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.
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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?

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.

 

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

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

Help Needed

               I’m going to ask a pretty big favor of you today. Rather than posting a motivational speech demanding that you jump out of a plane or throw yourself onto the back of a bull, I’m asking YOU to help ME live a more gratifying and fulfilling lifestyle. There is nothing I love more than witnessing other people reach their goals firsthand, but as of recently I’ve been selfishly caught up with crossing one thing after another off of my own list. I am in dire need of a change of pace, and as a result, I have made it my latest goal to focus on helping you cross something significant off your bucket list for every one thing that I cross off on mine. I don’t care how difficult or trivial it is, I just want to help you do something you’ve always dreamed of doing. Don’t hold back just because you think it might be too hard, nothing would ever be attempted if all possible objections had to first be overcome. To make it clear, I want nothing from you except to share the delight that will come when you finally reach your goal. I understand that I will not be able to help every person meet every item on their bucket list, but I also understand that I do have a chance to reduce a number of these unmet goals. I am in no way a master of bucket lists, I do not have any unusual talents, and I have never done anything that you are not capable of doing yourself. What I do have is drive, and passion, and an undying desire to help anyone who asks. So if there is still something on your bucket list that you might need help with, send me an email at alexwagman@utexas.edu or text me if you already have my number. Please help me out with this one.

Extreme Sports

Extreme Sports

         Most of us never dare to act on our dreams and we scarcely even admit to greater inner yearnings. It’s as if we are addicted to security and terrified of risk. In my eyes, the most dangerous risk of all is the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet that you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later. Anybody who is close to me knows that I’m always seeking out an adrenaline rush. When the dust settles, I want to have three lifetime’s worth of memories, friends and great experiences.

        When it comes to extreme sports, it’s hard to tell if the adventure seekers are crazy or enlightened. In my eyes, they’re wired to experience life a little bit more. Pushing the potentials of the body is a natural fit in a world that is turning people into sedentary and slothful creatures. It’s almost a reaction to the fact that our human existence is inside a box staring at a computer screen. Seek to escape the tedium of the daily grind by tackling a marathon or jumping out of a helicopter with a pair of skis on your feet. Lust for experience. Sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage. 20 seconds of brash bravery. Remember that courage is one of the most essential human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others. No one is born with it.

        I like to think that when the time comes, God will not look you over for medals, degrees or diplomas but for scars. From what I’ve learned so far, it is the experiences, the memories, and the great triumphant joy of living to the fullest extent in which real meaning is found. Part of loving life is doing everything you can to appreciate it while you’re here. No, I do not have a death wish, but I imagine that I have known too much of the depths of life already, and would prefer anything to an anticlimax. When your time is up, two dates will be chiseled into rock and separated by a dash. A whole lifetime reduced to one glyph (-) carved in stone…one uncomplicated dash. Make sure you have no regrets when that day comes. Be bold and up for adventure. Opt for the good life. Live out the dash.

The List (100-199)

The constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. The problem is, you have to acquire the happiness yourself. Life is a gift, and it offers us the privilege, opportunity, and responsibility to give something back by becoming more. Our culture doesn’t normally encourage you to think about such things until “it’s too late,” but when you finally come to this realization, hours slide by like minutes. The accumulated clutter of day-to-day existence–the lapses of conscience, the bungled opportunities, the dust under the couch, the inescapable prison of your genes–all of it is temporarily forgotten, crowded from your thoughts by an overpowering clarity of purpose and by the seriousness of the task at hand.

Dying is only one thing to be sad over. Living unhappily is something else. So do something you love every day; write it out and make your own bucket list. I encourage you to view these accomplishments from God’s point of view and to make your bucket list matter eternally along the way. Pull out and borrow what speaks to you as you read through some of the things in which I have found fulfillment and adventure. Be intentional and be contagious in your quest to live a life that is more than a bucket list.

