The ‘white picket fence’ model

When I graduated from high school, I was a snot-nosed 17-year-old kid with no purpose, no direction and no idea of what I wanted to do with my life. Knowing this, there was no way I was going to trust myself to go directly to university, where I’d inevitably be forced, kicking and screaming, to pick a direction to guide my life in. Instead, I decided to move to Banff, Alta. to work and snowboard for a couple of years.

It wasn’t until about three years later, in 2009, I decided to try my hand at a serious endeavour: engineering. One of the most striking things I’ve noticed about my cohorts here in the faculty of engineering is nearly all of them entered the faculty through the direct-entry program. The large majority came here straight out of high school, by-passing University 1 and setting themselves on a career path straight from the get-go.

The thing is, our faculty tends to put a lot of emphasis on being as career-oriented as possible. Engineering is presented as more than a career — it’s seen as a way of life. The tunnel vision like dedication promoted here causes many people to lose sight of the fact there are other potential life options out there that may make them happier in the long term.

See, most of these kids are as uncertain about what they want to do with their lives as I was at their age. They seem to have little more than a passing interest in what they’re studying; yet they work to achieve high marks in classes they hate so they can be over and done with school as soon as possible — working hard to secure themselves a life-long position in a field they despise.

I imagine these are the kinds of people who will do everything “right” in life. They’ll get a high-paying job right out of university and buy themselves a nice new car, find a girl to settle down with, buy a house and have a few kids. All before they turn 30. You know — the whole “white picket fence” model.
Of course, this model is great because of the fact it may lead to lucrative business prospects, a pristine social image and early retirement. However, I’ve noticed those who follow this model are foreign to certain concepts, such as taking a course purely for the sake of enjoyment. To them, if something isn’t applicable to their field of study, it’s laughable. You can’t build a bridge out of philosophy, or wire a 747 on Greek mythology or sociological principles. Obviously, these things must be a waste of time.

Unfortunately, the white picket fence model has no real ability to provide true happiness. People, for the most part, will go through all the motions — making major life decisions and commitments — simply because they believe it’s the thing to do.

After about 20 years, these people will likely realize none of the decisions they’ve made in life have been in the interest of bringing themselves happiness; they’ve all been about meeting the expectations of others. So what will they do? They might end up ditching the wife, the house, the job and then they’ll start all over again, in exactly the same way they did the first time around. They’ll start dating someone else, buy a new car and maybe try a new business venture.
In other words, they’ll change very little and learn nothing.

That’s my theory on how the direct-entry system causes mid-life crises and ruins people’s lives. I guess what I’m trying to say is welcome to university. I hope you have a good year/life/mid-life crisis.