Last night we were having a lovely meal with dear friends.
One of the conversation topics was schooling. We were talking about different schooling options and particularly what Mike and I recently read in this book.
Mike bought this Malcolm Gladwell gem for me recently and I happened to read most of it out loud to him while we were on a family road trip a couple weeks ago. It was a fascinating book. It’s only a little bit about David and Goliath and a lot about being an underdog, or being misunderstood, or being in the right place at the right time. Oh man… I can’t summarize it… it was just good and I recommend it!
Anyway… at one point he talks about being a young person choosing a university. The basic idea is this: a young person can choose to be a ‘big fish in a small pond’ or a ‘small fish in a big pond’.
For example. Valedictorian at generic High School has his heart set on Yale. He makes it in by a scrape to pursue his passion for law. He’s thrilled to be able to continue learning amongst some of the best students in the country and the best professors out there. Maybe he wants to be an international lawyer and work with the UN to fight against human trafficking. Wow, amazing!
But he finds himself at the bottom of the pack in his classes. He can’t keep up and he becomes so discouraged, thinking that he must not be as gifted and as passionate about law as he thought he was. He was wrong about himself. He must have missed it. He’s no good. After one year of hard work and struggling to keep up, he decides to change majors. He’s given up his dream.
IT COULD HAVE BEEN DIFFERENT! There is a good chance that if young man had chosen a run-of-the-mill college… he would have been the ‘big fish in the small pond.’ He would have been at the top of his classes, he might have had the first pick of internship opportunities, he would have had great encouragement from his professors and his dreams could have become reality.
He just chose the wrong school. The wrong pond.
So, I read this to Mike and talked about it and found it very interesting and the driving continued and life went on.
Last night as I am recounting this interesting story and thoughts to our friends, and as words are coming out of my mouth I realized that THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED TO ME.
I could hardly believe it.
From the time I was a small girl, I have had a passion for art, creativity, design and decoration. Creating spaces. Making things beautiful. I fostered these interests and gifts and talents with the help of my parents. They saw this in me also and provided me with opportunities to grow my skills and interests. Thank you parents!
When it came time to choose a college degree to pursue… it wasn’t very hard for me. Interior Design had my name all over it.
So we took a trip and toured a few colleges and saw some design studios in a neighboring state and then on the drive home we decided to visit one more, since it was on the way. And it had the #1 Interior Design program in the country. Gotta check it out!
So we did and it was great and it was the past the deadline, but I applied anyway and eventually I was accepted.
Off I went with the other freshman art/designy types to our studio. I enjoyed my classes a lot. Most of the year was spent on foundational toolboxy type of things. Building webpages, learning Photoshop, sketching skills, etc. Mostly we did projects that helped us learn various skills and tools that a designer needs, and only a little time spent on actual designing.
I enjoyed it all, and I dare say I was doing well among my peers.
The problem was that my professors were teaching at the #1 program in the country. So they must be the #1 professors! Aaaaand they basically worshipped design. There wasn’t a lot of balancing displayed in my major by the professors or my peers. We were the best in the land, people! It was all or nothing. Most of my classmates regularly pulled all-nighters because their projects were just not quite good enough, or another element could be added. (Or they procrastinated terribly). We worked so hard all the time on projects and had very little time for life outside the studio.
This bothered me.
Once I had dreams of a big career. But at this time God was softening my heart towards other ideas for life too.
One time I looked back on emails from my freshman year and many of them went like this: “Sorry I can’t make it, we have another Adobe Illustrator project due after the weekend.” or “Sorry I never showed up. I meant to, but my sketches took so much longer than I thought.”
It was depressing.
I found myself in a tricky place because I’m a balanced gal and I wanted to have time to do other things that college life had to offer. For me, that mostly meant be involved in a campus ministry group.
So after two quarters of having no life and being taught by professors that lived, breathed and worshipped design and working with peers that seemed to jump on that bandwagon without a problem, I decided that this career path was too much for me. I loved what I was doing, but all I could see was that life in design was all-encompassing. Foundationally, I didn’t agree with that. I wanted more for life than JUST design.
I persevered through the last quarter and finished the year out strong. Then I changed majors.
I enjoyed the sociology classes that I dug into after that and I REALLY enjoyed doing life with the campus ministry community that became my family. I grew and learned so very much during those years. The degree was almost a side-line to me growing into myself and learning to be an adult. I think it’s good to think of college years in that way. Those years certainly served more than the sole purpose of walking away with a diploma and I think I embraced all of it well.
If I had chosen, say, the 20th best Interior Design program in the country, that offered less ‘elite’ professors… would I have continued to pursue my passion for design AND still have been able to enjoy all the other joys that college-life has to offer?
Yes. I believe I could have.
I chose a school that made me a ‘small fish in a big pond’. If I had chosen a smaller pond, I think it would have all been different.
Wow. I have tears writing this. This is quite a realization for me. I think I feel this so deeply now because as I’ve grown more into myself in adulthood, I can see that design and art and creating and interiors is TRULY a passion and talent that God gave me. It’s a big part of who I am and is one of my main (non-human) loves in life. If you know me, you know it to be true!
And so, I wonder what could have been. We all have things in life like this, don’t we?
I truly believe in the sovereignty of God and can’t imagine life if I had gone to a different university. Imagine the people I never would have met! The things I might not have learned! We can never see God’s full plans. I am sure thankful for the paths God has had me walk from childhood all the way until now. He’s guided me and He is good and I am thankful.
Still, it’s a sobering realization for me and it’ll definitely affect how we advise our children when it comes time for them to make similar decisions.
Choose the small pond people, the small one!
(DAAP: Design, Art, Architecture and Planning Building on the University of Cincinnati Campus, where I spent my freshman year.)