MINERVA VOICES

Redefining fulfillment - What university looks like when it challenges the purpose of education… and life

by Mishaal Lakhani, Class of 2024

March 14, 2024

When I started at Minerva University, I didn’t expect it to redefine my understanding of success, fulfillment, and purpose. More importantly, I didn’t expect people to be the catalyst behind that change.

But it did — through a series of unexpected encounters with humans from all corners of the globe, each bringing their unique perspectives and life stories. Not being in the same country for more than 4 months through my degree (pretty different from what university looks like for most) nudged me into questioning the very ideals I had guiding my life.

This post is an honest reflection of these transformative years; a personal account of how being thrust into a whirlwind of ideas and cultures via incredible people shakes the foundations of what a life well-lived looks like. Some of the realizations from being surrounded by remarkable, very different humans.

The status quo: Bubbles

College is one of the only times in your adult life when you’re surrounded by a bunch of people around the same age + life stage as you. It’s great for making friends, but it comes with a slight downside. Based on your environment, most people end up wanting the same things without even realizing it (aka mimetic desires).

It’s like there’s this game everyone’s playing, aiming for goals that are supposed to be the ticket to success. In business school, it’s a job at a top consultancy. In software engineering it's a big tech role. It’s not just personal ambition; it’s almost like the environment itself nudges you towards these paths.

It’s hard to question where your beliefs come from, especially early in the process. You’re both drawing the map and following it at the same time. And often in these bubbles, we’re not interacting with the people who have followed the directions and made it to the end destination. We’re just forging our own map, based on a destination most people around us have told us is good, and tailing the cluster we’re surrounded by.

While having some direction is comforting, and there’s definitely value in these goals — like learning a ton and expanding your network — the catch is thinking that hitting this milestone means you’ve made it. That once you’re there, happiness and everything else you’re looking for will just fall into place.

But here’s the thing: these goals often turn into zero-sum games, where only one person can win, and success is seen through a pretty narrow lens.

It’s a bit like we’re all chasing after the same thing, without stopping to ask ourselves if it’s really what we want or if it’s just what we think we should be wanting. And it's hard to swim against the current, let alone step out of the river and question why you’re swimming in the first place.

The mindset shift: Fulfillment = Rubik’s cube?

What if instead of a destination, we considered fulfillment like a Rubik’s cube, where we need to line up different aspects of our life.

From what I’ve been told, the usual university experience seems kind of like we’re taught how to solve one side really well (i.e., knowledge/career success). We get really good at that one aspect, showing everyone how well the squares came together.

But what about the rest of the cube? Is doing work really well all there is to education, or to life for that matter? When do we get around to figuring out the rest? Surely there's more to life than being a really good employee.

Considering education is supposed to be the foundation for our future, especially at a time when we’re still trying to understand ourselves and the world, knowledge is, of course, really important. But, more often than not, actually doing stuff in the real world teaches us way more than theoretical knowledge in a classroom. For a lot of jobs (definitely not all of them, though), the real value of what we learned in school turns out to be a bit less impactful than it seemed at the time. It turns out, a lot of the learning, beyond just the basics, happens on the job.

We get so tunnel-visioned into perfecting that one side that’s automatically prioritized, we might not even notice we’re messing up the other sides of the cube. It becomes a race about outdoing classmates for jobs, seeing relationships as transactions — what can this person do for me? Or even screwing over our long-term health and longevity by building unsustainable habits.

I know the games I want to play are not about competing for a limited prize; they’re about solving the big problems facing our world, where success is shared and multiplied. Sometimes, we might accidentally or intentionally align the other side of our cube — like understanding the importance of deep, fulfilling relationships and building a strong community around us.

But the default state is chasing a version of success that’s been laid out for us, not necessarily excellence or personal fulfillment. This has been said so many times over, and probably much more eloquently, but still remains true. The problem still remains that most institutions define the function of education as one side of the cube.

It’s clear that the university formula, for the most part, does work — it’s just not the whole picture (or in this case, the cube). It’s like being caught in a gravitational pull towards a specific version of success, where we’re told, “Do this, and you’ll be worth something. You’ll feel complete, and your life will have meaning.” But how often do we pause and think about why we’re prioritizing these goals over others? Do we ever question if this narrowly defined path is really what we want or need?

The alternative: Byproducts of Minerva

Gravity feels different on this planet

Minerva’s definitely got elements of this gravitational pull, but it’s still pretty different, because of how diverse yet small the student body is. It’s harder for that mimetic force — the one that pulls everyone towards the same goals — to really take hold here as strongly. Most come to Minerva chasing something different, not just in terms of their education but in how they see and want to engage with the world.

