My Thesis (lol)

Did you know that, in addition to having assorted feelings on the internet, I have also been going to college for the past four years? Well, the one true motivation behind my education was to be on lolmythesis.com. I can leave now.

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Screenshoted from here!

Actual thesis here.

It’s Okay to Admit that you Try

Trying hard isn’t cool.

From what I gather, if you really want to be considered impressive, you should be succeeding without trying.

We look up to “smart” people who crank out top grades and are never caught in confusion, but not if it’s because they show up to every class and study regularly–no one likes an uptight nerd.

We like people (especially of the womanly variety) to be attractive, but not to admit to spending significant time or effort on their appearance–what could be more vain, boring, and desperate than that?

As if it’s not enough to be an overachiever, you have to be an overachiever and a slacker at the same time.

So what does it mean if I care a lot and try really hard at lots of things? What if I am able to do a lot more because of it? What if that’s the case for a lot of people?

060

I sure did.

Now I don’t mean to endorse the view that hard work alone is the answer to everything. It is possible to get so wrapped up in working hard for it’s own sake that you’re not actually furthering any goals (speaking from experience). And I definitely wouldn’t be the first to point out the limitations of the American-Dreamy myth that hard work (and bootstrapping) in itself is enough to guarantee success.

But this other kind of American Dream–of cool and effortless success based on casual awesomeness–is only more exclusive and limiting. With effort and concern dismissed as desperate, the assumed key to success is inherent brilliance. And of course, whether or not you believe you have that gift is affected by things like race, gender, class, and educational upbringing.

So what are you supposed to do if you don’t see yourself on an painless path to the top? Of course one option is to give up. Another, particularly common in overachieving environments, is to fake it: downplay how long and hard you actually worked, never let them see you sweat, and shrug off your biggest accomplishments as no big deal.

While Columbia sometimes seems to be filled with enviably talented slackers who are killing it in their sleep, I’m sure this image is somewhat inflated by all the closet try-hards, putting on their very best “don’t care” face to cover up signs of genuine concern and effort.

Because trying your best and admitting it makes you vulnerable: then judgements of your work actually mean something about you.

If you show someone your work with the disclaimer “Made this an hour ago with no sleep and a serious hangover–don’t judge,” you’re safe. If it’s good, you’re showing your effortless, nonchalant genius. If it’s bad, your failures are written off as you not caring anyway.

But admit “I’ve been working really hard on this all week,” and it’s a different story. If it’s bad, what does that say about you and your intelligence? What does it mean to show that you gave your all and it’s still not enough?

Maybe it means you’re kind of pathetic–but most people are at some point, whether or not you’ve seen it (your failure isn’t all that unique). And it also means that you have the self-confidence to not let your concern with looking good stand in the way of getting better–which is no small accomplishment in world of ego-management. It means you’re poking a whole in the facade of effortless perfection, a low-key hero to other impostor syndrome-sufferers.

It means you’re more of a sweaty hot mess than a cool one. I’ll take that; we could use some warmth and energy around here.

 

Things I Learned This Semester: Round 6

Another semester, another batch of vague bite-sized Junior Wisdom:

  • Distinguish between what you’re interested in and what you’re truly excited by. (A comment from my friend’s advisor on thesis topics which has got me reevaluating lots of life choices).
  • Buying the larger size leggings is always the better decision.
  • Being okay with being seen doing things you’re bad at is a skill that gets better with practice (i.e. Me taking hip hop. And classical variations).
    • It’s also a really awesome skill which expands the range of experiences you can say yes to and things you can learn.
  • You don’t have to make yourself stop caring about what people think. You can just start caring so much about what your doing that it overrides that other stuff.
  • Taking fewer classes and actually having enough time to think about them is a good setup, if you can make it happen.
  • Coffee is not the same thing as sleep. Only sleep is sleep.
  • If you don’t know, ask the question. If you kinda know but maybe not, ask the question anyway.
  • Activism doesn’t have to have a particular form or tone to count. Activism can (and should) look like a lot of things.
  • Even super legit arts organizations and nonprofits which appear to have their finances together actually don’t. Which is really depressing from a systemic perspective, but maybe a little bit comforting personally to know that your financial issues are not a reflection of your value, talent, or legitimacy.
  • If you wait until you have it all figured out to start talking, you’re gonna be silently waiting for a long time.
  • Caring is the new Not Caring.
    • *(Not really–Not Caring is still probably cooler, but I’m trying to make caring happen.)
  • I’m way better at dealing with problems when they’re other people’s problems.
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I didn’t learn how to draw, but I did get really bored this week…

Academia: a Fairy Tale

Once upon a time there was a princess who lived in a shiny white tower which stretched above a big forest called The Real World. She had entered the tower when she was young so that she could escape from the scary market forces and tax monsters in forest.

