The movie “Billy Madison” is probably the best movie ever made. Here’s what it’s about: Adam Sandler plays Billy, the privileged idiot son of a wealthy businessman. Billy lives a happy life that mostly consists of drinking heavily and talking in a high, whiny voice for some reason.
But all is not well for Billy Madison. Early in the movie his father tells him that he is, in fact, a privileged idiot who, being an idiot, cannot inherit the family business. So Billy makes a deal with his father. If Billy can go back and successfully repeat grades one through 12 over the course of a year, Billy can inherit the company.
Readers, I’m going to level with you. I don’t know what “Billy Madison” has to do with life after Yale. I was really just summarizing the movie’s premise so I could tread water for a couple paragraphs. After all, I haven’t been a competent Yale student — or a staff columnist at this old rag — for quite a while now. But now here’s my advice: just be yourself. Honestly, it’s such a stupid-sounding cliché, but truly, I think it’s the key to being happy with life after Yale.
Schools like Yale put a lot of pressure on us. It’s hard. Kids are having existential crises and nervous breakdowns left and right. They’re applying to fellowships and jobs and are stressing about getting their work done and they’ve taken on too many extracurriculars and they never get time to hang out with their friends and they’re not sure if they can drop a class and still complete their major and sweet Jesus! No wonder we drink our guts out when we finally get the chance — how could we not?
I admit that I’m a worrier too. I wasn’t immune to all this stress as a student. I remain stressed about plenty of other stuff now. Now, I’m not trying to impart some important piece of wisdom that I’ve somehow unlocked. But in my experience, a good way to be happy is not to think so much about what everyone else expects of you. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t expect big things of yourself; it means you should make sure these expectations are your own.
It’s easy to drive yourself crazy hearing about what other Yalies are doing with their lives. Your friend got into a better law school than you, or is now a Rhodes scholar, or is going into finance and will be richer than most Hindu gods. But here’s the secret I do know: those Yalies aren’t you. You’re you! So be you! You’ve been doing it for a couple decades and you’re really good at it by now, so get out there and get it done, son.
The stuff that really matters is pretty simple, I think. If you can find something to do that you’re actually excited about doing when you wake up, if you can find someone you can actually stand to spend time with on a daily basis, that’s huge. You’ll be way ahead of the game. And those things don’t have to fall into place during your first three months (hell, first three years) out of college.
On second thought, maybe there is something Billy can teach us about life, or at least life after Yale. He starts off trying to inherit the company to prove himself to his father. But in the end, his true success is proving himself to himself. I think.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen that movie.
River Clegg is a 2011 graduate of Davenport College. After graduating, he joined “The Onion” in New York, NY.