I remember the first time I watched the movie ‘Into the Wild’. It was February 2009. I was 20 years old and about to finish my first semester at university, studying business administration. For weeks I had been preparing for the exams, studying relentlessly, spending day after day in the library, learning about accounting, finance and microeconomics. We had been told that about half of the students will fail the first semester and I did everything I could to not be one of them. This was a new chapter of my life. This was college, this was the stepping stone to a bright future, to a successful career, to making money and buying cars and houses. I was determined to not fuck this up.
The night before my first exam I decided that instead of cramming I would watch a movie and then go to bed early. So I lay down on my dorm room bed and played ‘Into the Wild’.
I remember the desperation I felt two and a half hours later when the movie ended. All my goals, all my ambitions, all my ideas of how my life should look like in the future had been called into question by this movie. I suddenly felt like everything I cared about was superficial. Who cares if I fail my exams? Who cares what kind of job I get later on and if I make a lot of money with it? Who cares what kind of car I drive and what kind of clothes I wear?
All of this suddenly seemed so mundane. I was chasing values that are not universal, but get their legitimation purely from the questionable system we live in. Maybe, as proclaimed in ‘Into the Wild’, society really was something sickening, something that you need to escape from? Maybe living a minimalistic life close to nature really was the better choice? Maybe I should quit university, leave everything behind and live the life of an adventurous dropout? Looking back this sounds a little crazy, but I was seriously lying awake at night, considering these options!
I did not do any of that. Instead, I got up the next morning and wrote my exam in accounting, the first of about 30 exams that I wrote and passed during the next three years, until I had my bachelor degree. I then went on and got a master degree in behavioral economics. And then a second master degree in international logistics and supply chain management. I followed the beaten path of education and did what society expected me to do.
I did however reconceive the values I had in life. I did not keep studying business because I felt obligated to. I didn’t do it for the prestigious future job anymore, for the high salary or for the fancy car. Actually, nowadays I couldn’t care less about that. The only reason I kept following this path is that it genuinely interests me. It felt like the right path, and I made it my path. I stopped caring too much about externalities such as grades and instead started focusing on getting the most out of it for myself. I studied in different countries, met different people, exchanged ideas, made great friends and this way grew as a person. Over time I figured out that this is what matters most to me. Experiences. Moments. Growth. Friendships. The highs and lows of life. Not money and things.
I don’t think that ‘Into the Wild’ necessarily is about leaving everything behind and living alone in the nature. The movie doesn’t tell you that this is the only way. It rather describes one of endless possibilities of how to live your life in accordance with your values. It describes someone who had a vision for his life and was not afraid to leave everything behind in order to follow his dream. This is how I want to be. Not someone who is railing against society and ‘the system’ on principle, but not someone who lets society dictate him what to do or think either. I want to be someone who actively reconceives his values from time to time, instead of falling into the trap of just relying on media and mainstream thinking. I think that the society we live in has plenty of advantages and it sure is a convenient surrounding to spend your life in. But when push comes to shove, you cannot be afraid to give all of that up in order to live in true accordance with your core values.