The Purpose of College

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I’ve spent the last four years of my life as a student of the University of Texas. So now that I’m graduating, what have I actually learned? Well the truth is, I could easily have condensed my ‘textbook education’ of facts and figures from the last 8 semesters into the span of 6 months. But the purpose of college is so much greater than what I was taught in the classroom. 

In my eyes, the overall purpose of college was not about understanding business principles and memorizing marketing terminology, it was about learning how to learn. It was about learning time management and learning how and what to prioritize. It was about learning who I was and what I stand for; about learning how to be in a relationship and not assuming I’ll get it right the first time around. It was about writing the first real chapter of my life, and it was about learning how to make it as interesting and meaningful as possible. It was a beautiful time of discovery and a time that I won’t get to repeat.

With all of that said, I do have advice for anyone willing to listen.

  • Dont’s:
    • The most important piece of advice that I have is not to leave your choice of friends up to fate. Choose wisely and carefully the people that you surround yourself with, and try to befriend someone from every grade.
    • Don’t ever ever let yourself be bored. The things you’ll regret after college are the things you didn’t do, so make time for new experiences. Seek out cool stories and memories!
    • Whatever you do, do not allow grades or salary to determine your value or worth. If you do find yourself tied up with grades or career development, know that prayer, not drugs and alcohol, is always the best way to relieve stress.
    • Every man wants to talk about what matters, but no one wants to start the conversation. Don’t be afraid to start the conversation.
    • Don’t take shortcuts. Learn the smartcuts instead.
    • Don’t shy away from non-fiction books just because you hate your textbook. Reading is the quickest way to accumulate several lifetime’s worth of knowledge in your short time here on earth.
    • Don’t ever say no to a road-trip.
  • Do’s:
    • Always go into public dressed like you are about to meet the love of your life.
    • Find something to be passionate about early on, and stick with it. It’s important to always have a personal project that you can work on outside of school.
    • Join an organized community that matters to you.
    • Be young and fun while you can. Cultivate a youthful spirit: one that never ceases to question, wonder, laugh, love, or get up on the table and sing.
    • The best way to balance your social life, university grades, spiritual life, and physical health is to combine them. Study with friends, listen to sermons while at the gym, join a missional community at church and cram for tests while going on a walk.
    • Step out of your comfort zone and improve yourself in some way every week. Daily goal-setting is the best way to stay accountable. 
    • I cannot stress enough the importance of writing things down and documenting. Pictures don’t capture everything.

Live A Great Story

“Sometimes you have to go out of your way to get into trouble–its called fun.” – Robin Williams (Good Morning Vietnam)

Societies have survived decades without math, but never has there been a society that didn’t tell stories. It seems crazy, but it makes sense because life doesn’t come to us like a math problem; it comes to us the way a story does, scene by scene. In fact, stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful and meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact, and they are good medicine in times of trouble and adversity. It’s the reason why “fine” is just not a good enough answer when someone asks how your weekend or winter break was. Nobody wants to or even cares to remember the easy stories.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the point of life is the same as the point of a story, which is character transformation. If the character doesn’t change, the story hasn’t happened yet. It’s ridiculous how much of our lives are spent trying to avoid conflict; half of the commercials on television are selling us something that will make life easier. Part of me wonders if our stories aren’t being stolen by the easy life, because the truth is, great stories need a little disadvantage and discomfort. A person has to go on strange adventures to build up a list of stories. He has to jump off bridges and go for midnight swims, travel to new places and stand in empty deserts, engage in rambling conversations with strangers, and eventually allow himself to fall in love. The ambitions we have will become the stories we live, so if you want to know what a person’s story is about, just ask them what they want.

If you ask me, I want my life to be a testimony to the joy that can be found in spontaneous living. I want to live in a way that inspires people to find out who they are uniquely made to be and what they are uniquely designed to do. I want to live a great story with my life that leaves a beautiful feeling even as the credits roll. And that’s exactly why I created this blog and my travel website in the first place. When I look back on my life, I want to remember the crazy things I did, and all the times I worked harder to make a day stand out. I even started capturing each of my memories in a journal I call “Days to Remember” to make sure that I am filling my life with plenty of memorable scenes.

