Misguided Advice: An Experience With Undergraduate Advising

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are”

-EE Cummings

I’ve recently read the novel The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Although it is a little long for my taste, it’s extremely well written, with several brilliant take away messages. There is only one brief observation Tartt made in her work that I wish to focus on. It is how she describes college from a young Theo Decker, who applies to the University early due to circumstance.

Tartt chose to write about Theo’s perspective of his college professors. All of a sudden, you see that every adult in his life is certain about his interests, and think they know him and what he needs. The Philosophy teacher sees that he is obviously a philosopher who should get involved in their events outside of class. The English professor sees a paper he has written, and believes he must be dedicated to the topic he wrote about, as does all his other professors, who urge him to come to their club meetings and be involved with their pursuits. It reminds me of the expression “If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail”.

These people take what they know best, and project it onto youth as if it should be their truth as well, the only truth, rather than taking themselves out of their limited perspective and placing it in other positions. With good intentions, its all they know how to do, as that is how they became the people they are in the first place, seeing it as the best method.

   Ive experienced this as well. Everyone thinks they know what you need, and who you are. So much so that they are comfortable with defining you without close inspection, asking broad questions that, at best, link your identity to how you want to make money rather than your character or integrity. It is a fad carried by a world that doesn’t think for themselves, and believes whatever they are told growing up and into adulthood from people in seemingly (and I stress the word seemingly) higher positions than their own. They follow blindly without really asking any questions and assuming their given role indifferently. There are little opportunities, all which mask individuality and demand that you look like everyone else.

At my University, I learned that advisors don’t like it when they ask you what your goals are, and you inform them that there is nothing quite specific in mind, but rather a desire to be involved in something that has a positive impact. That is the answer I gave my undergraduate advisor, that I wasn’t certain exactly where I wanted to end up after this last year of college and beyond that. As long as it felt constructive and that I was doing something meaningful, it didn’t matter to me.

This answer went over her head, and she supplied a response that completely missed the point, blatantly ignoring my expressed desires, with the simple advice to research what employers want, take actions to become exactly what that is (like I couldn’t come up with this obvious plan on my own at this point in my life), and that perhaps I should look into sales (mind you, I have an Environmental Studies major).

I have to admit this pained me quite a bit. I patiently listened to her rant, politely nodding my head in between sentences and quietly giving her a restrained approval at each point made. “Your help is not helpful” I wanted to say. I shook her hand, and left her office feeling alone with my thoughts, sadly without much surprise either, filled with the helplessness of not knowing if there was anyone in this world I could approach who saw things differently. I knew in my core that what she said was so inconsequential to myself and my purpose, so useless that it hurt to think I was expected to adhere to people like her. Certainly I was not the only person who felt this way, (although I don’t know where to find these kindred souls), but was there even any other options to begin with? Did she give this response because there really is no way to make a difference and support oneself simultaneously? Are there no openings for improving the environment despite everything thats wrong with the world?

Many thoughts came to me as I left south campus and drove home. How she was just doing her job, and her advice is a product of the corporate world that we live in, which wasn’t wrong, but not necessarily right either. Where people, as I just explained, only have what they’ve pursued. They’ve followed what they were told to do out of fear of not being able to have the success others defined for them, not driven by integrity, but by what everyone else is doing. It seems that anyone who strays slightly from this line will either be excluded, or take on the allegedly difficult task of creating a place for themselves out of nothing.

“What am I going to do when I know I don’t belong in this world?”, I thought.

I didn’t know, still don’t know a week deep into my last year of college, and probably never will until everything is said in done in the next chapter of my life.

Unlike most of my posts, I didn’t write about this to prove something or produce some kind of conclusion, but rather draw attention to this. The lack of integrity. The scorn for being unconventional. Schools that aren’t focused on preparing youth for our broken world, but rather for the promise of a paycheck. No one asking the true state of things, or challenging what they’re given. Has anyone else noticed?

Thanks University, and thanks society, but I think I’ll be much better off without your ill-advised guidance.

Back to Me

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When I was 9, I would write stories about magical rings that washed ashore on beaches, unleashing unknown truths of magic onto the right person who found it. When I was 12, I wrote a story called Tetris, which was about how issues we come across in life sometimes do not fall in the most convenient way with their varying shapes and placements, creating a wall of clutter we thought could be avoided, but had little control over. When high school came there was no time for inspiration or creativity. The world of exams and applications meant there was one right answer and one wrong, and being wrong was the worst thing possible. I took to understanding the world instead, becoming very interested in sciences like biology, which satisfied my need to know how and why life is the way it is.

When I made it to 19, I was distraught from not ending up where I wanted to be despite my hard work and cooperation. School no longer satisfied my questions and tests brought more lies into my life. I began to retreat into my old self, which never really got turned off, but only turned down to a lower volume so that I could carry out what was asked of me.

I realized recently that my fourth-grade self was a lot braver than I am now, who used to read what she created to the class. I could never do anything like that today. Reluctantly, but self-willed, I would get up in front of the room after the encouragement from my beloved friend, Sam. I remember the rough illustrations of a far reaching imagination that littered the margins of my work. Even though I was uneasy, I knew my stories were interesting for a nine-year-old. They held the attention of a group of other nine-year-olds, which was an accomplishment worth noting. My teacher said something I never forgot, that everyone in the class should look for my name on books when we are adults, because I would probably publish some day. So despite my apprehensiveness, I felt good.

