Arts & Humanities: Don't Leave College Without Them

I’ve lived like this, in my imagination, for many, many years. But despite the aligning of passion and talent and resources, at seventeen-years-old I was still uncon- vinced I wanted to be a writer. While my mode of ex- pression had naturalized into being the ‘literary type’, I harbored the misconception that writing and all it brought represented who I was, not what I’d do. Grow- ing up in India where the traditional educational system is vocationally inclined towards the sciences and trade and commerce, I wasn’t learning how to think about my art or stories as qualifications, under exposure to what Friedrich Froebel, a nineteenth century pedagogue, called the ‘broadcast approach’. I simply thought of them as personality developments, as enrichments of the soul. Here Galileo’d offer a preemptive pat on my shoulder. His mother had also once told him, ‘It doesn’t matter where you go to college. All that matters is what you do with what you learned.’ Though supportive, I come from a multi-generational business family in which everyone has chosen an entre- preneurial path. (Among other things, industrial manu- facturing is my family business—as is music produc- tion and entertainment.) When I landed up at business school, it took me a few years to realize so had I. ‘That’s the other funny thing about college. Regardless of what you pursue, you end up learning the most about yourself,’ he’d say. ‘If I wanted to study finance and be - come an investment banker, I could have,’ I’d tell him, shrugging my shoulders. But like the next student, I challenged the beliefs I had about my conditioning and the interests repeat- edly showing up in my future plans. I started to think of myself as a composite whole, uniting essence with expression, and more importantly with action. It could have just been age, but going to university in the US I’m confident it was my exposure to the arts. When struck with the idea of how authentic life could feel if only I could balance the way I saw the world with how I spent

my time in it, I did what most business school students don’t do, I picked an arts and humanities major in tandem with my study of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is the most ‘liberal arts’ stream of busi - ness. And it’s true—the braiding of these two disciplines feels very natural to me, and too often they complement each other in ways I’d never have guessed. For example, entrepreneurship encourages you to absorb risk and go with your gut, something I learned to imbibe in my schol- arly research as well. An arts and humanities education encourages you to be open-minded and make connec- tions where it seems they don’t exist, which has helped me channel my energies into productive publishing, edi- torial, artistic and interdisciplinary projects, and present myself and my ideas from a place of originality and pur- pose. ‘Even with the same language, stories turn out to be dif - ferent,’ I’d point out to Galileo, while teasing him to spot constellations in the broad daylight. He’d convince me that though they seem invisible to us, the stars are omni- present. I’d agree, choosing to believe him. ‘We focus so much on circumstances, we forget about choices,’ I’d say. After completing a business degree I chose to fully spe- cialize in the arts and humanities out of personal motive and intellectual commitment to becoming an expert in the field. I went on to graduate with an interdisciplinary master’s of arts degree, with concentrations in philoso- phy, literary theory and comparative literature, while pondering under my graduation cap not what else should I learn, but can I learn everything? In my opinion, then, creativity is equal parts nature and equal parts nurture, but overall a way of life. I’ve since gone on to work in publishing, an industry I’ve realized values the mélange that is my skill set, given my business, writing and scholarly backgrounds. And I’m cre- ative about how I balance my time between my interests and my talents, my routine and my dreams. I am equal parts writer and editor and academic and artist. I draw and paint. I think about getting a PhD. I think about start-

ing my own editorial business. I think about the second, third, fourth, fifth books I want to write.

Not, perhaps, because it is underappreciated or disre- garded, but rather because over time it has come to be understood and accepted in theory and practice. Like- wise this is true of the accumulation of personal experi- ences in the past, the narrative of which is most coherent in afterthought. ‘It’s all about the story you tell back to yourself,’ I’d say. ‘I get it—all extensions of my identity are informed by each other,’ he’d say, preparing to walk back into the courtroom. Instead of following him in I’d linger by the door. A higher education is not just about serialized growth but an escalation in overall thought—in other words, not just what to think, but how to think. It may seem a stricter, more structured field of study requires no such self-bal - ancing act. ‘Guess again,’ I’d shout, as parting words. Take the case of mathematics, where there is always one right answer. But say, for someone inventing a theorem, they might begin with all the wrong answers first. Thus, for the self-serious artist or scholar or disciplinary brainchild, there really are no right or wrong answers. There are the right questions, then there is interpretation, and finally insight. The most important lesson I’ve learned in the title of ‘student’ is that there is no limit to how you can express yourself, and just as you grow in age and stature, your multiple facets—and there are multiple—can be woven together through creative meandering. In a world where boundaries and conventions are challenged every day— CEOs from top firms across the world are attending work - shops at art schools, unprincipled block-chain currencies are being created on an economic whim, and hobbies can be monetized into entrepreneurial adventures via digital platforms like never before—I’d counsel anyone who lis- tens to pause and think not just about what they want to do, but who they want to be.

The prompting in any field of inquiry, for someone who wants to learn more of anything, is two-part. The first, recognize your personality and the second, accept your interests. The earlier you do it, the better you’ll get at what you do and the happier you’ll feel about it. I’ve known a lawyer who has traded treatises on legislation for their love of horror fiction, a businessperson who turned into a painter overnight, a financial consultant who realized their passion for analysis lent itself bet- ter to interior design. And the converse is also true. I’ve known writers who felt they were not cut out for the craft, who work in hospitality or tech because their love of stories better translates into conversing with people and the language of coding. As an opportunity, education is both a window and a door. Depending on where you want to end up, you ei- ther stay in the house staring out at all the socioeco- nomicpoliticalculturalnaturalinstitutional fibers that influence your selfhood even if your life purpose is to do absolutely nothing, or you open the door and walk head first into the discourse of a particular discourse, and find, like two strangers on a train, everything has something in common. The fact is, whatever we choose, someone else out there is paying attention to some- thing that we’re not. Truthfully the current focus on re- sourcefulness, ingenuity and uniqueness in the ‘slash generation’ reflects the level of complexity at which an individual can hone, and own, their nuances. ‘Whatever I do, I want it to be with understanding,’ I’d tell Galileo, but to this he’d say, ‘True understanding isn’t always guaranteed.’ ‘Sometimes it has to be,’ I’d say, still thinking of classic and contemporary bodies of knowledge morphing and de-morphing as organically as the living organisms, even intergalactic space itself, that scientists like him study. ‘But to know the world, and more importantly yourself in the world,’ I’d add, ‘you need exposure to all versions of the Truth.’ Why do we no longer marvel at the invention of fire?’ I’d ask him. He’d look at me as if I were trailing off.

Don’t just invent your career, invent yourself.


Arts & Humanities

Don’t Leave College Without Them


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