Advice from a Prof: Get through Life Without Really Trying

At the age of 41 I find it strange being asked to give advice to students on what makes a successful life.

By some measure I have been successful. I finished my PhD on time, and was a university endowed professor by the time I was 40. I’ve been married 18 years … to the same woman, and I have three great kids. So what’s my secret?

1. Follow your heart.

A key to success is to do what you love … as long as it can support you. If what you love cannot support you, then make it your hobby and find the next best job that can support your habit.

For me, my first love was always woodworking, but I realized early on that I was never going to be good enough to make a living at it. So I went to school and now I have a nice shop where I can butcher wood to my heart’s content.

At first I wanted to be a naturalist, but I hated biology. Then I wanted to be a lawyer, but I found legal details boring. At one point I even wanted to be an accountant, but that made being a lawyer seem as exciting as a race car driver.

I had been taking economics courses and had been enjoying and doing very well in them. When I was 20 I decided I would major in that field, not because I thought I could be employed in it, but just because I liked it. I was amazed at the difference that made.

I struggled to study these other subjects in the past but I longed to study economics. And because I had a passion for the subject, my grades improved greatly. To this day, I still love to go to work because I love what I do. It is easy to be successful at something you like … it just comes naturally.

I think the same can be said for relationships as well. In choosing a mate, a friend, or a business partner, it is important to follow your heart and choose someone you like. Why choose someone because they look great, come from a certain circle of people, or because they’re all that’s available? Life should be fun, and if you choose a career and mate that matches your preferences then life will be more fun than if you don’t.

2. Follow your talent.

Although I loved woodwork, I was able to recognize that I don’t have the talent to be successful at it. Fortunately I was able to find a career that I liked, but one in which I also had natural talent.

Hard work can always substitute for talent, but why choose an occupation in which you have to work hard? When you enter a field that you love, you want to work. When you enter a field that you’re talented at, you can be very productive and earn a good living.

3. Follow God.

For years I considered myself an atheist, then later, an agnostic. All the while I was drawn to the truth that God existed and I wanted something more of my life.

The older I became, the more disillusioned I was of my own code of conduct. I realised I was spiritually isolated. My spiritual isolation ended when I heard of Jesus for the first time on a street in Calgary. After hearing about who Jesus was, and what he did, I turned my life over to him and I was relieved of many of life’s pressures.

It was because of God that I was able to pursue a career in economics even though I didn’t know what would be in the future. I knew that God would look after me, and I never worried. If you want to learn more about my spiritual journey, you can go to my web page.

At 41, I look back on my successes and failures in life I realize they all come down to these simple rules.

As a professor I’ve had many crying students in my office over the years. Sometimes they cry because of poor performance. When they calm down from getting a failing grade I ask them “Why are you studying economics?” Almost certainly I find out that they don’t like the subject and are in it for the wrong reason. I tell them to find a discipline that they love and are good at.

Sometimes, believe it or not, they cry in my office over bad personal relationships. Again, I’m struck by how often I meet people that are dating, or even married, to people they don’t like. Other times they cry over a tragedy in their life and they don’t know how to deal with it.

We all experience good and bad times, but without God we can’t always deal with them Those who know Jesus, though not perfect by any means, have access to a God that can carry the burdens for them.

Doug Allen is a professor of Economics at Simon Fraser University in beautiful Burnaby (a suburb of Vancouver), British Columbia, Canada.

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