Existential Fortune Cookies: Time machines and the bubble

Opinion by Sebastain Gould
March 2, 2012, 12:28 a.m.

Existential Fortune Cookies: Time machines and the bubbleI have been told repeatedly not to make gross generalizations about the state of the world and the beliefs of millions I’ve never met before. This time, I will make a justifiable exception to the rule. I think people generally do not have a desire to die; this is evident because so many people are alive today. People like to live.


This desire to live is a very peculiar thing. While there is only one opposite to living, there is an unimaginable number of ways in which to not die. What fascinates me then, is the many different ways in which people choose to live. Let’s look at two common phrases: Is the “unexamined life not worth living” as Socrates says, or is “ignorance bliss”?


While I can’t tell you which choice is better, I can tell you one thing: how I choose to live.


Stanford has afforded me the opportunity to explore the world with little recourse. I could go abroad, not go abroad, read books all day or just sleep in. At the end of the day, there is still a sense of security because at least until I graduate, Stanford isn’t going anywhere. This sense of security leads us all to believe that the world is waiting for us to take charge of it. We learn more than our friends from back home, we learn more than our parents ever did. Some may even think that we learn more than students at other top-tier universities. But at the end of the day, that learning takes place under this sense of security.


When you think of Stanford students, you see them working hard, overachieving and, well, thriving. It isn’t easy, but in a way it is blissful. You don’t think of someone failing. At Stanford we can have that sense of security–ignorance, even–because there is no one there warning us about failure. Everything and everyone around us indicates that we will succeed no matter what.


When I left Stanford, I felt that security evaporate. I joined the Marine Corps, but that wasn’t the hardest part. The hardest part was being unable to find a part-time job when I returned from Iraq, while I was waiting to come back to school. No one would hire me, even as a short-order cook. The idea that I might not be able to get a job to feed myself, and would consequently be unable to return to Stanford, was frightening. In the end, I did find a part-time job and I did come back to Stanford, but before those events happened, I had no way of knowing they would take place. I tell you this because I’ve realized that I will have to face that same uncertainty again, but this time when I graduate. How will I act, then?


The answer, of course, is simple, but the process is difficult. The danger we all face by being in this Stanford bubble is that if we ever do fail, we are unprepared. We could sit all day and convince ourselves that we will succeed, but if we do fail, it can be devastating. What we should do is think about what it means to fail. Instead of being ignorant about the potentiality of failure, we should consider what we would do if we don’t succeed in our endeavors. This is where the idea of an examined life becomes very important.


In preparing for graduation I encourage you all to do as I have: consider what would happen if you fail. If you have never failed before, over-commit yourself while you’re here to the point that you fail at something. Then examine that failure, and prepare yourself for a future outside the Stanford bubble of security.


Never failed in your entire life? Think that fate doesn’t want you to succeed? Let Sebastain know at sjgould “at” stanford “dot” edu.

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