the virtues of overachieving
I don’t like people. I never have, and I never will, but even so, I’m forced to admit that I’ve met a remarkable number who are interesting, even amazing. It’s almost disgusting how you can take a bag of awards, accomplishments, skills, and hobbies, pick out a few at random, and bam! You’ve just made another Stanford student. Blue-haired product designer who welds things and does ballet? Bam, she exists, I have met her. A Googler who writes trophy-winning AIs in his spare time? Bam, he exists too. I know a lot of partnered dancers who excel at dance and some other esoteric field, mostly because that’s my hobby, dance, but I’ve met a harpist who does wushu. There are plenty of other combos out there.
I was hanging out with two of those annoyingly accomplished Stanford students a few years ago, and since they were old enough to be thinking about leaving the warm cocoon of Stanford’s campus, talk turned to the job market. They were mechanical engineers, not programmers, so their job security was somewhat uncertain. I said, tentatively, “Well, what about not doing engineering?” Andy they replied in nigh unison, “I couldn’t bear the thought of wasting my education.”
This story, mundane as it is, haunts me. Why? I’ll be the first to admit that Stanford is too expensive for the kind of useless, traditional liberal arts education that I value so highly. If you buy it, you have to use it.
What bothers me, I think, and I don’t believe my friends meant to imply this at all, of course, but what bothers me is that it seemed like another outbreak of a strong sentiment that it’s not enough to just be a good person. To live well, to do no harm, to help others–lauded, but hardly prioritized, and never given the same status as “achieving one’s potential,” whatever that means.
Though I must admit, I am lazy. I am a Type B, all the way. Meeting ambitious, accomplished people tires me out. The pressure to achieve, to be interesting, to be unique, suffocates me sometimes. It all seems so draining, and it is so, so very unnecessary. We don’t live in a kind or just world, and living up to one’s potential as a decent citizen of the world will do a lot more good than being a champion fencer who built a bipedal robot for his PhD thesis.