How I got College Wrong or Why I Keep Starting Bands

I used to be in a band – I used to be magnificent. I mean, it wasn’t a big deal. We were friends, then we were band-mates; we were good, I think, but I’m biased. That’s not the point anyways. The point is that my life accomplishments used to be measured by things like this, by doing something I wanted to because I could.

I’m going to college pretty soon, which I am told is a big deal – a bigger deal than being in a band (I’m not entirely convinced): the best four years of my life, the beginning of an end, the beginning of a new era. But I don’t know about any of that because I haven’t done anything like this before. That actually comes as a little bit of a surprise to me, because college doesn’t seem too hard to place on the spectrum of life experiences. It’s a time when I can start a non-profit, make a breakthrough and minister to kids in a faraway place. It’s supposed to be cooler than the rest of my life but not cool enough to not be a “learning experience”; it’s supposed to be harder than high school but not hard enough to not be “glory days.” But again, I don’t really know – this is all stuff I’ve been told. And I’m starting to think I’ve been lied to.

It’s actually kind of shocking that I’ve come this far without even coming close to grasping what college is all about. After all, I’ve dedicated four years – maybe more, depending on how much weight I ultimately put on spelling bees – to preparing for this. Or have I? That’s what we’re told, but in retrospect, high school feels less like rehearsal for college than a marathon of an audition. Being in a band soon got pushed to the backburner for the grind of stuffing the most confusing years of my life with accomplishments and accolades. The goal was college, yes, but it was college via being a superstar of a teen. I never really bothered to think about what this meant for college (was I supposed to keep this up? Take it up a notch?) until this past summer, when I skidded to a stop.

After four years of test scores and endless bids for the pinnacle of my worldly potential, I had nothing to do – no obligations to fulfill, no requirements to satisfy, no gaps to hastily repair. Here was my chance to do something I wanted to because I could – I could join a band! I could write a book! I could start a business! With the heat off, the pressure became overwhelming. I watched as my younger friends started to scale the heights I had already tackled – bigger and better scores and opportunities – things I weren’t doing anymore. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed by the need to know, “What am I doing with my life?” – and not in a positive-reevaluation way, but a hopeless-fear-of-dying-alone way.

There’s probably not enough room anywhere to discuss how tragic it is that pop culture leads us to believe that if we haven’t “made it” by now then we are resigned to struggling towards our midlife crisis so we can retire in peace. The fact is, and I’m sure this sounds old-fashioned, college is preparation, too. There’s been something tremendously refreshing about interning at City Hall and receiving counsel in things like career choices and Bible studies because it reminds me how much more time I have left being at the bottom of the totem pole. Instead of taking the time I need to prepare myself for the rest of my life, I’ve been burning myself out in a mad scramble for the best of my life – now.

So I’m going to college pretty soon, which I am told is a big deal – maybe even bigger than being in a band. And I honestly do want to start a non-profit, make a scientific breakthrough and spend a summer ministering to kids far away but I’m no longer putting those things on a checklist of things I have to do to make college a success. That demeans them and the real college experience. I’m going to spend the next (give or take) four years of my life preparing for the rest of the best of my life. I’m going to use all this time so one day – a day very likely to be longer than four years into the future – I can do those things and I can do it right.

Of course, during all this, I’ll still be asking people if they play bass guitar, because I’ve been trying to put this band together. I don’t think it’s too early – or too late – to say we might be going places.

  • Maury Holliman

    I totally agree with you. Too much pressure to get here and then you realize there’s so much more life left. Great article.

  • Anna Patricia Hawkins

    So great and so true. Just remember to live in the present while still keeping the future in mind, and it will turn out fine. I hope.