I’ve never fully understood why college experts place so much emphasis on “commitment.” From as early as middle school, I’ve been told that quality trumps quantity, that I should pick no more than two activities to wholly devote myself to.
While the intent behind this ever-present counsel may be sincere, I don’t think commitment necessarily implies precociousness or grit or (dare I say it) passion. In fact, commitment may imply the exact opposite – that you rely on exterior sources for direction. That you are afraid of straying from order. That your parents could afford to map out your life for you, and did. Of course, I am just extrapolating – like how people extrapolate out of commitment a sense of competence.
In the past, I’ve been pressured to continue with things I genuinely disliked just to preserve a statistic. Similarly, I’ve experienced the dread of dissolving a statistic and bracing for the labels that swiftly follow: Fickle. Unmotivated. Wasteful.
What if, instead, I am just experimental?
I definitely believe that commitment is vital for success, but that doesn’t mean commitment warrants it. It would be rather counterintuitive, and a true waste of time, I think, to spend the first slice of your life on something you wish you’d never even started. Adolescence should be devoted not to a single interest, but to obtaining a better sense of what your interests truly are so that can you focus on those pursuits with unparalleled zeal.
It’s quite a shame “commitment” is so esteemed that some people are willing to simply fabricate it. Which begs the question: Which is worse, fabricated commitment or the notorious “laundry list” of activities?
What exactly entails a “laundry list” anyway? What if a student is truly interested in everything, or at least, exploring everything? I have a hard time accepting that colleges expect their applicants to develop comprehensive passion in the first 18 years of their lives.
If wanting to taste the world is a passion, then it’s mine.
My interests are highly eclectic, and they are only getting more so. The only “commitment” I can currently claim is the art of writing. This is because writing, in itself, is an eclectic activity. And I love it. I’ve been writing ever since I had enough of the English language inside my head to do so. But writing isn’t all I do. There’s also violin, language, guitar, climbing, yoga, singing, gaming, sketching, mathematics, photography – I don’t want to give anything up. Not yet. Is that not as impressive as brutally sticking to one thing?
My father, who grew up and attended university in China, gained admittance to the prestigious University of Science and Technology of China through the gaokao – an entrance exam designed to be the sole factor colleges base their decision upon (think SAT, but on steroids). No essays, no extracurricular activities, no details about commitment or lack thereof. Although my father didn’t necessarily oppose this system, he wanted his children to experience education in the U.S. because of its emphasis on wholism. He wanted me to develop my own personality, and felt that China’s severe focus on academics might inhibit it.
Yet, the same could be argued about the U.S. college application system. Because colleges are known to seek “commitment,” students may be scared into parameters that thwart the development of genuine passion, as passion is nearly impossible to discover without experimentation.
I’ve never been able to settle (literally) for long enough to commit to something; the brunt of my childhood has been spent simply moving around. This I consider both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, I am especially susceptible to trivial questions like “What if I’d I started this earlier?” and “What if it’s too late?” But on the other, my parents never really had the chance to box me into an activity I could have grown to despise. I am not confined to any confabulated passion, any commitment I didn’t choose for myself. My current interests are a result of my own exploration.
Sure, colleges should look for commitment in their applicants, but they should not place less value on experimentation. After all, experimentation is the backbone of commitment. What if you’re not sure what you want to do? What if you don’t want to settle? What if you want to try everything?
What if that’s okay?
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.