Juan David's Newsletter - March 06, 2022
How To Think for Yourself in College
The UIUC Talkshow is taking off. We have recorded 6 episodes and have launched Spotify and Apple Podcasts. The improvement in every episode showcases two of my deep principles: 1) get going and then get good, and 2) quantity > quality.
The highlight of the show has been meeting the most intelligent and most curious person I've ever talked to.
If you think I’m curious, wait until you hear about a guy who knows everything about human speech processing, writes mathematics papers, has theories on theoretical physics, writes books about math history and physics, and taught his granddaughter to speak before the age of two and count in prime numbers.
This is the episode with Jont Allen. This conversation has made the effort more than worth it. Let me know what you think of the conversation in the comments or by replying to this email.
Today, I’m sharing an essay about how to think for yourself in college. College is a weird time because you may feel insecure, you may not know what you want to do, and you’re building the lifestyle for a lifetime.
How To Think for Yourself in College
Guy: “You are living the saint life. You work out. You study. You eat well. You sleep early and wake up early. You work hard. You’re happy, excited, and energetic every day. You don’t spend money. You invest. But what do you do for fun?
Me: My projects
Guy: Not seriously. What do you do for fun?
Me: I find my projects fun.
Guy: (three days later, he sends me a “funny” short video about how people having a healthy life with healthy habits still die).
My first response was my projects but after a while, I thought, “What do I do for fun?” I working on my projects and learning interesting things.
“But what do you do for fun? Like truly fun?” the guy asked again. I reply, “I play soccer (sometimes), and I watch movies (rarely).” The movie answer convinced him and he stopped asking. It was convincing enough because we watched a movie together.
What caused him to repeatedly ask was differently how we see “fun.” Fun, to him, meant whatever people around call “fun.”
I kept thinking and another thought came up, probably from talking to frustrated adults. Let’s call this adult, Gael. He is 38 years old, has a boring high-paying job, and has fun only on the weekends.
Gael would tell me, “You’re young and you’re in college only once in your life. Enjoy. Have fun.” But what do the guy above and Gael have in common? How they define fun. In their eyes, I’m having a miserable disciplined life when in reality, I’m happier than them both of them combined.
Fun, in this context, is drinking, getting wasted, hooking up, or even doing drugs. But no. I know my answer. I don’t need to do any of that.
But even then, it’s a question of “Am I sacrificing my youth and “fun” for living a healthy life focused on creating things, and learning?” Maybe. In a world of crazy people, the sane ones are “crazy.”
I find fun to create things. To me, fun means exploring ideas, learning new things, meeting people, and doing things I’d never do otherwise. Like the time, I did stand-up comedy unprepared in front of 300 people.
But I went back to my first response and keep thinking, “Am I choosing to believe in what I believe as a way to escape a reality?” The answer is somewhat true. We all have fears, and some fears are worse than others but what am I running from away from? What am I choosing to ignore? Do any of the stuff I do is because I actually like it?
It’s a hard question. I don’t know. Whenever there seems to be an issue with anything, everyone says “childhood traumas”! Sure, why not? We can start there.
The other day, a close friend told me I have trouble connecting with people. I earn people’s trust and then I do things to make them doubt me. As if I was doing it on purpose. Also, take into account the person who told me this, which self-described as someone who has trouble connecting and meeting people.
What do I think? Perhaps there’s some truth to that. Shit happens, and it’s hard to predict how it affects you or how it will affect you.
After this friend said this, I thought, “Damn. This is interesting, but is it true? What made this person think that?”
I realized I never try to fit in. Oftentimes, it could seem like I’m doing the opposite from most people but in reality, I question things and follow my answers. Drinking is an important question. Lots of people start drinking during college . Why? They don’t know anyone and that’s what people do to socialize. I asked myself, “Is that something I want to do?” No. I started asking questions like, “Why do people do it?” or “What are the consequences of drinking and not drinking?”
I found that it’s never healthy . Yes, despite those pseudoscientific papers that tell you, drinking is good. I also realized people do it as a way to meet people. They say alcohol is “the social lubricant.” Sure, you meet people, you dismiss your thoughts, and then you use it to escape. Ultimately, it becomes a way to be with people you don’t even like and wouldn’t talk to if you were sober. Would you hang out or be friends with most of your friends if you don’t drink with them? The answer for most drinkers would be no.
There are ways more fun to be “sociable” and have fun than just drinking. If you think otherwise, you probably have a boring life.
Do I try to fit in? I’m ok with people thinking I’m weird and whatever. I also don’t care about belonging. Sense of belonging is a way to seek self-esteem from others, instead of earning it yourself.
I’ve seen many people do things they’d never do to make friends. I don’t care if I have friends. I never do anything to meet people or for networking reasons. The friends I want to make don’t go to networking events. If something offers you friendship or networking, it’s because they have nothing else better to offer. I don’t network, I make friends. If someone is interesting, I strike up a conversation and we start talking.
