When I was younger my cousins and I used to play the board game Life. Just in case you’re not familiar with the game, players have the choice to start the game by “going to college” or by “getting a job.” If you choose to start the game by going to college, you are immediately handed two bills. Thus, you start your “life” in debt.
I had been raised to value education and to view it as an absolute priority. So, despite the inevitable debt, I would always choose to start the game by “going to college.” My cousins would usually choose to “get a job” and then make fun of me when two turns later they had $50,000 more than me because any money I had managed to obtain had to be put towards my “student loans.” Lately, I’ve begun to realize just how much that game, as well as my cousins’ strategy and responses to mine, were reflective of society’s attitudes towards intellect and working professionals.
This is not a new phenomenon. These are all comments we’ve heard before. 70% of successful rappers are former drug dealers who have boasted more than once about now making more money than the teachers who doubted their abilities to ever amount to anything.
What’s the point of getting an MBA these days? Just record a single, put it on YouTube, and get signed. Then, start your own label, a clothing line, and develop your own fragrance.Voila, you’re a businessman!
Oh, you want to be on television? Communications? What is that? Just get your parents, sisters, brothers, aunties, and cousins all in one house, start recording, and send it to VH1.
Acting school? Don’t waste your energy, time, or money. (See the rapper plan above.)
And you might as well tell your high school-aged son to put down that textbook and pick up a basketball. Then, tell your daughter to have a baby by one of his ball-playing friends (in the infamous words of 50 Cent “have a baby by me, baby, be a millionaire”) because we all know that Lebron is paid way better than the attorney who handles his business affairs.
As I bury my head in LSAT workbooks non-stop in preparation for my exam next month, submit essays, short stories, and articles to as many publications and contests as I possibly can, and work on internship applications for the fall–all in the hopes of one day being credentialed enough to be able to share my voice on a larger scale as a writer, activist, and all-around force to be reckoned with–Tyrese is touring the country promoting his new book.
Regardless of how it may sound, I’m not mad at the new wave of entrepreneurship. Like Jay-Z said, “you can’t knock the hustle.” I just can’t help but wonder why the education hustle doesn’t seem to be as respected, or as profitable, as others.
Whenever I express these frustrations, people tell me that it will all pay off eventually, but in today’s world black college graduates are twice as likely as their white counterparts to be unemployed. In the three years that I’ve been in college, I’ve seen the pride and excitement of so many graduates having completed a milestone, but I’ve also seen their uncertainty about their futures as they ultimately return to their parents’ couches. Many of those who do have job or graduate school acceptances are still on predictable and structured paths that–despite being in pursuit of them myself–I cannot say I envy.
Where is the hope for the hard-working scholars who want to live life on their own terms and not in terms of what someone else tells them or wants them to do? (You know, “you don’t need to call into work ’cause you’re the boss…”) It seems like while we’re raising our hands waiting to be acknowledged, someone else has gotten ahead of us. (Even within many educational institutions, there seems to be a hierarchy that sometimes places other traits ahead of responsibility, academic achievement, and intellect.)
Not just education is taken for granted; talent, in general, is. I was so proud of a friend of mine who graduated this year and at the same time released his own self-published book. While his comrades are out interviewing for jobs and trying to get into graduate schools, he is determined to pursue his dream of being a successful novelist. I told him how much I admired his courage. He said that I could do the same thing, but I don’t have enough faith in society to put my future stability on the line in order to blindly pursue my dreams. We live in a world where despite the number of singers in the Howard Gospel Choir who can give you chills, auto-tune reigns supreme.
So many of my friends and peers are out performing, traveling, and creating, while I’m forced to put my own ideas to the side in order to study from a book, when I’d really rather be writing my own. Then I remember how hard it is to get people to read, and I come back to my senses. Although, I’m learning how to balance both passion and practicality, I always feel like one tends to outweigh the other, no matter how hard I try.
Things seemed so much simpler when I was just playing a childhood game. I didn’t mind constantly losing to my older cousins as they chose the alternate path. I didn’t attribute my losses to them having a better sense of the way Life worked. I just knew that they were bigger and stronger, and that if I kept playing the game my way, eventually I would win. These days, I find myself trying to regain and maintain that innocence, that confidence.
I try to tell myself–not that it’ll all pay off– because I have a feeling that I have different expectations than most people about what constitutes “payment”. Instead, I try to tell myself that I’ll get to where I want to be eventually. I’m just taking the long way there…