This variety in pursuit and background means there’s no overwhelming current dragging everyone in the same direction. There’s not as much of a pressure to conform to a single idea of success because, from the get-go, everyone’s idea of what they’re here for is so varied. Students are united not by a common endgame but by a shared ethos of exploration and understanding, driven by personal passions rather than a collective benchmark of success.

What really ties us all together is this collective quest for a different way of being, thinking, and understanding the world. It’s about passion — finding what lights you up and diving deep into it. And because most people are coming from this place of genuine curiosity and desire for depth, the community can feel different. It’s not about competing on a predefined path; it’s about exploring a multitude of paths together, each contributing to a broader, more enriched understanding of what we can achieve and how we can live.

Popping the bubble

Being thrust outside of the university bubble at Minerva, I was hit by the vastness of life. Meeting people with wildly different life stories — from someone who’s lived through the Vietnamese communist regime to an architect pioneering Taiwan’s development, or an activist fighting for rights in Argentina — really opened up my perspective. You see all these different ways people have found their balance, their own sides of the cube sorted.

And then there were those moments when I felt most alive. They weren’t when I added another line to my resume or finished an assignment. Lying on a mountain in Switzerland, staring up at a sky more filled with stars than darkness, surrounded by some of your closest friends — it’s experiences like these that make you question if just focusing on one side of the Rubik’s cube is really what we want out of life.

More importantly, through this bubble being burst, through these experiences which normally would be scattered across the eventual timeline of your life, being condensed into these first few years of adulthood, you start to fiddle with your own Rubik's cube a lot earlier.

You’re spending your time in the real world, one where career, knowledge, and intellectual pursuits are definitely important, but there’s a fullness to the perspective. The environment pushes you to consider everything else, to speedrun creating the life you’d want in a little microbubble, and to reconsider that every time there’s a switch of environment.

Transience and possibilities

Minerva also really stretches the bounds of what’s possible in how you spend your time. Being in a new location every four months isn’t just about geographical change; it reshapes how you think about what you prioritize your energy doing.

Traditional university towns, or even bustling city campuses don’t quite have this parallel. It’s not just about filling your days with activities; it’s about seeking out what genuinely excites you, knowing this might be your only chance here, in this city, in this continent, for the foreseeable future. This urgency fosters a kind of deliberate living that’s rare.

Instead of typical spring break pursuits — partying or cramming for exams — my breaks have been about climbing volcanoes, writing reflections on trains cutting through valleys, or zipping towards colossal waterfalls on a speedboat. It’s about orienting time around people who, in just a brief encounter, can completely transform your life. These experiences don’t just make for great stories; they shift what you value, pushing you towards people and experiences that offer unparalleled joy and fulfillment.

When we put ourselves in environments that spark multiple glimpses, and experiences that show us all facets of life, then it continuously evolves our model. Perhaps it’s about carving out our own definition of success, finding what fills us up on a deeper level, beyond job titles and validation. And then continuously working to solve all sides of that cube.

Read the second part, where Mishaal dives into 3 specific, perspective-altering stories of humans she met along the journey.

For more articles written by Mishaal, visit her Medium page.

Quick Facts

Name
Country
Class
Major

Social Sciences & Business

Business & Computational Sciences

Business and Social Sciences

Social Sciences and Business

Computational Sciences & Social Sciences

Computer Science & Arts and Humanities

Business and Computational Sciences

Business and Social Sciences

Natural Sciences

Arts and Humanities

Business, Social Sciences

Business & Arts and Humanities

Computational Sciences

Natural Sciences, Computer Science

Computational Sciences

Arts & Humanities

Computational Sciences, Social Sciences

Computational Sciences

Computational Sciences

Natural Sciences, Social Sciences

Social Sciences, Natural Sciences

Data Science, Statistics

Computational Sciences

Business

Computational Sciences, Data Science

Social Sciences

Natural Sciences

Business, Natural Sciences

Business, Social Sciences

Computational Sciences

Arts & Humanities, Social Sciences

Social Sciences

Computational Sciences, Natural Sciences

Natural Sciences

Computational Sciences, Social Sciences

Business, Social Sciences

Computational Sciences

Natural Sciences, Social Sciences

Social Sciences

Arts & Humanities, Social Sciences

Arts & Humanities, Social Science

Social Sciences, Business

Arts & Humanities

Computational Sciences, Social Science

Natural Sciences, Computer Science

Computational Science, Statistic Natural Sciences

Business & Social Sciences

Computational Science, Social Sciences

Social Sciences and Business

Business

Arts and Humanities

Computational Sciences

Social Sciences

Social Sciences and Computational Sciences

Social Sciences & Computational Sciences

Social Sciences & Arts and Humanities

Computational Science

Minor

Computational Science & Business

Economics

Social Sciences

Concentration

Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence & Cognition, Brain, and Behavior

