I remember it being a frantic toggle between my “Big Questions” readings and Economics PowerPoint slides, as I attempted to complete my revision for both modules at lightning speed. I had a lightbulb moment there and then. It was almost as if a fog was lifted before my eyes, a humbling revelation descending upon me.
Life is short. The weather is perfect today. I love my family and friends. The world is my oyster, and there’s so much I know I could do right now that would bring everyone happiness. But here I am buried under the heat of my study table lamp, feeling the scorch of unending deadlines, and trying to identify the dominant strategy equilibrium of players. Didn’t I enter university in aims of discovering my life’s purpose, to live my university life to the fullest?
Or maybe, I was just procrastinating.
These little moments are a common occurrence for us SMU students, especially when submissions and finals are around the corner. However, does the university life merely entail the survival of the fittest or the rat race? Beyond striving for the highest grades and snagging the best internships, placing emphasis on giving generously and discovering our purpose could instead be key to living our university life to the fullest. Let’s unpack that.
“Survival of the fittest”? Try “survival of the friendliest” instead.
The infamous phrase “survival of the fittest” encapsulates Darwin's theory of natural selection. The concept, which attempts to explain evolutionary science, frames a win-lose situation where only the strongest and most capable remain and reproduce.
However, recent microbial findings have surfaced a loophole in Darwin’s theory. Rather than competing in the name of survival, bacteria operates on a whole new level of thriving through cooperation.
In the production of biofilm, which shields bacteria from attacks, scientists observed that bacteria shares resources with their weaker neighbours, benefitting the bacterial community in its entirety than what would have been if they had instead operated alone.
Though none of us resemble bacteria (thankfully), we could still learn a thing or two from the millions of colonies that reside inside of us! Through the practice of sharing and giving, our SMU journey can be enhanced. In encouraging cross-learning and assembling to inspire one another, qualities that would otherwise go undiscovered are brought to light. Such synergy not only births creativity and greater competency, but also provides us with the moral support that only a community can offer.
Sharing notes with my friends was a struggle in secondary school. This selfishness stemmed from my “survival of the fittest” mentality. I recall my most generous act being that of sharing half of my physics practical notes with a classmate and keeping the other half to myself. Intriguingly, the half that I decided to share came out in the exams while the other half I kept for myself didn’t! By keeping my notes to myself, none of my friends could extend the necessary critique or correction that I needed for the enhancement of my work. I decided to eradicate these insecurities in university by guiding my friends in their work and sharing my notes with them. Extending a helping hand in the ways I could brought me greater improvement in my work and most importantly a sense of fulfilment from doing a good deed.
Ditch the Rat Race for Purpose
The rat race is characterised by an endless journey of pursuit that never reaches a point of satiety. As it slyly hides behind the facade of “attaining excellence”, many unconsciously view the phenomenon as the only track available for attaining true meaning and happiness.
The rat race looks something like this. Upon successfully securing a place in SMU, the university of your dreams, you see your peers scrambling to enter every popular CCA, the best Overseas Community Service Programs and the choice internships. This spurs you to follow suit. Even though you end up achieving these goals, you notice having greater desires of securing even more leadership positions and potential job opportunities, leaving you dissatisfied with your status quo. You resume the hustle for attainment, and the chase towards having enough just keeps going on.
Seems like a pursuit of becoming the “best version of yourself”, doesn’t it? What many of us do not realise is that the drivers of the rat race are our very own insecurities, fears of missing out and anxieties of rejection. This behoves us to search our hearts and check our motives towards our life’s pursuits. Are we chasing our dreams because we think that achieving them proves our worth and defines us? Are we letting competitiveness and comparison lead us by the nose?
If our lives are about attaining success at the expense of others and a never-ending grind far from enjoyment, then we humans truly need to take a step back and realise that we are not made to run a race that is, as the name suggests, meant for rats. Instead of striving endlessly with no aim in sight, we should first seek our purpose in life – to steady ourselves, and to allow us to take strategic strides towards true fulfilment.
By pursuing an endeavour that we are made for, we magnify and truly incorporate self-acceptance in our lives. Self-acceptance gives us a realistic view of self. It empowers us to manage our strengths and weaknesses through developing our talents and embracing our shortcomings.
Photo credit: Trochez, L.
The university life entails more than just bottomless pursuits. The key to escaping the “survival of the fittest” mentality is to give, share, and in the process, find a purpose that truly speaks to you. By chasing after purpose, we do not fall prey to the rat race.
Our journey in university ultimately boils down to receiving life with open hands. When we choose to embrace uncertainty as a gift, we cease all strife for perfection out of toxic competition. Why pursue perfection when we are already made perfect for our individual purpose? Make your stay in SMU the starting point of a beautiful journey towards purpose.