Declare a Mission, Not A Major
Full disclosure: I (unfortunately) cannot take credit for the above title. This ingenious concept called “Purpose Learning” came from the Stanford2025 exhibit, created by The @Standford Project.
In retrospect, my college experience wasn’t all that special.
I went to a liberal arts school in the Midwest where they sold us the fallacy of an “interdisciplinary education.”
In theory, connecting the dots presented to us by experts in the field sounds incredible. Who wouldn’t want to become a well-rounded student while learning about various topics and creating new ideas from existing schools of thought? Hell, “interdisciplinary education” even sounds sexy.
In practice, this isn’t always the case.
Like most liberal arts universities, we were given a definite list of classes and majors to choose from. This makes conventional sense considering many incoming freshmen have no idea what opportunities are theirs for the taking.
I know I sure as hell didn’t. In fact, I remained undecided my entire first semester of college.
In many ways, I felt like an immediate failure for not having the foresight to know what I wanted to do later on in life. After all, I had plenty of friends who had chosen their fate all the way back in second or third grade.
For those of us who don’t have a predetermined path (i.e. are human), this sort of external pressure isn’t as helpful as we think. Thanks to peer and faculty pressure, we’re forced to sheepishly choose a rigid path that will define who we are for the rest of our lives.
How do you not immediately have a panic attack just hearing that?
Thanks to this traditional mindset, I constantly have conversations with friends who felt pressured to choose a specific major and now feel unsatisfied with their current career path.
Do you know what I hear when someone tells me they are “unsatisfied” with his or her job?
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. How could a teenager possibly be expected to choose the specific path that will bring them closer to actualizing their full potential?
When we force students to declare a major, we’re essentially demanding they choose their path instead of their destination.
Why not flip the script and allow them to focus on the destination while piecing together the path as they go?
Instead of declaring a major (and ultimately a career), why not urge students to declare a mission?
What exactly does this look like?
Example 1 — Rather than declaring Computer Science as a major, why not study it along with Education and Political Science in order to make personalized education more accessible to all.
Example 2— Combine Visual Communication, Business Administration, and Computer Science in order to redefine how we work in the future.
Example 3— Study History, Architecture, and Mechanical Engineering to help build the cities of tomorrow.
The innovative piece to this puzzle is the nature of these combinations and missions. They are subjective and endless, which means two very different students could pursue the same mission using two very different paths.
Stop for a second and let that sink in.
If chosen effectively, missions would require a lasting commitment. They would leave plenty of room for ongoing self-exploration and personal interpretation.
Imagine what this sort of higher education would look like for students?
- The pursuit of purpose and impact through relevant projects would be instrumental in creating a fulfilling life for each student.
- Self-identity and self-worth would be tied to a larger mission instead of a narrow job description in the future.
- Relevant techniques and methodologies for future pursuits would replace the collection of obsolete skill sets that worked in the past.
- Students could actually focus on the most fundamental goal of education: to learn how to learn, which would better prepare them for the future.
- Mentorship could come from students and alumni who are further along in their pursuit of a similar mission in order to learn and navigate roadblocks.
- They could connect with others who share their overall mission but have complementary skills needed to help make progress.
This last point fulfills a basic psychological human need that many students and adults still struggle with to this day: belongingness.
To be honest, this was the one thing I can confidently say I gained during my college experience. I found a close group of friends that eventually helped me grow and mature into the person I am today.
Not only would this new educational framework better prepare and fulfill the professional needs of students; it would give them a deeper, more meaningful way to connect with others, both during their education and in the real world, in order to find a sense of belonging.
Speaking of the real world, declaring a mission inevitably shortens the gap between life as a student and a contributing member of society as an adult.
Imagine this: you’re at a party or out with friends and you meet someone you piques your interest. What do you do?
In today’s world, you’re probably tempted to ask the same archaic question everyone else asks:
“So, what do you do?”
Instead, what if the status quo shifted to:
“So, what is your mission?”
You would immediately see their eyes light up with the opportunity to share. After all, it’s no secret discussing ideas with others creates a deeper connection quicker than talking about people or events.
This may seem like a pipe dream thanks to the countless bureaucratic hoops and unnecessary politics that come along with institutional reform. However, all it takes is one individual or organization to start a movement. Once a few brave souls prove the value of this type of educational disruption, the rest of the dominos will inevitably fall.
I’ll leave you with one last thought: you don’t have to be in college to declare a mission. It is never too late to devote your professional life to a greater cause.
Thanks to continuing education online and plenty of forward-thinking organizations, you can make the conscious decision to use your skills, both old and new, to help others.