Flipping the coin: what I really got out of grad school
Grad school saved my life. Whoa. It did. It completely upended my thought process, spun me around a few hundred times, threw a whole slew of new information at my brain and said, "Now go. Change the world."
It certainly changed mine.
Back in college, when I was applying for one of my more exciting educational endeavors known as study abroad (read: adventures that gave me never-ending wanderlust), I remember using the quote “I find the pursuit of knowledge fascinating.” (It’s actually the “learning new stuff” part that gets me, but it just doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?) Which is probably why I find myself a continual student of something. Always. Most recently it’s been yoga, German, and now coding. And everything in grad school, of course. But “learning this stuff” didn’t save my life.
And anyway, the world is filled with tools that make this pursuit possible outside of the brick-and-mortar we know as universities. Wikipedia, Kahn Academy, TED. You can find just about anything on YouTube. But the subject matter of my program was very specialized (with a lot of questionable Internet content), and for that I am eternally grateful to each and every one of my teachers — faculty and peers.
Speaking of peers. You guys are seriously incredible.
Speaking of faculty, instructors, guest lecturers. You guys are seriously inspiring.
You are all blazing trails left and right. Breaking down walls. Abolishing convention. Blowing minds. (Blowing mine, at least.) Integrating. Subtle, but somehow super intense. (Like the integration I was in pursuit of in Rome and Cape Town those oh-so-educational winter breaks.)
Networking is fantastic, and these people make it fun. But they didn’t save my life.
The secret to grad school is kind of like the secret (I’m learning) to coding. It teaches you how to think. It taught me how to think. How to keep an open mind, but be a skeptic. To look at the facts, hard and long. Then, realize there is a horizon beyond them. Allow space for paradigm-shifting content. It will happen at some point, it always does. Then all of the sudden the world is no longer flat. Who would have thought?
This quote by Steve Jobs about his life-changing encounter with LSD pretty much sums it up: “Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life. LSD shows you that there’s another side to the coin, and you can’t remember it when it wears off, but you know it.”
That’s what grad school did for me. Psychedelic insight. It opened my eyes and illuminated my mind. It said, “Hey! There’s a million other ways to do this thing that we’ve until now only done this one way. It might be better, it might be worse, but it exists. Let’s consider it. At the very least, recognize that it exists.” There is an alternative treatment option. There are other places to live in the world. There are many spiritual practices that provide meaning to people. There are other planets, galaxies, perhaps universes.
There is another side to the coin.
And that, my friend, has made all the difference.
As I write this I’m realizing that’s exactly what spending time in other cultures does. It flips the coin. So when you’re back at home ordering Greek takeout and dreaming of warmer weather, you might not remember how many goats crossed the road on your trek to lunch or what ridiculously fantastic cuisine you ate at that electricity-less restaurant by the sea or why exactly your rental car mirror was taped on (working hypothesis: rocky, rocky roads), but you do remember that experience. You acknowledge that existence. And maybe it helps you think a little more deeply about the world.
So I guess that wanderlust isn’t ceasing anytime soon…