Intro: This is a guest post written by my daughter (my baby girl), MacKenzie, who turns 22 today. Kenzie is and has always been an independent spirit and the ultimate hands-on learner. She enjoys nothing more than a good squishy mud puddle, as long as she can take the time to let it ooze through her fingers and stomp in it while wearing her colorful rain boots. She has always understood, as she mentions in this piece, that diving in, hands first, and making awesomely over the top, messes is absolutely essential to learning.
Kenzie is also a dreamer and a person who acts with intention to make those dreams come true. What she has not said in this post is that back in August, she told us that she was going to contact all of the “kick ass” female chefs in Portland, Oregon (where she lives), because she wanted to work in a kitchen where good (real) food is honored and where the people who make that food are appreciated and respected as individuals, within a caring family-like community.
Long story short – Kenzie will soon be starting her new job at a restaurant called Yonder that will be opening in Portland, with a “kick-ass” female chef at the helm, and a group of people who are dedicated to working together to create awesome food.
Of course, she has had to suffer through a few, not so ideal, positions before arriving at this goal. Fortunately, she used those lessons learned to make informed decisions that brought her to this positive place.
Kenzie Doodle, I am so proud of all you are, all the growing you have done and will continue to do, your persistence, and, most especially, all you do to make the world a better place. Happy 22nd Birthday, Baby Girl!
You Do You
I felt pressured to go to college.
This burden was not necessarily derived from my parents, my extended family, or my friends - it was more so bred from the social expectations and stigmas that my local community subconsciously roused. Nearing the end of my high school career, I found myself searching frantically for that one thing that stood out from my list of thousands of interests, which only increased tenfold on a daily basis. How could I choose what to study when I housed a brain that lacked the ability to hone into details unless I actually cared deeply about the topic?
As a teen I found solace in escape tactics. The latter part of my years in my parental stronghold were spent trying on different personalities, creating art, experimenting, writing poems on my walls, thinking deeply, yelling loudly, testing my limits, and (unfortunately) testing my family’s limits in the process. Like all human children, I learned by asking millions of questions, making mistakes, and creating small catastrophes. I’m undoubtedly thankful for the messes I made, the people who tore me down, and the ones who built me up when I felt undeserving of positive reinforcement. I’m grateful for the life lessons that I endured in order to put my best foot forward. Experience is what makes you grow; not only upward and outward, but also inside the part of you that gives a sharp, pinching warning before you make a royal mistake.
Still, college was a beast that I was convinced that I had to tackle. After taking a full year off, I began my freshman year at Hampshire College. I was excited for the new experience, and frightened by the potential outcome. How was I going to pay the thousands of dollars in loans and interest as soon as I left school? After having grown up in a family who were free of debt and whose income was never treated frivolously, this seemed like a terrible idea that required a lot of faith in a “system” I was raised to question.
Surprise, surprise, one month of school had passed and I had returned to my old habits. Doing my very best to convince everyone that I was happy and I was loving my higher education experience, I was truthfully withering away, and trying to escape. The campus and all that lay within its confines became my tank, and like a goldfish I found myself unable to grow, shift, or adjust. As my depressive symptoms increased, and my will to live diminished with alarming speed, I realized I was only enjoying what I had control over. I was leaving classes without storing any of the information or content that I had been taught. I despised group projects - or working collaboratively with anyone - because I did not always have the upper-hand. I loathed meeting with my professors, partially due to social anxiety, but mostly because I did not care to listen to advice that I was not planning to take.
Most people may think that I took this opportunity for granted, but the reality is that college was just not for me. I was increasingly aware of the inner workings of higher education, and how the out-pour of information that I was receiving was derived from a compounded system of racist, sexist, classist, homophobic, and transphobic history. My privilege of attending college was literally founded on the backs of those who could not. This form of education is established on ‘practicality’ and a certain ‘bottom line-ism” that focuses on turning students into products of a world which only serves to break our spirits down. Being a forever social skeptic, I began to struggle against everything I was being taught. Not unlike my own biological system I began to deal with this by creating my own social antibodies, using the arts, language, and expression as personal tools to contradict all that I absorbed.
Sophisticated as we may think we are, western knowledge and perspective expects us to take a huge leap of faith in order to believe that human consciousness is somehow evolving in an orderly fashion. I soon discovered that my research was expected to be linear. I learned that in class there is a descriptor and predetermined formula for everything that ‘works’. For some reason, no one was open to me questioning those set ideas - when I only wished to flush my findings with deeper inquiry of what lays outside of an appropriate reference. I found myself stuck on one overarching topic: everything is constantly evolving. Humans and their systems, channels, and energies are changing rapidly. Human technology is escalating with alarming speed. If you do choose to go to college, wouldn’t it at least make sense for the school to use their student’s natural innate curiosity, excitement, and instincts to explore the vast world of knowledge that exists outside of the finite collection of information that the collegiate experience offers? Humans are more wise than we usually perceive.
I write this because I left college and since doing so I have matured, and regained a copious amount of faith in myself. Over the past two years of being free from an institution’s expectations, I have experienced a shift of attitude and focus within myself. I have grown into a mental space that I know I would have never reached if I were tightly secured to a campus. I have given myself the ultimate gift: a significant head start on the things that I really want to be doing in my life. I have peers outside of college who are becoming the creators who they want to be without attending college. Musicians, chefs, trade workers, writers, restaurateurs, actors, policy makers, activists, film makers, and entrepreneurs - I see these people challenging the world that we were born into and rising up to their full potential as individuals, and team members, all the while withstanding the pressures from their own families and peers to go back to school. It takes some serious guts to stand up to people that you care about and tell them “no, that is not what I want”.
Listening to your own needs and acting on them does not mean that you shouldn’t constantly question your motives and the space that you take up; it means the complete opposite - you should always be aware of the ways in which you embody your beliefs, and how it could be damaging to another demographic, or to yourself. Living and working with all kinds of people has pushed me to create and collaborate, and most importantly to step back and be quiet. I have watched myself grow into a person who seeks to step back and use other’s input. I have witnessed myself sprint miles past the girl who only wanted to prove her strength, wit, courage, and control, and to become a human who knows how to question, challenge, and love herself fiercely. The beast can be tamed - my interests are still in the thousands, but I have learned a few new concepts: 1. focus, hard work, and preservation can actually get you to where you never thought you could be, and 2. You do not need to gain anything from your hobbies other than the sheer pleasure of taking time to do something for yourself.
This is not a declaration. I am not telling you or your kids to not go to college, I am not saying that you are at all wrong for going to school. This is a call to action: for anyone who feels pressured to go to college, to the parents who control their children with directives, rewards, or punishments, and to those who are worrying about what the future holds once they graduate. Instead of expecting yourself, your offspring, or your peers to go to school, try adopting a willingness to be thoughtful, empathetic, curious, and clumsy. By believing that you or someone else is making a terrible decision by skipping out on college, you are sending a direct message to those who did not have the opportunity to go in the first place. If the person making a decision about their educational future is not you, then choose instead to sit down and listen. When given the time and environment, all humans - no matter their age - have the capacity to decide what is ultimately best for their future. And if they fail at first, let that be their lesson to learn and grow from.