This Is Where The Brick Road Burns

A small circle of orthodontically superior young men and women, no two of whom are the same ethnicity, make doe-eyed oh-my-Jesus-I-am-so-pleasantly-overwhelmed-with-intellectual-stimulation-right-now faces at each other. Either they’re sprawled on an environmentally impossible emerald sea of grass, or they’re huddled around a gleaming mahogany table surrounded by gleaming mahogany bookshelves, or they’re arranged strategically on the steps of some beautifully architectured building in a manner that allows for the absolute maximum amount of architectural exposure.

Stockphoto Filter

This, my friends, is the filter Instagram never told you about.

(But don’t take them up on it. And if you do, this information came from an unknown source somewhere off the eastern coast of Iceland.)

This secret filter is called the Stockphoto filter, and the only people who have access to it are the university employees who are hired to schlup together pretty pictures for brochures, websites, and those pain-in-the-ass Pandora ads that won’t let you click Skip. I suppose these employees have a proper name that probably includes the word “marketing” or the phrase “graphic design.” Sorry if I’ve offended anyone. But my point is, you’ll never see a brochure, website, or pain-in-the-ass Pandora ad without this secret Stockphoto filter.

I mean, that’s fine. No hate. But now that I’m a real life college student, I get to tell you what some of the #nofilter stuff actually looks like:

  • A small girl who has been almost fully engulfed by a Snuggie stares mindlessly through her laptop screen. A single tear forms in her left eye.
  • A boy in a hobo outfit, holding a backpack in one hand and a debit card in the other, stands in front of a refrigerator shelf labeled “Starbucks coffee.” The shelf is empty. There is tragedy written across his face.
  • A bespectacled girl sits in the dining hall, facing a sheet of practice problems. Her right hand forms a claw around a green mechanical pencil. Her left hand grips a spoon filled with milk and soggy Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
    • Actually, this is not a photograph.
    • Actually, she has been petrified in this position for the past fifteen minutes.
    • Actually,
    • What the HELL is a triple integral?

Welcome to Finals Week, folks.

Dilute this phenomenon over ten weeks, sprinkle it with frat parties and sporadic stress-eating outings, and you get the rest of the school year. Not necessarily apocalyptic, but mildly crazed nonetheless. No matter what ungodly time of day it is, there’s always someone on campus wringing his/her brain out into an empty coffee cup. Jainaha and Anastasiya take two-hour shifts sleeping and studying from 11 PM to 7 AM. Alex can’t stomach food 80% of the time because his intestines are so packed with compsci homework. Neil and John have made it Facebook Official: in an emotional farewell Life Event, they’ve announced that they’re packing up their possessions and emigrating three blocks north to 1100 E 57th Street (i.e., The Regenstein Library). Welcome to college, folks. A kingdom of emerald grass, gleaming mahogany libraries, and architecturally superior buildings, ruled over by this Machiavelli-esque dude called The Notorious 4.0.

Notorious4.0.jpg

The Notorious 4.0 has an equally Machiavelli-esque brother who fills the role of co-ruler. The brother is this tall, dark, mysterious guy in shades and a business suit. He probably auditioned for the role of Christian Grey in Fifty Shades but got beat out by the other tall, dark, mysterious guy in shades and a business suit, and is now angry and bitter as a result. His name is Career Advancement Bro.

You know, I had plans for the summer after first year. I was going to go home, purchase three month’s worth of bubble bath ingredients, and become a bubble bath connoisseur. I’d do some writing, maybe finish my novel. Get a job at the local Ben & Jerry’s (33% for work experience, 34% for free ice cream, and 33% because The National Zoo refuses to hire undergrads).

At least, these were my plans until I went to college and fell under the shadow of Career Advancement Bro’s I-work-out-eight-days-a-week-and-sweat-protein-shakes bulk.

Two of my friends have paid internships. Any remaining friends (you should safely assume I have more than two friends) are panicking over attaining said paid internships. Guys, these are first years who have developed the I-foresee-a-future-living-in-a-dinky-cardboard-box mindset. I MUST GET AN INTERNSHIP, they whisper furiously as they scroll through pages upon pages of prestigious companies. I MUST NOT BE HOMELESS, they whisper furiously as they hammer out emails and cover letters and resumes. I MUST BE SUCCESSFUL IN LIFE, they whisper furiously as they calculate the lowest score needed on the multivariable calculus final to achieve a 4.0, so that they can type “4.0” onto their resumes, so that they can get into grad school, so that they can get a job at some firm, so that they can climb the corporate ladder to financial and worldly success, so that they can slave away for a decade or two and make some babies and send them off to some Stockphotofiltered universities, so that they can retire early with a bucketload of moolah and move to Switzerland and farm Swiss sheep or something.

Right. So no bubble bath apprenticeship.

CareerAdvancementBro.jpg

To summarize: along with a healthy dose of raging hormones, high-school-drama-induced PTSD, and illicit drugs, The Notorious 4.0 and Career Advancement Bro make sure the collegiate kingdom maintains the high-pressure, caffeine-fueled, sleep-deprived atmosphere that makes the Stockphoto filter so necessary.

