This morning at breakfast, I gave my son (the high school junior) some advice for how to quickly finish his art notebook cover project, which was already late on day two of school.
“Hey, instead of doing another elaborate drawing like the one you were up all night doing, why not make a quick collage? You can use existing images from magazines and your old posters and cut them out and arrange them in some pattern and just see what happens.
“Just see what happens, Mom? I have a plan for this cover.”
Blank stares at the table. The 18-yr-old started snorting over his scrambled eggs and talking in some silly accent and they both began goofing on collages.
“Ok, whatever, I was just trying to help.”
Because I have teenagers at home, I realize this makes me an “authority/ parent-type figure” and maybe not someone you want giving you advice. My 18-yr-old just nods at me while I continue talking after he is finished railing about how I don’t understand him and this is usually my cue to calmly stop myself from being such a mom and work on leaving the room.
But I actually do understand him.
I still remember being a college student and feeling like my life had to follow one track and be focused and accomplished, one class logically building on to the next, one project leading to the next one. The truth is, life rarely ever works like that. I’m thankful now that I went to an art school and spent most of my time in film theory classes because I was forced to consider what I was going to make of my life every semester. I had to keep thinking about what extra skill or experience to add to this five-year “collage” I was making as an undergraduate working towards a BFA. Looking back, that’s a nice metaphor for what I was doing. But at the time, I felt exactly like Jenny X did worrying about “ falling behind.”
Jenny says something very wise in her post when she talks about her internship in China and how “it's never too late to be in charge of what you want to do. And that on the flip side of fearing "falling behind" is being constrained by the pressure of following a well-planned path that may or may not still be what you want.”
Well said, Jenny. And true.
I think the greatest challenge for current MIT students and anyone considering coming to MIT is to be flexible while still managing to get things done and maintain the high standards you all have for yourselves. There is so much to do here, so much to get involved in, and so many paths to try. But you won’t know where one is going to lead until you give yourself the opportunity to change your mind, and be led in a new direction.
Matt wrote a post about taking a gap year and Gabe wrote very eloquently this summer on the life changing aspects of hiking for a semester and getting in tune with his authentic self. And while these options are definitely worth thinking about, I challenge all of you to consider your time in college more as a work of art than as a focused linear roadmap. You all have brilliant minds. You are going to do big important things. You just may not do them all according to how you imagined they would unfold and that’s ok. Remember, we ask you in the application essays to tell us how you handled a situation in which things did not go according to plan. We do this for a good reason. In all my years as a mom, as an artist, as a communications professional, as a homeowner, as a student (over and over again it seems)… things very rarely go according to plan.
And when this happens to you, head over to the LIST gallery and take a look at some of the artwork on display and be inspired or travel off campus with some friends and go into Boston to try something you’ve never done before. And if none of those things end up working to help you gain some new perspective, then get down on the floor with a bunch of magazines and start cutting and arranging and make a collage.
Just see what happens.