I find it interesting that in the book of Ecclesiastes, the only practical advice given about living a meaningful life is to find a job you like, enjoy your marriage, and obey God. It’s as though God is saying, “Write a good story; take somebody with you, and let me help.” I know that one day, I’ll tell all of my stories to God and I bet he’ll laugh. He’ll remind me of the parts I forgot, and then he’ll explain what it all means as we sit and remember my story together. We get one story, you and I, and one story alone. God has established the elements, the setting, the climax and the resolution, and all we need to do is fill in the story. In that case, it would be a crime not to venture out, now wouldn’t it?

20 Lessons in 20 Years

Lisbon, portugal

Hey everyone, just left the coast of Portugal and I am currently posting from Paris, France! Since I just celebrated my 20th birthday earlier this month, I decided to compile a list of 20 important lessons that I have learned during my twenty years of life. They’re totally random, but I hope you find some of them to be useful!

  1. Extended travel can cost a pretty penny, but it’s well worth every cent.
  2. There are three things that make every tough decision easier: coffee for dealing with the things that you can change, wine for accepting the things that you can’t, and wisdom for deciphering between the two.
  3. Reading is one of the best ways we can come up with answers in the short time we have here.
  4. Journals and cameras are the only two weapons we are given to fight time. Not only do they capture special memories for us to revisit, but they preserve our smiles and emotions onto a page that never forgets.
  5. True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.
  6. You can learn a lot about a person by the way they handle these three things: rainy days, heated arguments, and tangled Christmas tree lights.
  7. It is not how much we have that matters, but how much we enjoy.
  8. It’s important to never waste your wildness, because what is wild cannot be bought or sold, borrowed or copied; there is no app for that.
  9. Life is not just a matter of milestones, but also of moments. It’s not just about the birthdays, graduations, and professional achievements; it’s also about the lazy Sunday golf games, the dinner-table conversations, and the fits of laughter with friends.
  10. The most important time is now; the most important person is the one you are with; the most important act is making the person next to you happy.
  11. Stress does not come from engaging in stressful activities, its a result of forgetting to allow time for silence so that our minds can recharge.
  12. No matter what your age, there’s always something new to learn and and there’s always room for you to furnish your life and your mind with new knowledge and experiences.
  13. Substituting a good habit for a bad one is much more effective than just quitting a bad habit cold turkey.
  14. Not every day is going to offer us a chance to save someone’s life, but everyday offers us an opportunity to affect one.
  15. Fortune favors the bold, and sometimes all you need is 10 seconds of insane courage or 10 seconds of embarrassing vulnerability.
  16. There are three ingredients that will always guarantee an enjoyable evening: live music, great beer, and the company of best friends.
  17. What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.
  18. Faith means trusting in advance what will only make sense in reverse.
  19. Genuine love is unconditional rather than emotional. The person who truly loves has made a commitment to be loving whether or not the feeling of love is present.
  20. The key to a happier life is to simply enjoy the passing of time.

Go To The Edge (Travel Bucket List)

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You may be comfortable where you are right now, comfortable with the people around you and the familiarity of your own city, but I cannot emphasize enough the importance of traveling. It should be on everyone’s bucket list. Whether it involves spending several days in another continent, backpacking in the country with friends, or just getting outside the city and going on a road trip with family, every adventure is worthwhile. When exploring new ground and trying new things, all other burdens seem to slip away, and a therapeutic contentment often follows as a result of a diminishing preoccupation with oneself. Do not be mistaken, I do not see traveling as a method for escaping life, but rather I see it as a method to ensure that life does not escape me. In my eyes, it has nothing to do with gear, the backpacking fads, or even with getting from point A to point B. No, the beauty is in the walking. Traveling is about the discovery of new cultures and ideas in foreign lands and about meeting new people everywhere you go. It’s about the feeling of letting go and doing things differently than ever before. It’s about jamming a stick in the spokes of your routine, and it’s about finding a place that feeds you—creatively, socially, spiritually, and (of course) literally. In a strange way, it’s a lot like falling in love, mostly because it provides a heightened state of awareness that is undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. Without new experiences, something inside of us sleeps. So don’t waste your wildness, because it is precious and necessary. There is no app for that. What is wild cannot be bought or sold, borrowed or copied. There is so much to see, and not nearly enough time to witness it all, so travel wide and far, travel boldly, and travel with full abandon. Perhaps you dream of visiting seven continents or standing on top of a tall mountain. Narrow it down to a specific country or better yet a region or a city. Wherever it is that you dream of going, do not let price, language, or distance keep you from taking your first steps in that direction. Make a new path, travel the extra mile, go to the edge.

