Just a Thought: October 28, 2015
Easing the exhaustion of becoming.
I recently sat on a panel of communications and arts professionals for sophomores at Fort LeBoeuf High School. Our job was to give students considering similar careers some idea of what our typical days are like, how we got where we are, and what obstacles hindered our paths, especially early on.
Of course, we can't precisely know what will get us where we want to be — or whether we really want to be there — until we arrive. As Holly Nowak of Erie Arts and Culture told the students, it's more about making one choice after another from your heart, from your own inner passion.
Looking at that classroom full of mid-teen faces, my heart just melted. It's been two decades since I escaped high school. I wish I'd gotten to hear from a panel like ours back then, not to eliminate impending obstacles but to put my younger self at ease. Even now, it was heartening to be surrounded by these folks: people who embrace life's nonlinear, multidimensional, moment by moment inspiration with excited curiosity.
Today schools sell themselves on their ability to deliver in the STEM fields. The implication seems to be that all students can excel and be happy in these fields if they're well prepared. And that — despite our obsessive worship of celebrities in the arts — STEM fields are much more valuable to society.
But when we discourage so-inclined students from embracing the arts and humanities, we discourage humanity itself.
I'm not implying that STEM fields are uncreative. Not in the least. Even as we're chanting "STEAM! STEAM!" to incorporate the arts and design, we panelists get that. And it is wonderful that much-documented classroom discrimination against girls in STEM subjects is abating.
But some of us — regardless of incentives or scholarships or special student Visas — can only be content or useful in the arts. What message are we sending to students if we invalidate their passions before they even graduate? And in a climate of such employment fluctuation, can we really be sure one pursuit will be less lucrative than another?
"We finally die from the exhaustion of becoming," writes poet Jim Harrison.
We die even earlier from the exhaustion of becoming what we're not.