Tuesday, March 6th, 2007...1:05 am

My Best Piece of Writing Ever

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I love to write. It’s part of the reason why I started this blog. I’ve been writing in some capacity since high school. Back then I wrote for the school newspaper (I was also captain of the math team!). In college I kept a personal journal and took a bunch of literature classes. Interestingly enough, as I got older my writing became more immature. This tabloid-like prose came in the form of LittyHoops articles and my travel blog. I think I’ve found a happy medium in my writing style in this blog.

There is one particular essay I wrote freshman year of college that I especially value. It is an essay about Christopher McCandless, the protagonist of Into The Wild by John Krakauer. After graduating Emory University, McCandless basically ditches everything, burns through his money and goes to Alaska to live in the wilderness as he searched for his own identity.

Every now and then I will read over the essay. It is one of the few things in my life that I find truly impressive. It is my most honest piece of writing. At the time I wrote it I was a pretty private person and had never really shared any of my other writing, but for some reason I read this essay aloud in my class (a bit nerve wracking). My teacher was impressed enough to share it with his other classes. He thought I needed to make a more a persuasive argument though (the class was argumentative writing after all). I refused because I liked the essay just the way it was and received a “B” grade. I even sent out the essay to all my friends (which in hindsight I can’t believe I had the chutzpah to do after bashing them throughout the paper) and to my parents. One of my friends flamed me pretty well in a private email. We patched things up quickly and it was a great humbling experience.

Let me know if you enjoy this essay and I’ll be happy to share more of my past writing.

English 225.012
March 21, 2000

The Quest for Self-Improvement

After reading Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, I developed a profound admiration and appreciation for Christopher McCandless. Even before dissecting McCandless’s complex character and struggle, I was moved by his determination and sacrifice in his attempt to somehow improve his life. McCandless struggled throughout much of his life with a yearning to attain a greater self-understanding. I have encountered few people, if any, who have had the same will and courage that McCandless displayed. In my current environment, as a student at the University of Michigan, hardly any of my peers have attempted to find their own identity or further develop a personal ideology. Most of the people I know do not even have the capacity to evaluate their own character. The students that I have encountered are often dissatisfied with aspects of their lives. Yet, very few have the courage and perseverance to expand their horizons. Many are content with living a comfortable life and learn to accept, or even repress, their discontent. McCandless’s journey might have been foolish and unnecessary. McCandless had security, a caring family, and a college degree from a prominent university. Aren’t these basic qualities enough to be content in life? Isn’t this for what the normal person strives? Yet, to McCandless individualism, sacrifice, and accomplishment were also vital. McCandless’s valiant effort at self-improvement should set an example for others. Unlike many of my peers, McCandless had the ability to challenge himself, and was therefore able to ameliorate his apprehension, and come to a greater understanding.

Although this is only my first year at the University of Michigan, I find myself part of a smaller community of students within the school. It consists of predominately wealthy, out of state students. Most are from affluent suburbs of cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. This scene can also be loosely defined by including a small group of fraternities and sororities. As a student from New York, I easily associated with other students that had a similar lifestyle and background. Although I might be limiting my exposure to diversity, I definitely recognize, for better or worse, that I am part of a certain social environment. I have been able to recognize many positive and negatives attributes regarding the commonalties of this lifestyle. I am not sure how my experiences within a mostly homogenous enviornment can compare with those of the rest of society. I am only able to give my views on those with whom I have been able to relate and associate.

Many of my peers have a tremendously bright future. They are all intelligent and attend an elite university. Most of my friends also live in opulent neighborhoods with successful families. They have privileged lives and for the most part have yet to encounter adversity. Most understand what it takes to be on the fast track to success and are very confident and optimistic about the future. I also sense a feeling of invincibility among many of my peers. They have no fear of the world, and embody an extreme confidence, maybe even arrogance, that will give them an edge in any competitive society. The students are probably some of the brightest and most fortunate of today’s youth. Most will even maintain prosperity and affluence throughout their entire life.

Unfortunately, I have noticed that many of my friends lack the motivation and desire that a college student should ideally possess. College is a time for an individual to begin to form his own belief system. Hardly anyone has long range goals, and many do not utilize the tremendous academic or intellectual resources that the University offers. It often baffles me how so many of my peers can have so little direction in life. One reason for this utter lack of purpose is that many of my friends have economically and socially secure families. They live without fear of failure. Many of my peers are very similar in that they have a high GPA and are destined for success, yet are quite bland. They have no fascinating passion or spirituality. Very few are concerned with broadening their horizons, and even fewer are curious about the world beyond their present circumstances. Many have lived a sheltered life of affluence, and have yet to acknowledge the outside world. They have no inspiration to expand their capacity to learn, and are therefore victims of laziness. They live without the focus and desperation to improve that is essential for others who live without the same security and comfort.

