Respect others’ personal advices, but take charge of your own life

A common question explored in conspiracy theories is who really is in charge.

Who really is running things in this world? These theories jab answers at anyone and anything from the Cigarette Smoking Man in “The X-Files” to the gargantuan corporations and industries or even a more old fashioned answer like the National Security Agency.

While it’s easy to poke fun at such theories, the question they strive to answer is a valuable one to examine — and more important at the personal level.

Who is running you?

Why wouldn’t it be you, you may be wondering. Because, if we’re honest, very few students have been thinking for themselves that long. And for the ones who have learned to listen to themselves, the luck of finding free thought has likely taken a toll in other areas of life.

I touched on this topic slightly in my last column. Who among us actively weighed the pros and cons of going to college? Who actually sat down and decided going to college was right for them? I’m not saying college isn’t the right move to make or that we should stage a walk-out from the university, but the fact is 99 percent of us are here simply because it’s what high school graduates do.

It’s the next step. We’re raised to follow these steps, climbing the staircase of education until we have the credentials required for an adequate paycheck. It’s the norm. It’s what’s expected. Coming to college is a hairline away from being anything but a choice.

While free-thinkers do leave college, very few make up the initial enrollment.

There are so many pressures shaping our thinking: society, education, parents, girlfriends, boyfriends; it’s so easy to lose track of an individualistic point of view.

It makes sense that students haven’t been fully thinking for themselves for most of their lives. Growing up, we depend on elders who are more knowledgeable to raise us, and I’m sure we all have at least a few experiences in high school where the only excuse we can offer looking back at our behavior is that we were simply “stupid.”

But with these relationships there is a danger of putting too much emphasis on others’ advice so that the only path we plan to follow has been blazed by another.

Especially if our desires for life and a career are not widely renowned (doctors, lawyers, families), it’s easy to become too timid to follow our own hearts and minds. That’s when the voice inside our heads that guides our plans shrinks to a whisper.

Having the courage to do what you want must be one of the rarest qualities to find in a person. And knowing yourself enough to separate personal callings from sound advice from all-out intrusion must be one of the most difficult skills to master, at least with such limited experience on our own.

It’s very easy to get lost in these grand schemes of the future. Along with listening to others who know better, we have grown up continually looking forward — take advanced classes now to have an easier schedule in college, graduate in good standing to get a good job, find a good job to make enough money for the family or whomever you might have to take care of. In such a system, asking who or what is pushing our lives is a truly valid question.

It’s easy to get lost in this storm of preparation. I know I often do. Planning ahead obviously has its advantage, but focusing on the immediacy of this day and this month or even this year rather than the next five is also filled with benefit. For one, it’s easier to listen to yourself. And that can be a challenge when everyone else’s voices are so collectively loud.