When I first started college, I saw it as this long, winding yellow brick road to my future self. Note how I said “to my future self” instead of “to my future.” To me, the purpose of the collegiate yellow brick road was to (a) figure out who I was and who I wanted to be, and (b) learn how to take care of myself so I wouldn’t starve to death in my own apartment and get eaten by my household pets (i.e., a half dozen cats, or a carnivorous rabbit, or a very large goldfish).

Instead, I’ve found myself skipping yoga to cram for an econ test, or pushing myself so hard on papers that I have to spend Ramen money on eye drops from CVS. Recently, my biggest life concern has been stocking up on jobs and activities that will revive my barely breathing, doggy paddling resume. I haven’t put more than ten minutes into my novel since summer vacation ended.

Last week I suddenly reflected upon my actions and went, Wait.

OH MY LORD JESUS, I’VE BECOME AN ACADEMIC MONSTER.

WHAT.

HAVE.

I.

DONE.

See, High School Angela scorned people like College Angela. I rolled my eyes and flipped my hair at people who worried about their grades or did things with the primary goal of slapping them onto their college apps. I’ve always been a supreme believer in the business of filling your life with only the things that you really, truly, 110%, with-all-your-lil-heart want to do. So back in high school, as my friends gradually drove themselves to insanity over schoolwork, I spent my days writing, hanging out with my family, climbing trees, and walking my rabbit (yes, I walked my rabbit). I barely ever stayed up doing homework; I’d just BS it on the car or the bus, despite attending one of the most academically intense high schools in the nation. Essentially, I floated through high school on a fluffy pink cloud. When I look back on those four years, I smile at all the memories I made. I didn’t pull a single all-nighter. I never stressed over grades. If anything, I’d pretend to be stressed over grades, just so I could fit in.

And here’s the thing: I still got into UChicago.

Now, I can’t help but think to myself: does college work the same way? Is it really necessary to subscribe to The Notorious 4.0’s & Career Advancement Bro’s iron fists? What if I don’t subscribe, and care less about my grades, and take a step back from my resume? Will I still get a job when I graduate? Will I still be okay?

I’m asking these questions because I do not know the answers. College might be different from high school. Maybe we need the grind to grow.

Or maybe we don’t? Or at least, maybe we don’t need this much of a grind?

I DON’T KNOW.

Either way, it feels like college isn’t easing us into adulthood, but yanking us out of youth with a noose around our necks .  . . with the help of coffee, all-nighters, and other horrors that (for whatever reason) are actually glorified on campus. Instead of learning to take care of ourselves, we’re destroying ourselves for a future that counts on happy, healthy brains and bodies to exist.

BA


 

Collegiate Yellow Brick Road Recap

Part A

Expectation: I will figure out who I am and who I want to be.

What’s Actually Been Happening: I got so distracted by the mating call of good grades and perfect resumes that I practically forgot about my novel.

Summary: I forgot who I was, and subconsciously decided that I wanted to be a career-chasing robot.

Part B

Expectation: I will learn to take care of myself.

What’s Actually Been Happening: I discovered coffee. I ate too much, then not at all. I finished an entire box of Emergen-C. My friends no longer remember what proper sleeping or dietary habits are. Dayquils are downed. Refrigerator shelves of Starbucks coffee are empty. People cry. People faint.

Summary: Evidently, we have unlearned how to take care of ourselves.


 

But there’s an addendum: I may be exaggerating a bit. The Stockphoto filter’s not exactly a complete lie. Just a couple hours ago, my four best friends and I were hanging out in the biggest, sunniest dorm room in our big, sunny dorm building. Arpan and I tossed a baseball back and forth as old-school Maroon Five crooned from classy HQ speakers. Neil lounged on a rocking chair as sunlight cascaded through the ten-foot windows, making him look like an unangelic angel. John waved his arms around and loudly said something that made Alex, who was lying on the ground literally ROFL. We were a scene straight out of a college brochure, no filter needed.

I’ll jog to the lake with Andrew, attend a dance lecture with Gabe, or hit up the gym and grab a healthy dinner with Alexis. I’ll be excited to go to class. I’ll learn something new, try something different, or smile stupidly to myself as I walk through the quad simply because I am SO DAMN IN LOVE with my school. Right now I am the happiest I have ever been. [*Knocks aggressively on wood.*]

Upperclassmen assure me it’s A-OK to chill the summer after first year. Maybe get a part-time job at my favorite coffee shop, fly to Europe and join a traveling circus, or do literally anything cool that doesn’t involve dingling the bingle of Career Advancement Bro. I have college brochure moments and I’m surrounded by a campus and friends I love to the stars and back. Admittedly, the Stockphoto filter, actually can be true to life at times. But still, when everyone around me is salivating over internships, booking tickets for a community service trip across the globe, or talking nonstop about job recruitment for the winter of our third year, it’s a little hard to listen to my inner voice of reason. The wave of craziness will strike, and I’ll always feel some part of me being tugged gently back into the sea of stress by The Notorious 4.0 and Career Advancement Bro .