#100-199

Train Hop

Go bowfishing

Backpack through Europe

Become an organ donor

Race in a color run

Partake in a 6-month sabbatical

Do donuts in a parking lot

Become a foster parent

Start a food-fight

Sell time-shares in a different country

Deep-sea fishing

Attend an all-black church service

Live on a ranch

Donate $10,000 anonymously

Front row tickets to a concert

Climb one of the 7 summits

Hunt and kill at least one of the Big 5

Get a business degree

See all ‘501 must see movies’

Fly an open cockpit airplane

Quit something every Thursday for a year

Visit 20 different countries, 7 different continents

Take up fly fishing

Live an entire week homeless

Bike ride through Nat. Geographic’s 10 Best Trails

Live to see my great grandchildren

Create a website

5:59 minute mile, 50 pull-ups, and 100 pushups

Learn to play lacrosse

Fill a gratitude journal with 1000 entries

Learn to play guitar

Take a cruise

Feed a wild animal from my mouth

Memorize a bible verse every week for a year

Date someone who is 10 years older

Create a multi-generational family tree

Charm a snake

Hitch-hike

Help make an independent film

Hit a homerun

Buy a Polaroid Camera

Own a pair of bongo drums

Start a bonfire

Expand human knowledge in an area of expertise

Join a rugby team

Learn to sing well

Two-week long camping trip

Graffiti

Go to a monster truck rally

Wall flip

Moon someone out of a moving vehicle

Have a beer with a homeless man

Kiss a total stranger

Learn to play ‘Claire De Lune’ on the piano

Milk a poisonous snake

Drop into a 15 foot skateboard ramp

Mardi-Gras in New Orleans

Throw the most badass party ever

Learn how to prepare a flaming Dr. Pepper shot

Ride an ostrich

Become a bounty hunter

7 day religious fast

Learn to tie a cherry stem with my tongue

Become Adobe Photoshop, Dreamweaver, and Flash Certified

Attend Bonnaroo music festival

Learn how to give a full body Swedish massage

Start a business

Own a strange animal for a pet

Light a match with a .22 rifle

Go mudding

Play the ultimate prank

Complete the milk challenge

Sneak backstage at a concert

Go couch-surfing

Finish an Ironman Triathlon

Learn how to count cards

Volunteer as a fireman

Be in a flash mob

Red paperclip challenge

Design a new product with a 3D printer

Build a church

Give a TED talk

Backflip on a wakeboard

Catch a live fly on a leash

Swim with sharks

Run a 100 Mile Marathon

Join a biker gang

Eno from at least twenty feet up

Grow an epic beard

Attend Glastonbury Festival

Perform stand-up comedy live

Buy a last minute plane ticket to “the hell outta here”

Go whale watching

Become immersed in another culture

Sand Boarding

Become a member of a foreign-exchange student organization

Fall in love

Tickle a fish

Practice anthropomorphic taxidermy

Adopt a child financially through worldvision.org

Project 365

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         Life is meant to be fun. I believe in using thrill as therapy, in working hard for what you want, and in speaking up for what you believe in. I believe that, as we live, we should constantly be striving to get better at living. We cannot control what happens to us, yet we absolutely can control how we react to what happens to us. I believe in holding myself accountable to build a life that I love.

       That is why last year I bought a camera. Though the task sounded impossible at the time, I made it my goal to take a picture every single day for an entire year. My hope was that I would motivate myself to make each day more interesting than the last, using pictures as proof. When asked which of the pictures was my favorite, I wanted to be able to respond with, “the one that I’m going to take tomorrow.” So for the last 12 months, I learned how to use a camera and I also learned the true meaning of persistence.

        Looking back on all three-hundred and sixty-six (leap year) photos today, I realized that those static images have the uncanny ability to jar the memory and bring places and people back to life. They bridge the present with the past and also speak in the most universally understood language. Were it not for them, my experiences would have remained as imperfect memories of perfect moments. All photos speak a thousand words. This one contains a library.