To college students for whom things aren’t going your way: Is a trouble-free life truly happiness?

Tetsuya Sukegawa Professor, International Studies Department, Faculty of International StudiesProfessor Sukegawa teaches subjects including Modern Literature, Special Seminars in International Studies, and Introduction to Culture Studies, Introductory Seminars, and Seminars. He is an active writer and singer under the name Durian Sukegawa, and a popular correspondent providing life advice for radio shows and newspaper columns. His major books include Reading Lao Tzu with Bakabon no Papa and Dosimeters and the Narrow Road to the Interior. His book An (Sweet Bean Paste) has been translated into thirteen languages and was awarded two French literary prizes, Le prix des Lecteurs du Livre de Poche 2017 and Prix littéraire DOMITYS 2017. This book was made into a movie.

Reflections on becoming a university professor

When I was appointed professor in the Faculty of International Studies in September 2019, my first impression was how many plain students there were. When I was a student myself, the phrase “university student” had a powerful impression, a certain scent, if you will… A unique atmosphere. But I got the impression that few students today are enthusiastic about their thoughts and actions. This provides a unique opportunity, in the sense that they are ready to start absorbing something new. Most students today take their coursework seriously, and they have good attendance. They rapidly obtain thinking skills, and progress at a remarkable pace. While they don’t seem aware of it themselves, I hope they will more quickly realize and have confidence in their potential for changing as much as they would like.

Learning for active living. Express yourself!

After I started teaching at university, I started worrying about various things myself. Particularly, I wondered what I should pass on to my students. Then, one day, I realized how few people around me expressed themselves. Many university courses require writing reports. I require reports in all of my own courses, but when I ask my students what makes a good report, they usually say something about skillfully summarizing the course content and their opinions on it. This made me realize my mission here was to foster people who are able to express themselves in their lives.

Reports are essentially an opportunity for expressing something. No matter where you are, it is important that you actively live your life, in otherwise that you express yourself. You might end up working at a company, or living alone, or moving to some other country, but wherever you end up, actively living there will mean expressing yourself in some manner, great or small. Otherwise, you end up as just a cog in some machine. Needless to say, there is no situation requiring cog-like persons incapable of expressing themselves.

University courses are opportunities for developing such skills. Whether you’re writing a short report or a lengthy dissertation, please consider it an opportunity for strengthening yourself, for presenting the expressions and thoughts within you, to show you will not be living the life of a cog.

To worry is to live

―Professor Sukekawa teaches a course that deals with life issues. This unique course, possibly the only one like it in Japan, takes a discussion format, imagining and considering the lives of people who have asked Sukekawa for various life advice through submissions to his newspaper columns, etc.

In my course, we learn what worries other people, then project ourselves onto them and consider what we would do in their situation. We think about these cases one-by-one while listening to the opinions and thoughts of others. There are surprisingly many things we can notice and learn through that process, leading us to reconsider our own way of life.

Pretty much anyone would consider having no worries to be a good thing. But the truth is, having no worries would mean you are not alive. Worries are a result of living, thinking, and acting, and so long as we are alive, we will bear the burden of any number of concerns. Interestingly enough, the kinds of worries we have quickly decrease as we age. We have a great diversity of worries when we are young, and we often find ourselves surprised at unexpected developments. Once we’ve aged a bit, however, our categories for worry become much more limited: getting along with our children and their spouses, inheritance issues, having money for retirement, health problems, things like that. The things we worry about depend on what we are living through at the time, on the situations we find ourselves in, and so are a reflection of our lives.

Having worries is therefore proof that we are alive, not something we must avoid.

Accepting fate

Life often doesn’t go as we plan it. That’s true for everyone. Perhaps you have experienced something like this yourself, for example when you took your college entrance exams. But even when you find yourself thinking, “This isn’t how things were supposed to turn out” or “This isn’t where I’m supposed to be,” I think you can at least use that as a form of motivation.

University will not teach you everything you need for life. Nor will your time at university decide everything that happens in the remainder of your life. Your experiences here will be an accumulation of day-to-day trivialities, four years of things you learn without realizing it. While it may not seem so now, your time here will alter the direction of your life, and will provide you with a powerful driving force for moments when you later want to change it again. So even if at some point you find yourself thinking it was fate that put you where you are, I hope you will confront your situation head-on.

Trying to escape fate is painful. In contrast, deciding to live the best life you can will actually make you feel better. From the day you make that decision, you will feel a new wind blowing, you will see things in a new light. To that end, I hope you will actively make use of our University and its faculty as a way to find the direction toward a richer life.

Also, as a university student, you should find yourself with plenty of time. As university faculty, I suppose it would be proper for me to tell you to use that time to focus on your studies, but personally, as an adult point of view, I would prefer that you spend more time considering why you would spend all your time in such a way. Students today seem too cool to me, in various ways. Please use your energy more actively. What seems futile at first may turn out to be an unexpected trigger in the future.

Meiji Gakuin University is a wonderful, laid-back place. The perfect place for directing your energy in all directions. If, however, you find yourself deep in your worries or your heart is clouded by despair, I hope you will come take my class. I’ll be waiting for you!