Pay attention, stupid, and keep up!
Maclean’s magazine came out this week with its annual ranking of Canadian universities. It must be a big seller, because it seems to me that they come out twice a year.
This time, they ran a side feature asking some prominent Canadians for advice they would give to their own 18-year-old selves, now that they have the benefit of hindsight. Sort of a quick essay assignment, the kind that appeals to writers, news personalities and politicians (who formed the majority of respondents to this feature).
Our family has had at least one member — and some years, three — continuously in post-secondary for the last 15 years. I must have imparted some wisdom somewhere along the line to our children, although looking back I can’t remember what it might have been. Probably something along the lines of “Don’t tell me when you’ve been partying too hard.” You know, the important stuff.
Of my own university experience, the only advice I recall getting was from my dad, who told me not to use bad language in my editorials in the student newspaper. Above that, we were on our own.
So after reading what the prominent Canadians had to say to themselves in Maclean’s, I thought surely I would be qualified to advise myself for a reverse time capsule that could be sent to an 18-year-old me leaving the farm for the lights of Edmonton.
If the technology existed to send such a message, I surely hope I’d have the sense to read it and take it to heart.
But I doubt it.
Back then, I was having a lot of fun making friends, exploring ideas, and faking my way through those classes I thought I “needed” but didn’t enjoy.
First off, I’d tell myself to drop linguistics, and go for the science-class-for-arts-students program designed for those of us who needed two science options to complete an Arts degree. Students called it “Jolly Rockets.” Personal note: we have nothing to learn from linguistics.
Also, there must have been a more worthwhile French option than 18th century French literature. Voltaire was a pretty neat guy, but he didn’t help my French much. A history course, particularly a course in the history of political thought, plus an introductory course in philosophy and critical thought would serve you better, my young friend.
Then I’d give the big one: pay attention, stupid, and keep up! You only get one chance at this kind of learning and the experience is really, really expensive!
Newspaper work was fascinating, and was the basis for a whole lot of well-rounded learning, but a little less interviewing and a little more study would not have hurt at all. In the mid 1970s, stagflation and high unemployment ruled our economy, but I never doubted that I could walk into any newsroom and produce immediately. After all, I’d already been doing it for years while a full-time (cough, cough) student.
And by all means, buy that 1965 Vauxhall Epic for $150, drive it through a January snowstorm to Red Deer, and land that job.
Even though the pay was less than my honourarium at The Gateway, the employer had a lower circulation and press run than the university publication, and received less per line for advertising.
Coming here, and dragging my girlfriend with me to marry her, were the smartest moves I made in those years.
What advice would you give now, to your 18-year-old self? Send a short note to email@example.com and I’ll compile responses into a column. I’ll try to negotiate some swag from the Advocate as a reward. After all, not all advice should be free.
Greg Neiman is a former Advocate editor. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.com. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.