Keeping your room clean is overrated

April 28, 2017, 3:36 a.m.

My floor has an enormous whiteboard across from the women’s bathroom. It’s a norm in the freshman dorms for these whiteboards to display various questions, surrounded by residents’ input as they encounter the new prompt along their path down the hall. The whiteboard’s location in front of the bathroom also means that it’s fresh on residents’ minds as they enter the shower and start to ponder life in the form of inspirational “shower thoughts.”

For about four days the other week, I was bombarded by the mother of all Big Questions on my way to the shower every day. Plastered in thick, black marker was the inquiry: “What changes would you make in your life if you knew you only had five years to live?”

As if ordinary shower thoughts weren’t already enough to evoke an existential crisis. Way to keep things cheery, first-floor Arroyo.

Try as I might, the doomsday-esque message and its surrounding responses sucked in my gaze like boba does to Stanford students. Each day I’d walk down the hall, shower shoes clicking obnoxiously against my heels, and seek out a fresh response. There were your typical answers — the ones you come to expect from the sarcastic, ambitious, hardball Stanfordians we know and love: “Learn more about CS and create something meaningful” was one, surrounded by a little cloud of “RT”s. “Learn how to ride my bike with no hands like a cool kid,” said another (actually a solid aspiration if you need an extra dose of self-empowerment). “Hike, write and eat” was mine, an admittedly circumstance-based reaction to having just finished reading Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” and feeling inspired by her Amazon woman-ness.

The one answer that really messed with my shower thoughts, though, was short — and not so sweet.

“Drop out.”

Let’s not romanticize it — college is primarily an investment. Financially, of course, but more importantly, it is an investment of time. We’re young, socially oriented, physically peaking. We could be exploring the world, couch-surfing, making music and art and friends in obscure places. Yet we all made this choice – to willingly pass through the selectively permeable membrane that is the infamous Stanford bubble, submerging ourselves in four years of some of the most demanding, elucidating education the world has to offer.

Is all of this work and pressure and struggle really rendered futile by the prospect of living only five more years?

Yeah. I think it is. The proclamation “I’ll get a college degree if it’s the last thing I do!” is prideful and narrow-minded. The inherent utility of a college degree lies in its applicability to the future. Your efforts could be dramatically more impactful in a more direct manifestation.

So drop out. BUT — wait a year. Want to build something meaningful with CS? Want to write the next bestseller? Want to create or improve a business? Figure it out. Take the classes. Understand and embrace the fact that it’s just a year, and with that knowledge, throw yourself into your endeavors. Learn as much programming as you can; write as much peer-revised material as you have the opportunity to create; learn from as many entrepreneurs as you can. Ask a lot of questions — maybe not always the right ones, but aim for it anyway.

Most importantly, make connections, but don’t network. My friend once told me, “I keep my room messy in order to clean my visual schema.” Essentially, his messy room provides ideal conditions for harvesting ideas. He completes his work and generates his ideas in a setting that would otherwise be inherently uninspiring.

The takeaway from this “messy room” analogy is that, in order to enjoy your most fruitful potential, you have to enrich your life in ways that may not embody an identifiable purpose at the time. Not everything you do needs to have meaning in order for it to be impactful, just like not every personable connection you make needs to be a networking move. Harvest ideas and relationships when you can, and thus, in the remaining four years of this theoretical whiteboard-life, your past will be full of meaning and possibilities off of which you can build an increasingly rich life. You’ll have a history of fullness, rather than a blank — albeit clean — room.

Okay, NOW you can drop out. Go create that start-up you’re passionate about. Write a novel. Do what British singer George Ezra did and cruise around Europe on a train for a month, ultimately generating an absurdly captivating and meaningful debut album. If your passion lies on campus, then stay. Basically, do what you want — but maximize it.

But hey, congrats! You’re not actually dying! Follow this model anyway. Maybe refrain from dropping out; you should graduate. Or at least try. But whether your future contains five years or 85, all you need to do to make it count is keep your room messy.


Contact Lauren Taylor at tay17 ‘at’

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