Now I am 21, and I want to feel good about the things that I do again. While I’m trying to focus on work and be productive, I find myself falling into random lapses of nostalgia in which I used to make jewelry and sell them at the beach. I fall back on pleasant memories of not just writing, but painting seashells, taking pictures, and fishing. I think this happens to everyone at some point in their life, but for someone who does not like to dwell on the past, it means something. It has been long enough that life’s obligations has pulled me away from this natural self, and I am making it a point to try and get back to it once this semester is over. I encourage anyone who has felt the same to make time for who we used to be before life told us what that was.

Created to Create

“Imagination is more powerful than knowledge”

-Albert Einstein

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In my own personal quest of understanding, I am encountering more and more often the idea of how our thoughts manifest into physical reality, and how we were created to create. This is true, and not necessarily on some mystical level that lacks rationality. We see it every day with our technologies. Our entire civilization is built on a foundation of things that were once ideas. It all had to be conceived first. Imagination is more important than knowledge because imagination manifests knowledge.

Think of a brick layer, whose tools, bricks and cement would represent knowledge, the facts that are at hand. These materials mean nothing if you don’t know what to do with them, just as facts are meaningless without a way to postulate scenarios. (I like this analogy because it also hints at the importance of the materials to build what we conceive, the role that knowledge plays in this scheme). Imagination gives knowledge shape, and therefore meaning.

All this, and yet our public schools are keen on teaching children how to think, and that the facts listed on a lecture slide in college is what will determine whether you are a functioning citizen. Perhaps this approach does make you a functioning citizen, but not in the way that is unique to yourself, not in a way that incorporates your own full potential.

I am writing this as a frustrated participant of this system. As a junior in college, I’m tired of the perpetual quest of trying to emulate what my external environment wants out of me, rather than simply drawing upon what I already know, working with what comes naturally, and applying it to our society in the most constructive way possible. I am weary of the idea that nothing is more important than making yourself into something that someone else wants.

So while we live in a civilization of such impressive creations, how is creating not given more weight in our external and internal lives? I suppose there could be a few answers to this, one major reason being money and greed. Our creations have been centric to this facet, virtually becoming a God of sorts, as it seems to be the reason we do anything today. We have to. Some of us create to earn a living, so we can eat food, to live and make more money, and so on. And so it is not about creating to create, but creating something that fits the status quo. This methodology ultimately leaks into the education system and the vicious cycle continues.

I understand that there is a reason why things are the way they are. I understand there are ideals that are simply not ready for our way of life, and that we have a long way to go towards a system that is morally sound and embraces humanity, rather than one that oppresses and controls it. However, I think there is still something we can take from these ideals, and although I’m not certain of how, I believe there are small ways to effect change.

I think it starts with waking up and realizing the distinction between our life’s purpose and our means of survival, because as humans, these things are completely separate and unrelated. It surprises me every day just how many people have forgotten that we have free will, and that we have a choice despite the constraints of our environment (which ironically, could potentially be eliminated with the realization of this fact). In many ways, we are a cog in the wheel. But I don’t believe we were meant to be cogs for this particular wheel, which is of control and prohibition. You have a choice to be what you want to be. To live your life like a song, a painting, poem, or an interesting novel, whatever suites your soul. And when you do this, something beautiful happens. Not just for yourself, but for those witnessing the change around you, who can then begin to believe that they too have this power, and they too can live life with greater purpose.

Our creations will change us, and how this happens is solely dependent on what we think is worthy of creation, either that of money or that of who we truly are at the core. This translates to the choice to keep living like we are living, or to live as we naturally came: created to create.

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 “When I say be creative, I don’t mean that you should all go become great painters and great poets. I simply mean let your life be a painting, let your life be a poem”

 -Osho

“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way” -E.L. Doctorow

Is this what writing a novel is like for everyone? I can’t imagine J.K. Rowling knowing every single detail of her glorious series as she sat down to write The Sorcerer’s Stone. No. It is exactly what the quote suggests. It is operating a dream space that can only be illuminated and seen once you begin the journey and go there yourself. She did not not where she was going, and yet she knew she had to do it. 

It is happening to me right now. I have been working on this project for a long time, and have finally entered the stage of execution. Plans are set. Countless days have been spent dreaming up ideas, asking the ether questions about what to make of my story.

Although everything isn’t entirely in its place, it is now demanded that the ideas be put on paper, to manifest out of the invisible atmosphere and into reality. It’s time to fill in the spaces I have not been able to ascertain, and although I know what direction I’m going in and a vague understanding of the destination, I have no idea what I’ll encounter on the way there, or what new insights I will come upon when I finally do get there.

What is interesting to me is that life also feels like this. We don’t know where we’re going, but we make a decision once we get to a certain check point, and so the story goes, as if we were the authors of our own lives. As if our life was a creation in it of itself.

Wish me good luck, and safe travels to you all.

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