Don’t Take My Advice
“It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”
— “Invictus,” William Ernest Henley
Last week I wrote about things I can’t do, like run very far or very fast. This week I’m going to write about something I can do, which is be an undergraduate student at Clark University. And something else that I can do: ignore advice from people I trust. If by some happy flight of fate you arrive at Clark this fall, you’ll find yourself besieged on all sides by advice and advice-givers. There’ll be a summer academic advisor, a LEEP advisor, an FYI advisor, a peer advisor, and a resident advisor. And that’s just the official people. Your parents will have something to say, too, and so will family friends and sweet old ladies at the checkout counter at the supermarket.
Chances are you’ll find someone you really trust amongst that group, and you’ll feel the urge to stop thinking for yourself and start doing exactly what they say. Don’t trust that instinct. It can be easy – and believe me, I know this better than most – to surrender yourself completely to whatever advice you’re given and abdicate all responsibility for your own choices. Don’t do that. That’s not taking advice. That’s following directions. And that’s what preschoolers do.
If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably the type of kid who’s done some outside research on this school. And that means that you’ve likely heard about Clark’s Liberal Education & Effective Practice (LEEP) model for liberal arts education. If you haven’t, here’s the basics: LEEP is about making sure that every Clark graduate has what we call “capacities of effective practice”. That means you can work in teams effectively. It means you can communicate with others. It means you can bounce back from failure, and it means you can take charge of your own existence.
That’s what you’ve got to do now that you’re becoming an adult. You’ve got to take charge. To paraphrase a former Missouri farmboy, the buck has to stop somewhere. The secret is that that place is you. So don’t blindly follow the advice of someone (or someones) that you trust. Take their advice, think about it, synthesize it with what you know about yourself and what others are telling you, and come to your own conclusions about what to do next.
That goes for this advice as it does for any other. If you think I’m full of crap, by all means ignore me. You’ll be your own person that way. If you think I might have something to say, but aren’t sure what, take a few days and sit on it. Ask people you trust what they think about it. And then step forward, boldly, towards where you want to be. You are the captain of your ship. You are the master of your soul.