 

Travel Bucket List Ideas:

Visit one of the modern wonders of the world

Travel by camel

Touch sand and snow within one day of each other

Throw a dart at a map of your country and go to wherever it lands

Venture out on a safari

Get a picture in front of ten different state welcome signs

Camp out in a national park

Backpack across a continent and keep a travel journal

Take a week long road trip with friends

Drive out to the mountains for a mountain-biking trip

Get your motorcycle’s license and map out a roadtrip with another friend

Sign up for a mission trip in a third-world country

Photograph and document your travels through the rainforest

 

Rediscover What’s Important (God’s Bucket List)

Hey guys, sorry that I haven’t posted something in forever. Up to this point, all of my writing efforts have been going towards the book that I just finished writing for Quarto Publishing Company, and a lot of my time has been devoted towards planning the two month backpacking trip that I am about to embark on. Although I can’t release too much information about the book, I can tell you that it will be coming out in stores in January and it is right on track with the kind of stuff that I write in my blog right now. Here is a little excerpt that I wrote for the book, which unfortunately won’t be making it into the final copy:

 

The basic idea behind a bucket list is that our souls were meant to desire something greater. We all have greater yearnings and wants that are just out of reach, and I believe that we were created like this for a reason. I believe that we were meant to desire something greater simply because we are meant to be satisfied by something greater. What if we were designed to achieve a set of goals that could not be measured by any physical standards or by anyone else? What if there were an actual bucket list that God designed specifically for you? An agenda of adventures that He wants you to experience and a way of living that you were meant to live before you kick the proverbial bucket? You may imagine that submitting and seeking a life in God would be extremely limiting, totally unappealing, and would translate into becoming a cloistered nun, a missionary in Ethiopia, or something else contrary to the dreams you have already written down up to this point. In fact, I think a great deal of followers in the church believe that God put them on the earth to be a good boy or girl and nothing else. I guarantee you however, this is not the case. That’s why he devised the world in such a way that we are rewarded most when we embrace risk as the theme of our lives, which is to say, when we live by faith. God doesn’t expect us to be “successful”; only faithful. When God set man on the earth, he gave us an incredible mission—he gave us a charter to explore, build, conquer, and each care for different things in his creation. He gave us permission to live from the heart, and whether it’s building a boat and sailing it, writing a symphony and playing it, planting a field and caring for it—those are the things you were made to do because those are the desires that are most suitable for drawing us near to himself. So don’t suppress any of these desires that you may have, but embrace them. In the same breath, the key to this grand way of living life is to submit to God’s version of your deepest desires instead of insisting that He bless, approve, and put the final stamp on our version of things. God’s bucket list for you is unique, and if you’re trying to embrace His list, who better to talk to than God Himself. Through whatever goals he sets for you, know that the ultimate goal is for you to know Him more. Therefore, let your desires endure, let your passions persist, and make sure to live a life that is ultimately driven by eternity.

Desire

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Desire is powerful. Not a symphony has been written, a mountain climbed, an injustice fought, or a love sustained apart from it. Desire is the trigger behind our deepest passions and it is the motivating factor that has caused me to chase after ridiculous and often dangerous goals. Although it has driven me to accomplish a number of items on my bucket list, I realize that desire has also been the framework for all of my failures and letdowns. In addition to causing heartache, desire is often the culprit for fueling immoral and sometimes illicit behavior. As a result, many of us play it safe by living far from our hearts, and we do so at the expense of our happiness. By disowning our desire and reducing it to a more manageable size, we sacrifice our hearts on the altar of “getting by” and in return, we are forced to settle for less than we deserve. What if that’s not how we were meant to live? What if I told you that we were made to desire?

