In a world driven by consumerism and the pursuit of professional success, the value of friendship often takes a backseat.
As college students, particularly at elite institutions like Lehigh, we are pushed to prioritize careers and work, aiming to secure lucrative careers. But this relentless pursuit of success in the workforce leaves us wondering: do we prioritize our community or our careers?
From a young age, we have been accustomed to learning that society shapes us to strive for the best elementary, middle and high schools, eventually leading to attendance at a prestigious college and securing high-paying jobs. The emphasis on financial success sometimes encourages individuals to prioritize careers and jobs over friendships and family. Leaving us to constantly drive towards the shiny star of success.
An essay by The Atlantic explores how living close to friends can significantly impact one’s happiness. Arguments like these are often accompanied by a 2010 meta-analysis by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University in Utah, that concluded “loneliness is as harmful to physical health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”
While there are different understandings of physical well-being, the studied consensus is that people who live near their friends report higher levels of overall health. Thus, this phenomenon raises an essential question for college students: what is the difference between living in dormitories versus residing miles apart from the friends you’ve made during these crucial years? Or even further away post-graduation?
As friendships are forged within the walls of dormitories and lecture halls, are we taking these connections for granted?
The desire to be near the people we know and care about, even if we are far away from home, is often undermined by the demands of our burgeoning careers. We develop new definitions of home revolving around our college friends – if we are lucky enough to find these comfortable relationships.
But we believe society has trained us to prioritize careers and work over maintaining meaningful social relationships. Prevailing narratives from families, educators and media encourages us to pursue financial success, often at the expense of our relationships. The desire for career advancement can make us feel like we need to be constantly on the move, ready to relocate for the next opportunity.
For seniors, this is a particularly challenging mindset to break free from. Impending graduation and indefinite entry into post-undergrad paths can create a sense of urgency, compelling seniors to focus on their next career move rather than cherishing the moments right in front of them — keeping us from enjoying the last memories of college.
Part of our conditioning is to understand a college education as the acquisition of knowledge and skills for a future career. So while social connections are undoubtedly a significant part of the college experience, the primary objective is to graduate with two things, a degree and a job. This prioritization of financial success is shown in explicit and subtle ways. For example, a student may join Greek life not just for socialization but also to form professional relationships that can help them with employment after graduation.
Being aware of the impermanence of these four years and the knowledge that they cannot be relived is cause for us to live the college experience more profoundly.
We admit that financial stability provides the freedom to pursue our desires and aspirations. But when it’s all said and done, was it worth it when all the people we know and love are not at arm’s reach anymore? It’s crucial to recognize the importance of maintaining close connections with friends and family throughout our life journeys.
As we navigate the complex landscape of academics, internships, careers and social lives, we must recognize that amid the pursuit of success, we should never forget the value our connections and irreplaceable friendships have toward our happiness.
So instead of picking up the metaphorical “15 cigarettes” per day, we should consider spending more time at our friends’ homes, inviting people over to our dorms more, and living college life beyond the classroom with more intention.