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The North Wind

The North Wind

The North Wind

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Rachel Pott
Rachel Pott
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I am a marketing major about to start my second year at Northern Michigan University, however, this will be my third year in college. I previously attended a small community college...

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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Pizza Cat Vol. 9
Pizza Cat Vol. 9
Deirdre Northrup-Riesterer April 17, 2024

Professor’s Corner: On defining our own successes and going after them

In honor of this column I’m doing my best to conjure up the professorial. I practiced a bit in the mirror this morning, tried to capture that raised-eyebrow look that says: I’m a wellspring of dynamism and intellect and searing good humor—the true depths of which are known only to me, perhaps my mom—hiding just beneath the elbow patches of a tweed blazer.

Josh MacIvor-Andersen

That’s how everyone sees us, right? Right?

The truth is I’m an unlikely prof. I do have tweed, yes, but I never even finished my freshman year of high school. Success back then wasn’t a diploma but instead how many times I could witness Jerry Garcia call down the heavens using only nine fingers on a guitar named Lightning Bolt.

Life, though, is profoundly seasonal. It can be wonderfully zig-zaggy, as long as you let it. Here I am, for example, suddenly sort of bona fide.

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I spend a lot of time these days talking with graduating English majors looking eagerly, sometimes trepidatiously, occasionally with abject horror at their next steps. Will it be graduate school or job applications or should you finally buy that falafel cart you’ve always wanted and park it out front of Ore Dock?

Mostly these questions are probed amidst the crushing weight of debt (how many falafels until you hit 60 grand?). I see students hung on the horns of a dilemma, so to speak—hamstrung between obligation and opportunity, the full stomach and the open road. Legitimate concerns. But for me the conversation must begin by wrestling a little with ideas of success and what it means to live a rich, meaningful (i.e. full of meaning) life.

Only then do we workshop resumes and cover letters.

The truth is, many students feel immense pressure to make life choices based on a matrix of success completely external to themselves. Instead of organically born of the values and vision of the individual student, success is frequently defined by societal, familial and economic pressures, all of which threaten to exclusively dictate what’s next.

But I keep coming back to David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech to graduating seniors at Kenyon College, where he reminded those gathered that they are the ones who must consciously decide what has meaning, and they alone must filter through the detritus of society’s lowercase gods in order to choose what to worship:

“If you worship money and things—if they are where you tap real meaning in life—then you will never have enough. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. Worship power—you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart—you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.”

If you’re paying any attention, you’ll see a shower of life philosophies hurling toward you as you move closer to graduation. It will be suggested that you follow your bliss, or that that’s bullsh*t, or that it really is okay for success to be material, or that less is more and what matters is a tiny house with a composting toilet.

There will also be many conflicting ideas on the nature of this education you’ve invested in, from a key to unlock the door of a career, to a rich foundation that helps you be a more holistic human being regardless of how you pay the bills, to something you did simply to avoid cutting grass for the rest of your life and keep Mom and D ad off your back.

I have plenty of my own galvanized ideas of what success means, most of which center on kindness to others.

But I’m increasingly concerned that too many students fail to dig deep enough for their own bedrock, and instead default into grooves tilled by others.

My hope is that students are attentive to the familial, wise concerning the economic, and informed of the societal—these, after all, contribute to one’s individual sense of values—but ultimately see these as partial filters through which they must discern their own definition of success.

That definition is everything. It will guide a next step, illuminate a here or there, whisper whether or not to zig or zag or keep your trajectory as straight as jetstream. As long as you let it, that is. As long as you lean in and listen close.

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