The Grade Whisperer is a regular feature in which I use the Study Hacks philosophy of doing less and doing better to help students solve academic problems.
Warren’s Missing Aspiration
Recently I heard from a college student named Warren. “I’m conjuring up a few ideas for grand projects after reading about them in your yellow book,” he said. “The thing is, I don’t really have any heartfelt aspirations. I don’t know what to do with my life yet.”
As fans of the yellow book know, I advise college students to embrace a “grand project,” my terminology for a project that, when described, makes people say “wow!” These projects help inject motivation and spontaneity into a student life that is otherwise heavily prescribed. They also tend to make you really impressive to the outside world.
Warren’s response to this advice is common: How do you launch a grand project if you don’t have a grand passion?
Here’s how I replied:
- I don’t believe that there’s some magical right pursuit waiting for you to discover.
- Choose something that seems reasonably interesting and really go after it. Keep exceeding people’s expectations.
- Over time, this will grow into something meaningful in your life. (See my article about getting into Harvard by doing less for more details on this idea.)
- It will also lead you in completely unexpected and fascinating directions. (See my article on getting into Stanford with a B on your transcript for more details on this idea.)
It turns out, for example, that Warren has written some screenplays. That’s as good a starting place for a grand project as any. He should consider, I advised, applying the pyramid method to his writing: i.e., pick a venue that will give clear feedback on his work, and then focus on this venue until his work is unabashedly great. There has to be a student contest, or something similar, where he could put the method into practice with his writing.
Above all, remember that for most students: Passion follows impressive accomplishment; not the other way around.