Practical Application

It’s graduation time, and lots of fabulous commencement speeches are making their way around the web. It’s fabulous to hear these, both as advice for the future and reflections from great achievers.

It makes me wonder about what I would tell myself, if I were to go back in time. What’s my advice?

It’s not practical if you don’t use it.

When I was in college, I was attached to this idea of practically. Education is expensive, and I needed to make sure I pursued something practical.  I would certainly work at becoming an artist, but I had to study something practical so that I could support myself after college. So I decided to double major in psychology and political science, majors that were far more practical than my interest in fine art.

This was the silliest life decision I’ve ever made.

The truth is, I’ve never gotten paid for anything having to do with psychology or politics. I was competing against people for whom psychology and political science are their passion. In any job interview, these people would show the dedication and excitement that I just don’t have. They had the passion for it. In the end, my passions determined my path more than my educational background.

I have gotten paid for art though. Over and over. I’ve gotten paid for writing and photography by newspapers, magazines and anthologies. My work has been seen on the covers of books, and on the book-jackets too. I’ve been published in Escape Pod, Philadelphia Weekly and The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

I should have followed my passion in education, because that would have been practical. I’ve had to learn techniques through trial and error. Lessons I’ve learned in years could have been absorbed in a week.

Practicality is not what the culture finds useful, what is presumed to be useful, it’s what you’ll actually use.  One of the first steps of being an adult is looking at yourself and admitting who you are. That can be difficult to do, because it means facing the difficulty of the road ahead. Not the road that others think you should take, but the one you’ll actually walk. It’s not easy, being an artist, or an engineer, a plumber, or a therapist, but when you face yourself, you can learn what you need for your journey. Education isn’t everything, but it can give you a great set of tools. I only wish I had the wisdom to choose the right ones.

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One thought on “Practical Application

  1. You’re certainly right about the definition of practicality. It’s an assumption, often based on the previous generation’s experience which may or may not have any validity. I remember that someone told me that one’s major in college is often irrelevant. You make your path. Of course, the previous generation often makes suggestions, sometimes carefully hidden “demands” that are of the best intentions. Consider the role, the desire of parents to nurture, protect and support their children. What tools do they have? They have their experience, their trials, their successes, their pain. The next generation should certainly go where their definition of practicality takes them. It means being vulnerable, open to being hurt. It’s both an adventure and a trial. You can see where the anxiety of the previous generation fits in here. We want to protect and support and the tension is often overwhelming. Perhaps an open dialogue, a communication is in order.

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