Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Kids Aren't Closers


I almost stopped reading this article because it said you didn't need to read it "if your career is going great, you're thrilled with your life and you're happy with your relationships."

I felt those things were true for me. And yet I read the article anyway and realized something: my life is not as good as I thought it was. In fact I have only started living. According to this article, I am barely alive at all.

Just reading the article made me feel more motivated. I hope it does the same for you.

The thing is, if I'd read this article in middle school or high school, I wonder what I would have thought about the message in this article. I was a little bundle of knives and gloom back then, depressed and apathetic. I felt helplessly tossed around by the waves of circumstance: my parents, school, and especially my own brain—an entity that I felt was determining "me" rather than me determining it.

I came to such philosophical conclusions as: there is no such thing as free will; there is no god; the meaning of life is _______ (where the blank was generally filled with something that most certainly did not involve being a productive member of society in any way, shape, or form). Not to say I didn't create things during this time; I sure did inherit a lot of bad poetry and short stories from my younger self. I can only hope they never see the light of day.

Being an adolescent sure is fun!

My entire life philosophy, at the age of 14, directly conflicted with that article. Thinking was the highest form of "action," and my identity was determined by what I felt and thought, not by what I did or said. I had no sense of what society needed from me or that I was even a part of it. It was a large blob of people I didn't care about, had nothing in common with, and who didn't seem to acknowledge my existence. So why should I acknowledge it?

Today, my view of life is almost the complete opposite. The questions of free will, god, and the meaning of life never cross my mind; they are so utterly irrelevant that I don't waste brain space thinking about them. If anything, conversations about them make me feel impatient, like I could be doing something else. I have a much stronger sense of what society is, where it's heading, and what it needs. I have a job and am actively productive every day—although still not as productive as I could be.

So what changed?

Not much, really.

In the end, all it took was feeling like I was a part of something greater than myself.

It is not hard to imagine that a lot of kids feel like they aren't part of anything more important than their own personal, internal realm. I mean, the inside of a person is pretty expansive. And school can feel like mindless work, an exercise in going through the motions to make other people happy. What is all that education for? If kids can't answer this question, of course they're not going to bother learning anything. It is so easy to chew up knowledge and spit it back out. Even if they technically learn the material, if they don't apply it, it will just dissolve. Then all they're left with is the sense that their time has been wasted.

I never got a strong sense of what I wanted to do in life, until I discovered Magic. Before that, I thought I was going to go into research / academia, something I now know I never, ever want to do. Once I discovered competitive Magic, that became my dream. I never realized that dream, but I went on to find lots of other things I enjoyed doing instead.

In the end, school did not help me figure out what I wanted to do, and a lot of my skills I learned outside of school or taught myself. This is awkward because I've graduated from some of the best schools in the country.

And I don't think it's just me.

No doubt, school is super useful for lots of reasons and is the perfect place to cultivate knowledge, skills, and job opportunities for a lot of people. But it doesn't change the fact it was incredibly overvalued by adults as I was growing up. A college degree is not a ticket to a high-paying, successful job, and most importantly it isn't a place to go to figure out what the hell to do with your life.

I know too many people who ended up dropping out of my [very expensive] college after many years of trying to get through it. Math, physics, engineering, computer science majors—some of the best minds in the world, and they found every excuse not to do the work. They would flame out, take a break, come back, flame out again, come back again.

At some point, they had to tease out the signal from the noise and figure out that this wasn't their path in life.

But yeah, the initial investment is so large I guess there is this doomed feeling that you should just finish it out; otherwise what was all that money for? Even worse when parents are directly pressuring you on top of that.

Thankfully I finished in a prompt four years. I just did what I had to to graduate and moved on with my life.

If I had to make an analogy, entering college is like entering a marriage. You have this vague idea of what it's going to be like, and you know that in order to be stereotypically "successful," it's what you're "supposed to do." College is also very exciting, when you start. You experience tons of new things all at once.

Maybe that is all fine, but you still make the decision when you're 16-18 years old, and this decision is supposed to affect your entire future. You're supposed to determine your destiny and then follow through. But by that age, what have you done that helps you figure out what you should be doing?

I think society has strung its kids into a Catch-22. They're treated like sub-citizens, people who can't make decisions for themselves and generally are given no real responsibilities. We assume they're ignorant, stupid, and all the same as long as they're the same age. But before they can be considered real adults, they're expected to know what they want to do in life and figure out a plan and execute it.

On top of all of this, schools don't even teach you useful things, a lot of the time. They feed you facts, not ways to solve problems. They tell you to listen to one authority figure at a time as they spew facts at you, when there are so many different ways to learn. Worst of all, they don't teach you how to ask the right question, which I've found to be way more important than having the right answer.

If we're going to grow a generation of kids that understand that Cracked article and why it's so correct, then we have to change the way we look at education and the way we look at kids. Most of all, we have to give kids dreams they can believe in—and realistically achieve.