Skip to main content

Passion and Intellectualism

I recently read The Disadvantages of an Elite Education, by William Deresiewicz, and was struck by how perfectly he captures the thoughts that have grown louder and louder in my head over the past year or so. One of his main premises is that elite education is not designed to produce visionary, independent thinkers, but instead is a system designed to reward people who know how to play the system. It pulls people away from their passions and pushes them instead towards those fields and endeavors that society deems as "successful". It engineers apathetic mediocrity.

As a simple example, when I was in college, it was considered a fine and admirable result to end up with a job at Oracle. I look back on that now and shake my head in disbelief. No offense to Oracle, which has built a quite sizable business, but here I was at the institution that helped invent the friggin' internet, and they were encouraging computer science students to work on billing systems at Oracle. Seriously?

But of course this mode of thinking goes back way earlier than college. I remember when I was little, I loved to write. I thought I was going to be a novelist. I have a 30 page handwritten fantasy short story in a box at my parents' house that I once wrote for an assignment, I think in sixth grade. There was some arbitrary word limit on the assignment, but I just kept going until the story was done. I loved it.

I especially enjoyed writing poems. That same box probably has a few dozen poems that I wrote during elementary school. The wordplay fascinated me. The rhythm of the verses, the clever rhyming, the ability to put words together in a way that no one else had ever before put them together. At that age, no one told me it was a dumb idea to write poems because it had no future.

Then somewhere along the way, I stopped writing for fun. Between loads of AP classes, and my time-consuming extracurriculars, there just wasn't any time for it. But beyond that, there was an implicit and condescending supposition that writing was a waste of time. I wasn't considering majoring in English, but it was clear that exploring the field of writing would just be a distraction from more important things.

Why? What's so bad about writing? Based on the average GRE Verbal scores of Master's students at Stanford, half of our new generation of leaders are practically illiterate. Wouldn't it be good to develop such a unique skill?

I didn't give it up altogether. As an undergrad, I wrote a fictional short story as a final project for one of my General Education Requirements (the professor read the first paragraph and gave me a B). Then later at Google, I rather enjoyed writing blog posts for new features - it was an outlet for sorely needed creativity that never failed to bring a smile to my face.

A similar thing happened with drawing. I used to love art. My middle school was fortunate enough to have an art department, and I absolutely reveled in the different assignments we had. I sketched for fun. I watched Bob Ross painting happy little trees, and locked myself away in the basement for a couple hours to paint my own landscapes. And then I stopped.

Why? Because art was another thing that would "lead nowhere". Because the farther along you advance in our higher education system, the stronger and more adamantly the fear of failure is inculcated into your mind.

I'm happy that the spirit of independent creativity inside of me never died. Whether it be a blessing or a curse, if there's something that my mind wants to do, it runs it as a background process repeatedly. Not for days or weeks, but for years and years. When I finally started listening to what my mind was telling me all along, I started to feel like a kid again. I read purely for the sake of reading. I started exploring a hundred different ideas which were lying dormant in my thoughts for years. I began to teach myself piano, because at one time I loved music, and the world of music exercises a completely different part of the brain than that of engineering.

The more I listened to myself, the freer I felt. Then one day, I swallowed the red pill and took a leap of faith.

You owe it to yourself to remember what it was like to be a wide-eyed child. You owe it to yourself to find what you're passionate about. You owe it to yourself to do what makes you happy. It's your life. Never too late to start making the most of it.

Comments

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

English Lesson: "한국에 오신지 얼마나 됐어요?"라고 영어로?

I've lost count of how many times Koreans have asked me the question, "How long do you stay in Korea?" in those words or something very similar. Clearly this question is taught in every English class in Korea, because I hear it over and over again, so I just wanted to be very clear about something here:

DO NOT USE THIS EXPRESSION. IT IS INCORRECT.

This phrase is incorrect for a few reasons, but primarily because it sounds ambiguous to native English speakers. Specifically, there are probably two different questions that you really want to ask:

1) How long have you been in Korea? (한국에 오신지 얼마나 됐어요?)
2) How long will you stay in Korea? (한국에 얼마나 있을 거예요?/한국에 얼마동안 있을 계획이에요?)

Nearly always the intended question is number 1, "How long have you been in Korea?", followed afterwards by number 2, "How long will you stay in Korea?". But the incorrectly stated question ambiguously sounds somewhere in between number 1 and number 2. So, don't ever use it again. T…

Why Korean Is Hard For Native English Speakers

A couple of days ago, as an experiment, I wrote my first blog post ever in a non-English language. It was an attempt to explain some of the reasons that Korean is hard to learn for native English speakers, so I figured I might as well try to write it in Korean. Those of you who actually read Korean can see how awkward the attempt was =).

In any case, the post came from an email conversation I had with The Korean from Ask a Korean, a fantastically well-written blog about all things Korea from the perspective of a Korean who moved to the United States during high school. Since I tend to geek out on language things, I figured I might as well post part of that conversation. An edited version follows.

---------

Out of the languages that I've attempted to learn so far, Korean has been the hardest. I've done a lot of meta thinking about learning Korean, and I think there are a number of reasons it's difficult for non-Koreans (and especially Westerners) to learn:

1) Obviously, the…

Stuttering in Korea

I had given up on English. It's my native language, but I figured after 30 some-odd years of disfluent speech, it was time to try something else. So I signed up for language classes in Korean, rationalizing that if I was going to try to teach myself how to speak, I might as well learn a new language along the way.

This might seem completely insane, but when the prevailing theme of your conscious thoughts for multiple decades is some variant of "Why can't I say what I want to say?", you come up with lots of crazy ideas.

For background, I've been a person who stutters for my entire life. I wrote about it on this blog a few years ago, so I think it's time for a followup. I've learned a lot since then, about myself and about stuttering, but in this post I simply want to give some insight into what it's actually like to stutter, and how my speech has changed over time.

After the last stuttering post, the predominant reaction I got from friends was either &…