Designing Societies & New Ventures

Strategic Finance & Data Science and Statistics

Brand Management and Designing Societies

Data Science & Economics

Machine Learning

Cells, Organisms, Data Science, Statistics

Arts & Literature and Historical Forces

Artificial Intelligence & Computer Science

Cells and Organisms, Mind and Emotion

Economics, Physics

Managing Operational Complexity and Strategic Finance

Global Development Studies and Brain, Cognition, and Behavior

Scalable Growth, Designing Societies

Business

Drug Discovery Research, Designing and Implementing Policies

Historical Forces, Cognition, Brain, and Behavior

Artificial Intelligence, Psychology

Designing Solutions, Data Science and Statistics

Data Science and Statistic, Theoretical Foundations of Natural Science

Strategic Finance, Politics, Government, and Society

Data Analysis, Cognition

Brand Management

Data Science and Statistics & Economics

Cognitive Science & Economics

Data Science and Statistics and Contemporary Knowledge Discovery

Internship
Higia Technologies
Project Development and Marketing Analyst Intern at VIVITA, a Mistletoe company
Business Development Intern, DoSomething.org
Business Analyst, Clean Energy Associates (CEA)

Conversation

When I started at Minerva University, I didn’t expect it to redefine my understanding of success, fulfillment, and purpose. More importantly, I didn’t expect people to be the catalyst behind that change.

But it did — through a series of unexpected encounters with humans from all corners of the globe, each bringing their unique perspectives and life stories. Not being in the same country for more than 4 months through my degree (pretty different from what university looks like for most) nudged me into questioning the very ideals I had guiding my life.

This post is an honest reflection of these transformative years; a personal account of how being thrust into a whirlwind of ideas and cultures via incredible people shakes the foundations of what a life well-lived looks like. Some of the realizations from being surrounded by remarkable, very different humans.

The status quo: Bubbles

College is one of the only times in your adult life when you’re surrounded by a bunch of people around the same age + life stage as you. It’s great for making friends, but it comes with a slight downside. Based on your environment, most people end up wanting the same things without even realizing it (aka mimetic desires).

It’s like there’s this game everyone’s playing, aiming for goals that are supposed to be the ticket to success. In business school, it’s a job at a top consultancy. In software engineering it's a big tech role. It’s not just personal ambition; it’s almost like the environment itself nudges you towards these paths.

It’s hard to question where your beliefs come from, especially early in the process. You’re both drawing the map and following it at the same time. And often in these bubbles, we’re not interacting with the people who have followed the directions and made it to the end destination. We’re just forging our own map, based on a destination most people around us have told us is good, and tailing the cluster we’re surrounded by.

While having some direction is comforting, and there’s definitely value in these goals — like learning a ton and expanding your network — the catch is thinking that hitting this milestone means you’ve made it. That once you’re there, happiness and everything else you’re looking for will just fall into place.

But here’s the thing: these goals often turn into zero-sum games, where only one person can win, and success is seen through a pretty narrow lens.

It’s a bit like we’re all chasing after the same thing, without stopping to ask ourselves if it’s really what we want or if it’s just what we think we should be wanting. And it's hard to swim against the current, let alone step out of the river and question why you’re swimming in the first place.

The mindset shift: Fulfillment = Rubik’s cube?

What if instead of a destination, we considered fulfillment like a Rubik’s cube, where we need to line up different aspects of our life.

From what I’ve been told, the usual university experience seems kind of like we’re taught how to solve one side really well (i.e., knowledge/career success). We get really good at that one aspect, showing everyone how well the squares came together.

But what about the rest of the cube? Is doing work really well all there is to education, or to life for that matter? When do we get around to figuring out the rest? Surely there's more to life than being a really good employee.

Considering education is supposed to be the foundation for our future, especially at a time when we’re still trying to understand ourselves and the world, knowledge is, of course, really important. But, more often than not, actually doing stuff in the real world teaches us way more than theoretical knowledge in a classroom. For a lot of jobs (definitely not all of them, though), the real value of what we learned in school turns out to be a bit less impactful than it seemed at the time. It turns out, a lot of the learning, beyond just the basics, happens on the job.