Our nation has faith in an ideal that we call the “American Dream”. Our people believe that with enough hard work, determination and desire anyone can eventually become a success. This idea is ingrained within our society, and held to be one of the most virtuous principles of democracy. But, what happens if a person is born into a family of wealth and success? If an individual is blessed with the luxury of security and comfort then why should they need anything more? Many will be content living a placid, affluent life. They will surround themselves with the comfort and security to which they have grown accustomed, and will not have any desire or need to explore greater possibilities. As a product of this environment, though, I am able to understand that some of my peers want more then what they were handed. To them, security and comfort do not result in satisfaction. Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living for a human being. Many of us need the experiences of independence, accomplishment, and growth, as did McCandless. Although to an outsider their discontent might seem inexplicable, many of my peers at some point question their own value. Nonetheless, it is not enough to merely question yourself. The victory lies in taking action. McCandless was able to realize that he was not content with aspects of his life and took drastic steps to change it.

The most glaring fault I find with my peers is their inability to independently determine their own desires and goals in life. Many automatically follow the conventional path, even though they do not examine this path. In my environment many are overly concerned with their social status. It is as if they judge themselves by how others perceive them. This germinates feelings of insecurity and inferiority. They never take their time, or they might even be afraid, to challenge themselves. Actually, some are more concerned with improving their image then with improving their character. The ways in which they are perceived by those around them is often their main priority. Maybe my peers are afraid to question themselves. Why jeopardize their comfort with feelings of insecurity or unhappiness? So few of my peers are concerned with self-improvement. They lack any kind of spiriutality or an inquisitive nature. They seem to merely settle for what they are handed. Since they are so fortunate, many do not even realize their capacity to achieve. They are as far away from McCandless’s character as possible. Those who actually take the time to question themselves are often too lazy or even too comfortable to change.

Often, I think that I should be accomplishing more then I am. I am confident in my character and have high expectations for myself. Yet, I often feel as though I underachieve, and other times I even feel trapped. Instead of actively pursuing the vast opportunities that are available, I passively wait for opportunities to present themselves. Actually, in my enviornment I often wonder if there is any opportunity for self-improvement. This might seem ludicrous, but in order for me to accomplish something that is truly worthwhile, I find it necessary to stray from what is expected and attempt something that is not familiar to my social group. I often feel unsatisfied with my college experience, but that is my own fault because I usually succumb to the disease of laziness. The many forms of security that I am privileged to receive from my parents are more than enough to live without substantial worries. Thus, throughout the year I have made little effort to seek out new experiences. My academic schedule does not challenge me, and I occupy myself with meaningless activities such as video games, television, and drinking. All of these activities facilitate my sluggishness by prohibiting me from critically thinking. My ambition is tremendously low, and my friends and I merely follow the expected routine. McCandless’s ideology might have been a little bizarre, but his actions, or the fact that he took actions, are commendable. He faced his vulnerability by searching deep inside himself and then being honest in forming his personal identity.

I wonder if I am being overly-critical of my peers. Although I have attempted to expose some of the flaws of this lifestyle, I still realize that my peers have tremendous potential. They also might be much more complex and thoughtful then the image they project would indicate. Still, the overall impression that I usually abstract from my society is that the issues or ills of our characters are being drowned out by the feeling that we are gifted and fortunate and don’t need to improve. I wonder what other students in this university or nation experience as they make the transition into adulthood. Do they experience the same emotions and problems that my peers and I encounter? Are they any more motivated or determined to improve their lives? I hope that as we mature we will better understand our own lives and how we relate to a greater society. As our ignorant and innocent shell cracks, it will allow us to more clearly and courageously view our lives and give us the opportunity to strive for understanding and growth.

  • Ess

    Right on hoops–incredible insight from a freshman. The truth is, laziness was sadly part of our college experience. Now that time is a much more precious resource, we realize.

  • H Gold

    So it is now 7 years later, you have seen what your friends have done professionally and socially. Do you still feel the same way???

  • Sweet P

    It is strange to think that I am the friend who felt this essay was an overgeneralized misrepresentation. I read it now and agree with it wholeheartedly (as it applies to past and present). Sadly, little has changed (with the exception of my perception).

  • http://littyhoops.com Litty

    Thanks for the honest comments and a great question by Hayden. I would never be able to write something like this today. I don’t see the world through the same lens that I did then and my view of how I fit into my own environment has greatly changed. Back then it broke my heart that I wasn’t able to relate to many of my friends at my deepest level. I didn’t get that not everyone viewed life the same way that I did. I thought that writing this essay was my way of stating everyone’s true feelings when it was really only my own views.

    It seems like I attack my friends and peers in the essay. My little sister Courtney read it for the first time today and said she couldn’t believe I sent it out to my friends. My intent then (although I wasn’t quite skilled enough to fully pull it off) and my understanding now was that I was attacking myself for not living up to my own expectations. I think most of my friends that knew me well enough got that. I wasn’t all that close with Perry at the time and I completely understood where he was coming from then and I do now.

    In the last seven years I have fundamentally shifted how I see the world. Each person lives their own life to their own expectations in their own way. I’m not really in position to judge anybody but myself and perhaps the few people I feel like I truly know and understand. Therefore, I would never judge other people through the paradigm I set in this people. If people are truly happy with how their life has progressed than they have succeeded. It’s for them to judge, not me. I do still think that I live my life to the set of standards I write about in the paper.

    So I guess the big question is: Have I strived to push myself to the limits in both my professional and social life since I wrote this paper?