Well, we are! Just as our lungs were made to breathe oxygen, our souls were designed to constantly seek and spar for meaning, intimacy, and adventure. In fact, not only were our souls designed to desire something greater, they were also designed to be satisfied by something greater. Jesus never said “the problem with you people is that you want too much. If you’d just learn to be happy with less, then we’d all get along just fine.” Quite the contrary. What he really said was that he wants to give us life to the full. You see, we were purposefully given a heart that desires deeply because he uses those desires to draw us to himself. The intimacy, romance, adventure, courage, purpose, and joy that you long for is only a glimpse of what you will get after your time is up. So don’t suppress any of these desires that you may have, but embrace them. Even if you tried, turning your back on the things that your heart longs for would be as futile as holding your breath for an extended period of time. Eventually you would find yourself gasping for air.

So will life ever be what I so deeply want it to be, in a way that cannot be lost? The simple answer: not yet. It’s a sobering truth, and yet it makes all the difference in the world because desire cannot live without hope. It puts my entire bucket list of goals into a different perspective, and yet still fills me with joy because I know that the life I prize is coming. The very thing that I am aching for now is exactly what will be given to me when I am finally called Home. I have to remind myself often that this life of desire is not a road headed toward completion, but a process and a journey followed by absolute and perfect satisfaction. Through this wonderful reminder, I am freed from feeling like a failure when things are not finished, and hopeful that they will be as my journey comes to an end. Therefore, let your desires endure, let your passions persist, and be bold with your aspirations. Life is not a problem to be solved, it is an adventure to be lived, and I can’t wait to drink deeply from that fountain of which I’ve only had a sip.

 

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The Ties That Bind

The Ties That Bind

(NEW POST COMING THIS SATURDAY APRIL 19, 2014)

I’ve heard it been said that you get more of what you focus on in life. As I thought about that quote this summer, I made a point to distinguish the five most important things in my life and devote my summer towards them. Lucky for me, all five of them were right in my very home. Mom, Dad, Emily, Grant, and Katherine.

I can honestly say that I love my family more than life itself. I have found that my fondest memories were those spent with my parents and siblings, sitting under a tree for half of a day chatting to one another. Many people would probably call that wasting time, but in my eyes there has always been value to it. Believe me, I am well aware that maintaining family relationships are a tremendous challenge. When it comes to cooperation, my family has always been both my greatest strength as well as my greatest weakness. And as fate would have it, those are the people with whom I act the worst yet am loved the most. This is exactly what a family is about though, not just sharing the same genes and blood, but letting others know that I’m watching out for them. It’s about having a group of people who know me better than I know myself. Nothing else will give me that. Not money. Not fame. Not power. Despite years of arguments, picking-on, and attention-grabbing at the dinner table, I know that there will always be more than enough love, grace, and memories to last a lifetime.

I do admit that I found it incredibly tempting this summer to invest every extra hour of time or ounce of energy into whichever activity yielded the clearest evidence that I’d achieved something. But too many high-achievers focus a great deal on becoming the person they want to be at work—and far too little on the person they want to be at home. We cannot recycle or save the time allotted to us each day, and unfortunately not everything is worth the portion of our life we give to obtain it. We all want affirmation that our lives have meaning, and nothing gives a greater affirmation than the love and meaning that goes into a family. My bucket list accomplishments may give me a sense of confidence from time to time, but it’s the relationship I have with my parents and siblings for which I am most proud.

“When you talk of family life
Or how it used to be
Though many had more money
None were as rich as me.” -Jeanne D. Rhein

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Jar of Marbles

Jar of Marbles

When it comes to school, my biggest motivator is the deadline. No matter how difficult the task, my schoolwork expands to fill the time available for its completion. This makes those easy two-hour tasks seem a lot more daunting and stressful when I give myself a week or two to complete them. It wasn’t until this summer that I learned that assignments without deadlines are a lot like goals without a plan; if you don’t have a set time frame for the end result it is much easier to procrastinate. That’s why as of recently, I decided to set a deadline for completing my bucket list, and began applying a new strategy to help me conceptualize the time that I have left.

