With my third year at McGill drawing to a close, it has hit me that my university experience was both exactly like, and yet entirely different to, what my high school self had envisioned. Growing up, I attended a relatively small school that emphasised student engagement and espoused this rhetoric that we could all go on to change the world. It made being exceptional feel easy; changing the world (as cliché as it sounds) felt within my reach because my school made it feel like it was. It filled me with an unchecked ambition that left very little room for failure. I told myself I would carry my ‘can do,’ world changing attitude into university. Unfortunately, I hadn’t accounted for two things: 1) how small going from a 400-person high school to a 20,000+ person university would make me feel and 2) the fact that my senior year of high school and first year of university would be absolutely decimated by a pandemic.
As people around me began talking about their summer internships, their research opportunities, or the clubs they were involved in, I began to feel increasingly out of my depth. I had gone from being an incredibly involved student to feeling washed-up at the ripe age of twenty. In my mind, I was letting my younger self down — she had taken every opportunity that came her way and ran with it. School plays, conferences, panels, she had done it all and she had loved it. Meanwhile here I was at university, growing increasingly frustrated with the silent expectation that I should be devoting much more of my free time than I was to building up my resumé. I felt an incessant pressure to be doing internships every summer and to join as many clubs as possible, all with the end goal of eventually attending graduate school.
I had gone from being an incredibly involved student to feeling washed-up at the ripe age of twenty.
While the world had come to a stop for almost two years, students were expected to carry on full steam ahead. As this year draws to a close, I’ve come to realise that many of us have not been patient with ourselves. According to the 2020 American Psychological Association Stress Report, not only are stress levels among adults aged eighteen to twenty-three on the rise, they are also significantly higher than the stress levels reported by other generations. In fact, of the respondents who attend university, 87% attributed school as a primary stressor. These statistics also fail to take into account the effects of the pandemic, which has most likely exacerbated these already unprecedented levels of stress.
We, as a generation, need to have patience and compassion not just for others, but for ourselves. It has taken me almost three years to understand that it’s ok to need more time to reach a certain stage in your life; after all, there is no timeline on self-actualisation. Just because you deviate from what your younger self had envisioned, does not mean your goals are no longer attainable; sometimes you simply set yourself up for failure without noticing it. Ambition is healthy but it can quickly become toxic if you do not allow yourself room to stumble.
We, as a generation, need to have patience and compassion not just for others, but for ourselves.
So to my younger self: it may feel like university will dictate the rest of your life but it won’t. And it may feel like you need to have everything figured out by the time you are twenty-one but you don’t — in fact, I doubt most people ever do. You will learn that, while comfortability is not always a bad thing, it can very easily turn into complacency. You should try new things — though you may not always enjoy them — and push yourself out of your comfort zone — even if you may not always want to. And most importantly, be sure to grant yourself the same kindness and patience you give to those around you.
When I am much older, I hope not to feel a whole world caught between my mouth and my throat. That is to say –– I hope not to have a long list of regrets, sprawling like a drugstore receipt that’s stuffed in between two books. I hope not to have my notebooks empty, hoarding dust underneath the coffee table. Most of all, I hope not to feel ashamed of the life I choose to live.
I realize this introduction may seem superfluous, but as a soon-to-be graduate, it’s difficult not to be encompassed by this pressing prospect of regret. After all, the end of this chapter marks the start of a new one –– and at the moment, what awaits me feels less than thrilling. Post-graduate studies, job applications, interviews, rent, taxes, and an overarching sense of self-sufficiency are needed for entrance into this adults-only club.
And as I’ve only just begun to dip into the inevitable (picture me: still holding onto my Frosh mug for dear life), one of the biggest shocks I’ve repeatedly come face-to-face with is the problem of commodified creativity and the far-reaching effects of capitalism. The commercialization of art has existed for centuries, and its presence can even be argued as early as the Renaissance when the church commissioned art like the Sistine Chapel not for its beauty, but for its advertisement of Catholicism. However, commercialization has taken a sharp turn in recent years as capitalistic competition only rises. From NFTs to Jeff Koons to AI generations, art is now created to serve a distinct purpose: feeding demand (Marx & Engels are rolling in their graves as we speak, I’m sure of it).
Certainly, as any good art student, I’ve been aware that capitalism is fastly encroaching on creativity for some time now, yet my recent dive into the corporate world made it obvious on not only the global scale but the personal one. When reviewing job openings online, practically every single posting seeks creativity –– creative problem-solving, creative thinking skills, creative design –– despite the actual role being the furthest thing from creative. Truthfully, creativity in the capitalist worldscape is only valued when listed as a ‘skill’ on LinkedIn or a word that scores you points with the ATS –– valued solely for its commodified serviceability. According to a report by the World Economic Forum, creativity is listed as the top projected job skill of 2025, for its contributions to ‘increased workplace productivity,’ ‘innovation,’ and ‘economic growth.’
Truthfully, creativity in the capitalist worldscape is only valued when listed as a ‘skill’ on LinkedIn or a word that scores you points with the ATS –– valued solely for its commodified serviceability.
Existing and creating in a world that so heavily emphasizes everything for profit, in which every action and perspective is seemingly commodified, feels daunting to me and other artists. How do we produce anything authentic when the question of ‘sellability’ looms above us, rendering everything hollow and effectively unauthentic?
This is an age-old question that people have struggled with for decades but is perhaps best represented by the Modernists of the 1920s who sought to break tradition and create art that was new and truthful, free of pompous obscurity. In poet Marianne Moore’s self-meditative poem entitled “Poetry,” she writes that “reading [poetry], however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers that there is in / it after all, a place for the genuine.” Modernists, who were overwhelmed by the ever-changing world around them, found solace and sincerity in genuine art –– raw and free of complication. Creation was as pure as the words placed on paper. Poetry was the true space for the genuine to not only exist, but to flourish.
Recent years of extreme commercialized creativity certainly surpass anything the Modernists could’ve dreamed of, but perhaps the formula remains the same. A reconnection with authenticity, in its purest form, is the only way to reclaim art for ourselves. While capitalism is fast-paced, art is slow –– made beautiful in its lingering. Producing art can be seen as an antithesis to capitalism and greed, and can serve as a fundamental act of resistance.
Producing art can be seen as an antithesis to capitalism and greed, and can serve as a fundamental act of resistance.
I grew up writing, and for as long as I can remember I’ve had it reside inside of me, more than a love or a passion, but a basic necessity for life. I grew up with books far beyond my reading level, hidden under elementary-school desks; with stories, placed in ribbon-tied chapbooks that still remain in my adult-sized desk. Certainly, with time and age, this love has grown distant –– but perhaps a revival of creativity and the absence of ‘sellability’ is the cure for everything. To my younger self –– the world that’s bubbling up in your esophagus is begging to be spoken out loud, so please speak it, cherish it, and hang on to it. Perhaps creation, as pure and as brave as a child’s story, are the greatest service to the world.
And yet, here I am, 22 years old and ready to apply to all the ‘creative’ opportunities that await me. In this, I cannot help but think of the words of Walt Whitman: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”
Don’t we all?