Tuesday, February 14, 2012
A learned sheep is still a sheep
When I think about how much my life has changed since I graduated from college two years ago, I often wonder what would happen if me circa 2009 and me today met for coffee.
This is nothing new and I'm sure I'm not alone. My entire life I've looked back at my former self with pretty harsh judgement. I'd see yearbook pictures, read old journals, or listen to tapes I'd made and think, "Thank God I'm not like that anymore. What a tool." And then, of course, a year later I look back at the kid who said that, and say "Man I thought I was cool then? What a tool." It never really stops. If I read this blog post in 2013 (for some reason), I can be sure the reaction would be pretty much the same: "Tool." The only way I can salvage my ego from general devastation is remembering that pretty much everyone I know feels the same way. Like most people, I'm completely un-self-aware, and I pray that the way I see myself, past and present, is not how the world sees me.
But I'm actually talking about something sightly different. My character has shifted since college, but probably not much more than any other two year period in my life. The more drastic changes has been to my worldview.
I was good at school. Pretty much my entire life, but especially from high school on. I got good grades, did well on the SATs, and pretty much cruised through my college classes at Carnegie Mellon University with straight As. In no way am I saying this to boast, just trying to show the whole picture. I admit, I subscribed to the theory that my grades and test scores entitled me to something from life. I'm not sure exactly what, but I always had the sense that I'd be okay, because look at my SAT scores! I wasn't the hardest worker but I tried to stay on top of things. I think my talent was figuring out what was expected and delivering exactly that. It was artless and boring. My senior year of college, when pretty much every student in my percentile was applying to grad school or $100K-a-year jobs, I ran and hid from it all. I couldn't do more school. I had grown so numb to the rote method I'd been applying, and to the meaningless success I was having.
So instead of filling out applications I spent my time tinkering with pianos, writing songs, and playing guitar. Irresponsible, right?
Well, in the short term it actually was pretty irresponsible. I had a degree from a top university and nothing else. It turned out no one really wanted to hire a linguistics/music major, regardless of GPA. So I worked jobs I could have gotten right out of high school. Remember the 2010 Census? Those people who knocked on your door if you forgot to send in your forms? I was that guy. I had some fun with it and go off-script, too. I'd knock and say, "Ma'am, I'm from the government," which was technically true, and just watch their faces. Then there was the Starbucks musician cliche. Yeah, I might have made you a latte between June of 2010 and May of 2011. A lot of good my education did me.
Since graduating I've come to believe, as Seth Godin's writes in Linchpin, "Being good at school is kind of like being good at Frisbee." It's great to have, but it's not the answer. Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful to my parents for making my education possible. If I could do it again I wouldn't change anything because I couldn't have known what I know now; I had to go through that to discover it. I'm questioning the whole system of institutional education, not anyone's decision to exist in it. The truth is I've learned more since graduating college-- about music, culture, and life-- than in the four years I was there. Meeting people, collaborating with Morgan, and playing in this band taught me much more than formal education ever did. To quote Billy Costigan in The Departed, "All due respect, Mr. Costello, school's out." Amen. Thank you, Music, for saving my life.