According to the calculations, I have 143 Saturdays left before I reach my deadline and graduate from college. Rather than crossing off days from the calendar, I carefully counted 143 marbles and put them into a jar. Each Saturday I pull one marble out and am reminded of the importance of investing my time in the places that matter. It is inevitable that I will lose my marbles, but this way I get to decide where they go. One of the aspects I love most about this deadline is that it brings order in awareness. With a visual reminder, I have become much more focused on the journey and pursuit of my goals rather than on the goals themselves. Another great attribute of this deadline is that it has caused me to look hopefully towards the future and it has kept me from binging on all but one thing—life itself. We always hope for the easy fix; the one simple change that will erase a problem in a stroke, but few things in life work this way. Instead, success requires making a hundred small steps go right – one after the other, just like my 143 Saturdays. As soon as the small steps start adding up, we begin working with time instead of against it.

It is not enough to be busy…the question is: what are we busy about? There is no use being “efficient” if what you are doing lacks meaning and some sense of importance. Do something that adds value to who you are and inspires you to appreciate your ordinary day. One of the greatest lessons that I have learned from this jar of marbles is that we cannot fully inhabit the life that we live unless we start developing a sense of urgency. It is my belief that everyone should have some sort of reminder to measure their days and encourage lifelong curiosity. Some use calendars; some use journals; I use a jar of marbles. How will you measure your life?

“When one has much to put into them, a day has a hundred pockets.” -Friedrich Nietzsche

Gratitude

The quest to find happiness and meaning in life is not new. Whether we pursue it consciously or not, most of us are constantly searching for happiness, and as a result we direct our words and actions accordingly. One of the reasons I initially became obsessed with bucket lists was because I knew I could find a great sense of satisfaction in ticking off each item on my list, though it be a momentary happiness. Fortunately, one of my close friends introduced me to a different approach of seeking out happiness about six months ago, one that really made an impact on my life.

Rather than focusing on saying or doing things to bring happiness, this new approach focuses on looking at the world with a new pair of eyes and concentrating on things that already bring happiness. Though she never used the word ‘gratitude’ directly, she showed me how she was living a life of appreciation by keeping a list of simple things that made her happy. She was living with such respect and reverence for life that it almost made me jealous. So as I studied her strategy, I did my best to approach each day with a sincere “thank you” poised on the lips. I compiled a small list of my own, constantly looking out for small reasons to be grateful on a day to day basis. From what I learned, our attitudes also operate somewhat like magnets. We’re pulled in the direction of our thoughts, whether they’re positive or negative. As the sun makes ice melt, gratitude caused much of my animosity, hostility, and bitterness to evaporate. I also learned that everything can be taken from a man, except for one thing: the last of human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstances.

I’m giving you the beginning of my list in hopes that you will find, as I did, that happiness comes from noticing and enjoying the little things in life. My list extends into the thousands now so if you would like to have the rest of the list, please email me at alexwagman@utexas.edu. I often flip through this collection myself as a reminder to be more grateful, or to give myself a reason to cheer up. It does not matter whether it rains or shines, or whether you are experiencing intense hardship, because with these small blessings there will always be something to give thanks for. I hope that you will see, as I did, that by studying little things, we attain the art of having as little misery and as much happiness as possible. “Every good and perfect gift” is already yours; it’s only awaiting your recognition.

      

                    Gratitude List

 

