Designers and Dreamers: Stress, Ability, and Capability

taubman courtyard lights at sunset
photographed exclusively by @themichiganarchitect instagram

Apparently it has only been a month since college had first started back up. Yet, how do I feel so beat already? Is it me? Or is it my habits that are the issue?

I have spoken to many classmates and friends, and they’ve all given various responses as to how they feel at this moment of the semester. Some are super chill, living their life as they’d like to. Others are just barely scraping by, rarely showering, eating, and (if they’re lucky) sleeping. So, what’s the diversity from? Do some people just work or study more efficiently or something that others, or is it just mostly because of the different scheduling due to major and types of classes?

Ya’ll know I’m gonna say that it will most likely be a mixture of both.

Like they all say, “everyone is different.” Even with the academic motivations, skills, and level of stress.

Of course, as college students, we are constantly learning from every experience of our everyday lives, and our brains are still developing, constantly rewiring new skills, and deleting past ones sometimes.

So, “what’s the point of this post?” you may ask.

Well, it’s more of an opinionated informative piece on this topic.

Sometimes, it is the most simple, mundane things in life that we should be most interested in taking time to improve. Not necessarily asking you to re-learn how to brush your teeth (though I’m sure it would be useful with the amount of cavities and oral issues college students commonly have), but maybe taking time to re-evaluate ourselves fairly. I was once asked by a friend of mine, “How do you evaluate your self worth? Is it through your work? Or is it through your aspirations for your work? (work as in course assignments)?” I’d had a hard time putting together the words of my thought at the time, but as short as the question was, it holds a lot of weight and definition in life.

As an architecture student, we are constantly taught how to re-see spaces, tap into our imaginations, and look deepx

into mundane topics for the sparks of our project ideas. As great as that may be for our creativity and model-making skills, how does this system of education support our own mental worth? I suppose it is similar in other fields as well, but I feel that at least in design (art and architecture and anything in that general sector), lessons can be easily taken to the heart.

Our projects are born from our minds, our thoughts, and may even pull from memories for structure. Furthermore, our projects are essentially our life during the semester; if I’m not in bed or showering, I am literally always at my studio cranking out the construction of my models. This accounts for the stress, and constant anxiety around grades and competition. In studio, surrounded by countless talented folks working just as hard as you, it really is hard not to look around and see a battlefield. (Not to mention, there are moments of literal bloodshed when you find your exacto knife had slipped right into your skin at 2am.) And, for those who struggle with even just formulating an idea, or the lack of knowledge of construction techniques, studio sometimes feels like a place to prove yourself, and create your self worth through educational struggles. But, the best part is yet to come. So, you’ve spent the whole week being antisocial, rarely eating, scarcely sleeping, or even showering, and your project is finally finished, yay! Now, it’s time for the review, where your professor and a few guest critics come and evaluate your work and give feedback publicly after you present. For many, reviews make or break the ego. If it goes well, our ego soars, we feel at the top of the world. If the review is mortifying, we feel embarrassed, and worthless, and like a total failure for “wasting” so much time and hope during the construction process. Then, the next project is assigned, and we gotta do it all over again…

The point is, life does suck sometimes, and we are all allowed to set our own standards and have our own habits. It’s just that I wanted to say that we need to still recognize our own strengths through all of this, and NOT place our self worth into our works’ products. Just because you worked hard, doesn’t guarantee you will score an A in the course, or show that you’re the most intelligent or talented or something. Working hard builds character, an essential pillar to being a person. Learning slowly but surely transports you from crappy to excellent. Likewise, your portfolio, which I am sure that you definitely took the time and effort to make it look presentable and illustrate your best works, is definitely not an accurate representation of who you are; a portfolio is simply a visual attempt for employers to get to know you better in terms of your personality and style and technical abilities. With that said, just try your best to create your portfolio, and I want to remind yourself that the only person you should be battling in this process is yourself. Don’t look at your neighbor’s project, look at your own, and learn off of your mistakes. It is not fair to compare yourself to others when you do not share experience in your backgrounds, and then try to compare your results.

To all my fellow Wolverine designers and dreamers out there, keep shooting for the stars, and I know you’ll land there 🙂

What to Do in an Interview When You Actually Like Classic Books

A person slides his or her finger across multiple old, embellished books.

You know that question interviewers ask about the last few books you’ve read, or your favorite book of all time and why? You’re supposed to say something cool and interesting, something you didn’t read for class or because your feminist book club suggested it. But how do you answer when you actually like Shakespeare and Milton, or spend your afternoons snuggled up with Lewis Carroll? What do you say when the last book you read actually was George Orwell’s 1984 or Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations? Essentially, what do you do in an interview when you’re like me?

They say in an interview you shouldn’t lie, but they also say to answer any question in the way that will make you shine in the best light. So when someone asks me the last book I read, it takes me a moment to figure out what would be the best answer. Should I actually say the last book I read was Louis Sachar’s Holes, but that I just got to the letter in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and can’t wait for Elizabeth to get over Mr. Wickham? Or, should I go with something a little more contemporary that I didn’t read as recently because I’m some weirdo who thinks The Tempest is a good bedtime story.

So, after months of consideration and many interviews, I believe I have found the solution to this age-old question. Be honest about what you like to read, as long as you remember one thing. Be proud, too. Be unapologetically passionate about the books you’ve stuffed into your bookshelves and spent countless hours you should’ve spent sleeping underneath your covers with a book in hand.

When you get that question, that dreaded yet exciting question that allows you to talk about literature, tell the interviewer the truth, and tell him or her exactly why you read (and reread) the book and why you liked it or didn’t. Tell them your favorite book is The Great Gatsby, but only if your favorite book is The Great Gatsby. Don’t leave it at that, though. Instead, be sure to include that you like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work because you have fond memories of it. Tell your interviewer that you read it for the first time in high school with your favorite teacher. Tell them people joke that your town is split just like West Egg and East Egg and part of you finds it funny, while the other part feels uncomfortable at the thought of such division. Tell your interviewer that Old Owl Eyes is the best character in the book because he notices Jay’s books weren’t cut, and that he’s so underrated as a character because of just how important and amazing a detail that is that you can never stop thinking about it.

So, when you’re sitting in an interview for your dream job and you’re asked what the last book you read was, or what your favorite book is and why, don’t lie. Don’t say you stayed up all night memorizing Shakespeare’s sonnets or counting all of the times Holden Caulfield says “phony” if that isn’t what you actually did. But, if it is how you like to spend your time, if you are the nerd checking out Jane Eyre from the library, own it. Don’t be a phony. Be proud of your tastes. Who knows, your interviewer might be a closeted One-Hundred Years of Solitude fan just like you.