We get so tunnel-visioned into perfecting that one side that’s automatically prioritized, we might not even notice we’re messing up the other sides of the cube. It becomes a race about outdoing classmates for jobs, seeing relationships as transactions — what can this person do for me? Or even screwing over our long-term health and longevity by building unsustainable habits.

I know the games I want to play are not about competing for a limited prize; they’re about solving the big problems facing our world, where success is shared and multiplied. Sometimes, we might accidentally or intentionally align the other side of our cube — like understanding the importance of deep, fulfilling relationships and building a strong community around us.

But the default state is chasing a version of success that’s been laid out for us, not necessarily excellence or personal fulfillment. This has been said so many times over, and probably much more eloquently, but still remains true. The problem still remains that most institutions define the function of education as one side of the cube.

It’s clear that the university formula, for the most part, does work — it’s just not the whole picture (or in this case, the cube). It’s like being caught in a gravitational pull towards a specific version of success, where we’re told, “Do this, and you’ll be worth something. You’ll feel complete, and your life will have meaning.” But how often do we pause and think about why we’re prioritizing these goals over others? Do we ever question if this narrowly defined path is really what we want or need?

The alternative: Byproducts of Minerva

Gravity feels different on this planet

Minerva’s definitely got elements of this gravitational pull, but it’s still pretty different, because of how diverse yet small the student body is. It’s harder for that mimetic force — the one that pulls everyone towards the same goals — to really take hold here as strongly. Most come to Minerva chasing something different, not just in terms of their education but in how they see and want to engage with the world.

This variety in pursuit and background means there’s no overwhelming current dragging everyone in the same direction. There’s not as much of a pressure to conform to a single idea of success because, from the get-go, everyone’s idea of what they’re here for is so varied. Students are united not by a common endgame but by a shared ethos of exploration and understanding, driven by personal passions rather than a collective benchmark of success.

What really ties us all together is this collective quest for a different way of being, thinking, and understanding the world. It’s about passion — finding what lights you up and diving deep into it. And because most people are coming from this place of genuine curiosity and desire for depth, the community can feel different. It’s not about competing on a predefined path; it’s about exploring a multitude of paths together, each contributing to a broader, more enriched understanding of what we can achieve and how we can live.

Popping the bubble

Being thrust outside of the university bubble at Minerva, I was hit by the vastness of life. Meeting people with wildly different life stories — from someone who’s lived through the Vietnamese communist regime to an architect pioneering Taiwan’s development, or an activist fighting for rights in Argentina — really opened up my perspective. You see all these different ways people have found their balance, their own sides of the cube sorted.

And then there were those moments when I felt most alive. They weren’t when I added another line to my resume or finished an assignment. Lying on a mountain in Switzerland, staring up at a sky more filled with stars than darkness, surrounded by some of your closest friends — it’s experiences like these that make you question if just focusing on one side of the Rubik’s cube is really what we want out of life.

More importantly, through this bubble being burst, through these experiences which normally would be scattered across the eventual timeline of your life, being condensed into these first few years of adulthood, you start to fiddle with your own Rubik's cube a lot earlier.

You’re spending your time in the real world, one where career, knowledge, and intellectual pursuits are definitely important, but there’s a fullness to the perspective. The environment pushes you to consider everything else, to speedrun creating the life you’d want in a little microbubble, and to reconsider that every time there’s a switch of environment.

Transience and possibilities

Minerva also really stretches the bounds of what’s possible in how you spend your time. Being in a new location every four months isn’t just about geographical change; it reshapes how you think about what you prioritize your energy doing.

Traditional university towns, or even bustling city campuses don’t quite have this parallel. It’s not just about filling your days with activities; it’s about seeking out what genuinely excites you, knowing this might be your only chance here, in this city, in this continent, for the foreseeable future. This urgency fosters a kind of deliberate living that’s rare.

Instead of typical spring break pursuits — partying or cramming for exams — my breaks have been about climbing volcanoes, writing reflections on trains cutting through valleys, or zipping towards colossal waterfalls on a speedboat. It’s about orienting time around people who, in just a brief encounter, can completely transform your life. These experiences don’t just make for great stories; they shift what you value, pushing you towards people and experiences that offer unparalleled joy and fulfillment.

When we put ourselves in environments that spark multiple glimpses, and experiences that show us all facets of life, then it continuously evolves our model. Perhaps it’s about carving out our own definition of success, finding what fills us up on a deeper level, beyond job titles and validation. And then continuously working to solve all sides of that cube.

Read the second part, where Mishaal dives into 3 specific, perspective-altering stories of humans she met along the journey.

For more articles written by Mishaal, visit her Medium page.