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December 26, 2017
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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 – just like how people extrapolate out of commitment a sense of competence.

In the past, I’ve been pressured to continue with things I genuinely dislike just to preserve a statistic. Similarly, I’ve experienced the dread of dissolving a statistic and bracing for the reprimands 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 (at least, lest you are pressured to continue just because you’ve become so good) 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 then can you focus on those interests 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 over the course of eighteen measly years, and the first eighteen years of their lives, for that.

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’ve had enough of the English language stocked inside my head to do so. But writing isn’t all I do; I am on the precipice of something: 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 USTC through the gaokao – an entrance exam designed to be the sole factor colleges base their decisions upon. (Think SAT, but on steroids.) No essays, no extracurricular activities, no details about commitment or one’s lack thereof. Although my father didn’t necessarily oppose this system, he wanted his children to experience education in the US because of its emphasis on holism. He wanted me to “develop my own personality,” and felt that China’s severe focus on academia might inhibit it.

Yet, under separate logic, the same could be argued about the US college application system. Because colleges are known to seek “commitment,” students may be scared into parameters, which only further thwarts the development of genuine passion, as passion is near impossible to discover without trial.

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’ve grown to despise. I am not confined to any confabulated passion, any commitment I didn’t choose for myself. I am interested in everything I am interested in now because I am interested in it.

I’m fine with colleges looking for commitment in their applicants; all I ask is experimentation not be devalued in the process. 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?

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