Collage.JPG

I’m still trying to find the balance between making the most out of my education and making too much out of my education. The problem right now, I think, is that so many of us are making too much out of our educations.

I’m still trying to find my way back to that grab-life-by-the-handlebars self. The girl who didn’t check her GPA until college app season. The girl who’d make a paper crane for Mother’s Day instead of studying for a final exam.

The girl I can see flashes of when I’m in the middle of a college-brochure-worthy scene, so that I know for sure she still exists.

I’m still trying to find my way back to the yellow brick road.


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Special thanks this month to Richard Li and Arpan Chakrabarti for helping spread the word. Here is a small piece of my soul. You may keep it forever if you’d like.

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8 thoughts on “This Is Where The Brick Road Burns

  1. I’m just going to tell you this now. I had professors literally tell me that it didn’t matter one no not ONE bit whether you got an A in a class or a C as long as you passed all your classes jobs don’t look at that or care. They couldn’t care less what your GPA in college was. I’ve been told this from actual employers and professors. The only thing that matters is that you take all the classes and pass them. I’ve actually beat out a friend who put their 4.0 gpa onto a resume for a job.

    You’re in your first year it should be one of the easiest and least stressful ones. To be honest throughout my entire college career I don’t think I stressed about any of the work until my last year when I had a lot of projects and portfolios due at once. In fact I think I might have studied once maybe twice and hardly ever opened a book, although I did practice speeches. I never once pulled an all nighter either. Do you really think cramming all of that studying into one night helps? It has actually been proven that it does worse for you it makes it harder for you to remember what you were trying to cram in, our brain stops functioning as well as normal, and you’ll feel like crap in the morning.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As a student at a very competitive Greater DC Area high school, I have a hard time imagining just being not stressed about homework, yet still get into UChicago. There are people who are carefree about homework, yet still get straight A’s, and I’m worried because I’m not one of those people and I have a lot of B’s and C’s. Even though I chose and enjoy all my classes, if I don’t put the same amount of effort and time into my work as I do now, my grades will drastically drop.

    Please help a classically stressed teenager out by enlightening me on the quality of your grades at TJ. Did you ever get B’s or C’s? Your GPA must have been higher than 3.8, right?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sigh- hello friend! Those people who are carefree about homework and still get A’s are anomalies. They are superfuckingsmart. The rest of us just have to deal with being not superfuckingsmart, which basically means that we understand we’re not superfuckingsmart and that we are still destined for great things regardless. When I talk about the stress at TJ, I mean the stress that arises from doing things you don’t love. If you choose and enjoy all your classes – key word being enjoy – then what’s wrong with putting in a large amount of effort into your work? When I criticize the academic stress, it’s because grade-focused obsession is unequal to learning. Of course your performance will drastically drop if you quit trying; you can’t just sail through academia without any effort. I study for hours a day. BUT because they’re subjects I enjoy, I have a good time, which scrubs out the stress factor. All you have to do is make your goal *getting something out of the class*, not *attaining an A*. Differentiating between the two will create a healthier mindset. If you put your efforts into learning and understanding with a pure intrinsic motivation, yes you will spend LOTS of time and effort in your classes, but your grades will also fall into place! For instance, I suck balls at Econ, but last quarter I found the content so exciting that I was willing to put twice as many hours as everyone else into it. But at the same time, I was half as stressed. Because I enjoyed the process. My main goal was not an A, but gaining a full understanding of the subject. If you think like this, your goal will be pure, and the result will be a good grade. Again, you’re still going to have to work very hard. It’s just a matter of the type of motivation, which will result in a very different amount of stress.

      I’ve met and talked to many successful adults in all walks of life. Every single one of them has maintained that grades matter little to none in high school.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Angela, I’m so impressed! I found your post on TJ while surfing through the #high school tag (in college now, thank God, but occasionally I enjoy looking back at high school days when it concerns people who aren’t me) and you’re a gem. You tackle a serious concern that plagues competitive high schools across the country (and other prevalent issues!) with humor and such a distinct voice.
    I see the same theme in this post, too. I wish I’d had the strength of High School Angela–I have so much respect for people like her (you). I think I knew all along that doing what I loved was the way to go, but I was too afraid to venture down that path. I know that you–I–we will be fine not killing ourselves for a 4.0, but it remains to be seen if I’ll be able to stop chasing after things I know aren’t worth it. I’ve faith that you will–stay strong! I’ve definitely heard about the UChicago workload.
    You’re doing something with creative writing, right? Just curious: did your parents have any objections, considering that you went to a STEM school?
    Anyway, here’s a well-deserved follow.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Nicole- thank you so much for reading, and I’m so grateful for your feedback! Your blog looks fabulous and I will get around to reading it as soon as I escape my current time crunch. My parents have always supported me in my dreams and passions, and I’m eternally grateful to them for that. I’ve only recently begun to see how rare that is, which is so unfortunate.

      Liked by 2 people

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