I teach and advise college students who are crafting and revising techniques for creating social change through the arts. The conversations we have in the classroom and in my office week after week inspire and challenge me. I see so much of myself in my students and as a result find myself asking them the questions about cultural practice that I wish someone had asked me more than a decade ago. I feel blessed to be able to share my journey with them. This series of posts is dedicated to culture weavers now and future. This is for you, Young Culture. Keep Rockin’. -P.A
Dear Young C
Yes, sometimes college sucks. I’m not going to try to convince you otherwise. I mean, how could I? I hated undergrad so much I was a chronic drop out who took seven years to finish my degree. I know the pain of sitting in classes when you’d rather be out in the world putting your creative passions into action. I feel you when you say, what’s the point, I’m already doing what I want to be doing now. I was organizing national cultural campaigns at 22 and running a national organization at 24. I had tons of creativity, energy, and passion. People thought I was really smart and trusted me to lead so why did I need a college degree? I discovered a few things stepping into leadership so young. First, that people admire and celebrate young leaders but often don’t always offer the critical feedback they need to grow into that leadership. We rise so quickly that we don’t always learn the practical skills needed to be adaptable and resilient when inevitable changes and failures send us falling. Second, after you’ve burnt out from learning by trial and error you can quickly find yourself starting over from the ground level and that can feel like a long fall down but it’s really just an important part of the journey. But no one teaches us to see failure as progress or process.
Just as I was beginning to identify too heavily with my early professional failures, I went back to school. School became a lifeline and an opportunity to reflect on what I learned. Later by the time I went to grad school, I understood that my intuitive sense of what works simply wasn’t enough, that I needed strong theory to back up my action. I suddenly understood what Freire calls praxis and I wanted to be capable of that in my life and work. So I sat down in the classroom and I got it done. I wanted to have more choices for what I might create in the future. It wasn’t the degree that made that possible but it was the ability to engage in critical dialogue-listening and collaborating with others, the access to literature that I still call upon to articulate my vision, and meeting professors, students, and colleagues that continue to be collaborators and mentors. The degree is nice too. When I need a break from the entrepreneurial hustle that all artists and cultural workers know, when I want to be able to just count on a pay check to administer a program or teach, It’s nice to know that I can dust off my resume with those two degrees on it and be a competitive candidate for a job. That might not be what you want now but give your future self a few more options.
Young Culture, the thrill of the artistic pursuit will never leave you. Not even while you take time out to fulfill your pre-modern classics requirement. Get. It. Done. Now. You got a lot of legacy to build and this is just one short stop on your journey.
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