1.      Witnessing the winning touchdown first-hand

2.      Playing hooky to do something you don’t ordinarily have time for

3.      Returning to your warm bed after getting up in the middle of the night to pee

4.      The first scoop out of a jar of peanut butter

5.      Arriving at the destination just as a great songs ends on the radio

6.      Perfectly toasted toast

7.      A “where did you get that?” item

8.      High-fiving babies

9.      The last pickle in a jar that resists being captured

10.   The universal French fry-sharing policy

11.   Grabbing a tissue at the last second before sneezing

12.   The moment on vacation when you forget what day of the week it is

13.   The sound of a solid crack from a good break in billiards

14.   Going for a “walking meal,” and stopping for different courses along the way

15.   Bobbing in an old inner tube lazily down a river

16.   That one square in the waffle that’s the most loaded with butter and syrup

17.   Health, love, wealth, and time to enjoy them

18.   Americanisms

19.   When your plugged up nostril just suddenly opens up with no warning

20.   That separate compartment in your stomach for dessert

21.   Finally getting a piece of food that’s been stuck in your teeth all day

22.   When you’re really tired and about to fall asleep and someone throws a blanket on you

23.   Hot cream and a straight razor on your neck at the barber shop

24.   Blowing your nose in the shower

25.   Wearing underwear just out of the dryer

26.   Helping a child find unexpected ways of playing with household objects

27.   Butter on every bite

28.   Sliding back and forth in the bathtub to mix the too-hot water with the cooler water

29.   Knowing all the answers to a game show while confined to your living room

30.   Getting the answer you want from the magic 8 ball

31.   A three-year-old’s imagination

32.   Drive-in movies

33.   Windshield wipers keeping time to the song on the radio

34.   An unexpected “yes”

35.   Just happening upon a parking spot in the right place at the right time

36.   The first sip of a coke

37.   Party sounds behind a door you’re about to open

38.   A bed left guiltlessly, spontaneously unmade

39.   Back doors: the ones best friends enter by

40.   Handcuff-size onion rings

41.   The position of your head as you bite into a taco

42.   Using the dog to remove crumbs on the floor

43.   The do-something-you-haven’t-done-in-years plan

44.   Walking barefoot on the golf course

45.   The moment at a restaurant after you see your food coming from the kitchen but before it lands on the table

46.   Squeezing one more brushful out of the toothpaste tube

47.   Stars and stripes

48.   Smell of freshly cut grass

49.   Waking up and realizing its Saturday

50.   Waiters and waitresses who bring free refills without asking

51.   Sleeping in new bed sheets

52.   Being unreasonably happy

53.   One of those lucky days when there is a ton of stuff in the refrigerator

54.   Digging a hole in the mashed potatoes to keep the gravy in

55.   Hitting a bunch of green lights in a row

56.   A basket of tender, flaky, fresh-from-the-oven biscuits

57.   Crossing something dreaded off a list of things to do

58.   Sunshine pouring down through the overhanging branches of a grand old oak

59.   Places heavy with history

60.   Cocooning in a blanket

61.   Savoring a lake by canoe

62.   People-watching from a park bench

63.   Strangers you see so regularly that you feel they’re almost friends

64.   Riding  a motorcycle on the open road

65.   Eating a free sample of something you have no intention of buying

66.   The sound of ice cubes cracking in a drink

67.   The smell of the coffee isle in the grocery store

68.   Sleeping naked

69.   Picking the perfect nacho off someone else’s plate

70.   The art of knowing what to overlook

71.   Putting potato chips on a sandwich

72.   A Texas flag flying

73.   The first weekend back to college

74.   Catching the breeze in a hammock

75.   A reawakened curiosity about nature

76.   Sitting in the kitchen with your hands wrapped around a cup of coffee

77.   Starting a relationship with a feeling of wonder at the uniqueness of the other person

78.   Beating the odds

79.   When that first cup of coffee kicks in

80.   Feeling the heat of the sun while sitting in a cold car

81.   Spontaneous road trips

82.   Eating dessert first

83.   Sleeping on the porch in the summer

84.   Free concerts in the park

85.   Diving headfirst into the ocean

86.   21st century explorers

87.   Sun-drenched houses overlooking a bay

88.   Tasting a dish while it’s cooking

89.   Acclimating oneself to a cold swimming pool, one body region at a time

90.   When all of those little stringy things come off with the banana peel

91.   The groceries staying upright when your car turns a corner

92.   Three-day weekends

93.   Going to sleep with a line through every item on the to-do list

94.   Leaving spaces in your day to do something spontaneous

95.   Going out on a Saturday night and coming home sober, having had a great time

96.   Answer pages in the back of textbooks

97.   Effective stress management

98.   Sunday naps

99.   A wont-leave-you-hungry meal

100.  Nightlife in Austin, Texas