Most people do things they’d never do because of what C.S. Lewis calls “Inner Rings” :
To a young person, just entering on adult life, the world seems full of “insides,” full of delightful intimacies and confidentialities, and he desires to enter them. But if he follows that desire he will reach no “inside” that is worth reaching. The true road lies in quite another direction. It is like the house in Alice Through the Looking Glass.
Being on the “inside” is a deep human desire. To be part of what you’re not in. To know what you don’t know. To feel what you don’t feel. But it’s ok to be an outsider. C. S. Lewis suggests that “Until you conquer the fear of being an outsider, an outsider you will remain.”
If you’re reading this and you haven’t found your people, it’s ok. Don’t settle, keep looking. You may feel unhappy or lonely, you’re not alone. Find places with driven people like you. I get the most energy and excitement around intelligent and motivated people. Sometimes they are my age or oftentimes they are older, way older. Even then, you can always read biographies of the most interesting people who ever lived. You can learn from their mistakes and see how they solved their problems.
If you let yourself be impacted by not belonging to a group of people or even saying you need a “support group,” you’ll live an unlived life. Do things you want to do. Do exciting and interesting things. Never what the “cool” kids think it’s cool. I’ll tell you what, the cool kids will only be cool during school. But the “nerds” and the independent thinkers will be cool for a lifetime. Why? They do things for the sake of it. They do things because they want to.
I’m the antithesis of the so-called “college experience.” I don’t drink nor do drugs. I’m not in a frat nor do stupid shit. I like to learn and get excited. I like to write and share my experiences. I like to code and build things. This is who I am.
And this is what makes a saint? What a low threshold.
Why am I considered a saint? When this should be the norm. I don’t know. I write this essay as a starting point. This is, perhaps, how we change cultural norms. Do I blame people who perhaps are a bit lost? No. Life is fucking tough and being part of an inner ring is a solution, fitting in is a solution, and doing what others around are doing is a solution. They are solutions but not the solution I want, certainly not the future or world I want.
I strive to be an independent individual who thinks for himself. I strive to do what I want.
We are all trying to figure it out. It’s an option to be brave enough to think through your own answers, not everybody else’s.
You could say, “Oh yeah. It’s the movies that give kids the idea that college is a never-ending party of sex, drugs, and alcohol.” Sure, I also watched those movies and they’re fucking stupid. It’s our inability to think for ourselves and forgetting that it’s an option to disagree with most people. It’s an option to be you.
But beyond any of that. You are going to tell me that going to a bar and getting drunk is the most exciting thing you can do? Really? For instance, I go to a Midwest college. Some people hate it because there is nothing to do and, you are left alone with … yourself and your thoughts. But some people, like me, freaking love it, because there’s nothing to do, focusing and doing things you want to do is a lot easier.
Perhaps I’m a saint. So what? If being a saint means thinking for yourself independently of others. If being a saint means being sane in a way most people are crazy. If being a saint means being yourself and doing what you want.
Let’s all be saints.
 It’s fine to do whatever you want, whether that is drinking or whatever else. I don’t blame nor judge you. I seek to understand you. However, I want to live a different lifestyle and I’m sure others do too. I want to tell them that it’s an option. I’m also not of those people who think alcohol should be banned or that I’ll never drink alcohol.
I remember what Carl Jung said, “Whatever you resist, persist. What you deny submits you, what you accept transforms you.” I accept it and try to understand it.
 From The Impact of Alcohol Consumption on Cardiovascular Health by the World Heart Federation.
The evidence is clear: any level of alcohol consumption can lead to loss of healthy life. Studies have shown that even small amounts of alcohol can increase a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease, including coronary disease, stroke, heart failure, hypertensive heart disease, cardiomyopathy, atrial fibrillation, and aneurysm.
Studies that claim alcohol can offer protection against cardiovascular disease are largely based on purely observational research, which fails to account for other factors, such as pre-existing conditions and a history of alcoholism in those considered to be “abstinent”.
To date, no reliable correlation has been found between moderate alcohol consumption and a lower risk of heart disease.
 The Inner Ring by C.S. Lewis has been the most influential essay I’ve read in the last few years. I reread it every couple of months. It explains so much of society and the way people act. I find it answers many of my questions around the way people do or act, especially in college.
Other essays I’ve written about college:
Am I Going to College? Yes. Should You Go to College? Maybe Not: thought process behind why and how I chose my major.
The College Manifesto: Becoming a Successful Student: a plan for things I want to do or to keep in mind during college.
“I Guess That’s What You Do When You’re in College.”: understanding why college students mimic others, and how to choose what to work on.
How to College: Advice, Mistakes, and Thoughts: notes from study tips, how to choose a major, why you need f*** clubs, and work on projects.