful that you fought for my freedom that allowed me to travel this gorgeous country. Have driven Cross Country 10 times. It all started with that degree. So pleased that you are recovering from your surgery. You look great in the Recovery Room!!!😃

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