 

Of course not everyone could get into the tower. To get through the gates, she had answer a very long set of riddles sent from voices higher up.

Every so often, she would have the opportunity to climb one story higher in the tower if she followed the rules. And she did. She would answer more long sets of riddles. She would do a special kind of magic, turning very small ideas into very big books. She would create perfect illusions, appearing to know everything when she didn’t. She would learn to speak in peculiar tongues so that no one below her could understand. And of course, she would worship the voices above her. And so, over the years, she steadily rose higher and higher.

Each story of the tower was narrower and narrower, and fewer and fewer people would rise each time. Sometimes, people wouldn’t pass the tests, or the magic drained all their energy. And some would choose to leave. Either way, they would be sent tumbling down, scraping their skin as they brushed the thorny treetops of The Real World and bruising their bones as they found themselves at the very bottom.

But those who rose had their eyes on the tower’s tiny top floor. If you made it to that level, the prize was that you got to stay there forever and never leave.

The towers had windows where the princess could look down upon the people in The Real World. With each level she rose, the people became smaller and more distant. The higher voices said that the further away you were from people, the better you could understand them. This seemed true enough: she could see wider and farther than ever, noticing their numbers and patterns in ways she never did before. But most of all, she could see how small and faceless these people were, and feel bigger herself.

columbia princess

But one day, as she looked out the window, she could no longer see people, only a mass of tiny dots. She thought about the floors above her with fewer people around and tinier people below. She was starting to miss seeing faces.

She began to sit on the windowsill, thinking about what it might be like to live outside. One of the voices above warned her: “When you’re down there, you’ll be just as small as all those people. They won’t care about your crown or your magic tricks, and they won’t listen to your funny words. But if you stay here and keep climbing, I think you can make it all the way to the top.”

But as she imagined getting higher, lonelier, and further from the ground, she wondered if she should make the jump before it got too far.

Epilogue:

She hit the bottom and it hurt. The market forces blew away her crown and the tax monsters chased after her. She started crying “Take me back to my ivory tower!”



Yeah, I guess I’m feeling kind of cynical right now. 

The Pretend Knowledge Trap

Universities describe themselves as great centers of knowledge. That may be true, but I would argue that they’re even greater centers of pretending-you-have-knowledge.

I’m not the only one here who has ever felt compelled to pretend to know . . .

  • What constructivism is
  • What the tendu combination is
  • More than two songs by that cool/obscure indi band someone just name-dropped
  • The difference between fancy and non-fancy wine
  • Enough about international political conflicts to have a decisive opinion
  • Whatever was in the last chapter of the assigned reading

. . . among other things. With practice, you figure out how to pull together a (sometimes) convincing act of omniscience based on your vague impressions, social referencing, and cool head nodding, all while feeling as clueless as ever.

So how do we get out of this trap? For inspiration, lets turn to one of the pioneers of Western Philosophy:

“I know one thing: that I know nothing.” -Socrates

Nah, just kidding. I’m pretty sure that Soc was just trying to humblebrag about his self-awareness here. Because he sure seems to act like he knows he knows a lot.

What we actually should acknowledge, though, is that we don’t know everything. No one does. No matter who you are, you inevitably know more than average about some things, an average amount about some things, and embarrassingly little about some things.

venndiagram

So why don’t we just stop pretending that we’re all experts on every subject and ask someone who actually knows?

Let’s be real, there are people who will find it absolutely ridiculous that you don’t know what they consider to be “common knowledge.” Sometimes I find myself surprised by some people’s lack of basic knowledge about modern dance or feminism. But then I remember that they might be appalled by how little I know about basketball, Indian politics, or EDM. And more importantly, I answer the question anyway.

Because here’s the thing about “common knowledge:” at some point, whether you remember or not, it was learned. And if something is really that important to know, it’s much more productive to be encouraging of someone currently learning it than to be angry that they didn’t learn it in the past.

We might claim to detest ignorance, but pretend-knowledge-culture (yup, I just labeled yet another thing a “culture”) is just collective ignorance held in place with extra layer of pretentiousness. So it’s time to drop the act and ask the questions: we might not all seem so effortlessly cool, competent, and educated, but hey, we can actually start learning stuff.