Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A friend of mine who is graduating from college this year wrote about struggling to come to terms with the fact that their college experience is ending, and questioning whether they made the right choices, spent their time on the right things, and will be able to leave it behind with so many avenues unexplored and experiences unhad.

I was very fortunate in that I was able to spend a 5th year at Stanford (finishing my coterm) and I think it made a very big difference in how I felt leaving it all behind (despite the fiasco that happened at graduation).  But that is not to say that I used my 5th year exploring all that there was left to explore at the place, or even that I spent it making sure that I would have no regrets when I left.  To be perfectly honest, a lot of what I did during that 5th year was pretty much more of the same as what I had been doing earlier.  In fact, I would say that I cut out a lot of new experiences from my life and snuggled into a comfortable place (extremely comfortable, in fact -- I was living it up in my premium studio at Munger).

But I think that is the thing that let me feel so happy about my experience at the end.  That after freshman year having to figure out everything all from scratch, having to let go of things from high school despite not wanting to, after sophomore year switching majors in what was a major conflict at the time (but seems absurdly logical now), after dealing with physchosomatic pains, counseling, saying goodbye to Kiki, struggling with gender identity, and all of that, I was finally able to just be myself and do my own thing -- making music, programming games, ditching classes, controlling my own sleep schedule, learning to cook, getting better at social dance, and in general just having a lot of "me time".

I never went fountain hopping, nor steam-tunneling, nor any of those other things.  I didn't have regular friends throughout my time at college -- not that I didn't have friends, or even close friends, but never friends who I would stick around.  But at the time, I really didn't think much of it.  These were mostly things that I chose not to do, out of disinterest.

I think it wasn't until afterwards when I started becoming closer to other people, being exposed to different worldviews, especially talking with other people going through college in different ways that I began to really question whether I had done all that I should have.  Hearing about all of the wonderful things that other people had found made me really wonder whether I had missed out by turning away and doing my own thing off in the corner at Stanford.  I, too, wanted to have had close friendships, to have had interesting and exciting classes outside my major, to have interesting and exciting classes =inside= my major, to be part of a close-knit student group.  I think I suffered a little bit of a delayed mini-crisis after the fact, thinking back on it.

But now, 5 years later (yes, it really has been that long), it's so obviously clear to me that what I did in college was =right=.  I think it is sometimes really easy to get caught up in thoughts about what could have been, and what you missed out on -- the greener side of the hill, so to speak.  But to do that would be discounting all of the things that you DID choose to do, and also discounting all of the (probably valid) reasons that you didn't do those other things.

Through my college experience I:
- Matured as a person, at least a bit, from my more ego-centric and judgmental past self (though there was still much work to be done)
- Came to terms with letting go of marching band from high school
- Formulated a start to my career and learned how to forge ahead on my own, disregarding the choices that were previously laid out for me by my parents
- Started to work through a great deal of gender identity questions that I had never previously considered
- Found a lifelong passion and community in the social dance scene
- Found another passion in the Japanese language, which I practiced until conversation became very easy
- Found several important people in my life, including Kiki
- Discovered and used counseling services for the first time
- Was miraculously saved from a debilitating case of psychosomatic pain
- Forged and refined my music production skills intensely through One Hour Compo every week
- Started my first forays into legitimate game programming, and started entering Ludum Dare
- Started learning how to cook (barely)

That is actually quite a lot of important stuff.  But there are other things that I think I felt like I "missed out" on (in quotes).

I never had a regular friend group; in fact it was debatable whether I had any regular friends to the extent that we would spend time together on a regular basis for an extended period of time.  But to be honest, as much as I often find myself "wishing" for better friendships, I think there is a very real truth in that I'm just way too introverted to deal with people on a very "social" level.  That has always been something that confused me before but thinking about it now it's very clear that being part of a "friend group" would never had made sense in the first place.

I didn't invest in many of my classes.  In fact, I didn't even GO to many of my classes.  Did it feel silly that I was staying for an extra year at Stanford and paying so much extra tuition despite not really caring about any of these upper-division CS courses that I really wasn't interested in?  Yes, of course.  But that extra 5th year had so many other benefits that it was worth it in the end.  Also, just knowing that I was not interested in those classes has been instrumental in pointing me towards what kind of things I enjoy and don't enjoy.

And so on and so forth.

Were there things that I would have done differently?  Well...absolutely.  I would have not gotten lost in psychosomatic pain, for one thing...also I would have tried my hardest to prevent the whole graduation fiasco.  I wouldn't have bothered taking those EE classes in a way that felt so inauthentic to me.

Knowing what I know now, I think there is perhaps even a bigger change that I would consider -- not going to Stanford in the first place.  I think it was a fine choice and I wouldn't give it up for the world, but knowing what I do now, I wonder if I would instead choose to go to an institution that offers programs for game development more specifically, even programs that are more cross-disciplinary and involve working more closely with creatives and actually making real projects.  I would have for sure wanted to take classes in visual art, even if just on an introductory level.  If I could take instruction and go through processes of game design, that would be even more fantastic.

But at the time, 9 years ago, how was I supposed to know that making indie games was going to become such a large part of my life?  And that I would be so interested in visual art?  How was I supposed to know that the art of game design, storytelling, and shaping a player's narrative experience were things that I would become intensely interested in?  Some of these things didn't even exist in the medium yet!!!

We do the best we can, with what we think is right for ourselves.  And I think it's important to recognize your own successes, take a good look at just how far you've come, and understand exactly what led you down this path.  There was always a reason that you chose to keep walking in this direction.  Even if that reason was a mistake that teaches you a lesson further down the road, that doesn't invalidate your choice.

Of course, all that being said, I am me after all, so of course I still miss my old room at Munger, of course I still miss my Japanese classes and most of all my senseis, and of course I miss crashing Richard's social dance classes, I miss the eating options on campus, I miss the fact that everyone was...slightly....less busy with their own lives (slightly), and I still miss Kiki.

I won't have the chance to hang out with people in their.....slightly (very slightly) less busy state anymore.  I won't have the chance to take those visual art classes.  I won't be able to change my mind and go to a game development and design institute.  I may not even be able to see Kiki ever again.  But I can still learn visual art.  I can still take visual art classes, if not part of university.  I can still study game design at GDC.  I can still meet people at social dance.  And perhaps, if there are things in my life that could only be accomplished in that short 4-year period, maybe those things aren't quite as important as they might seem.

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