A designer, a comedian, and a chef. Ostensibly not a lot in common, other than success—living different lives in different parts of the world, pursuing different goals.
But I had each of them as a college counselor, and I can tell you, they had a lot in common. None of them took the world at face value; they wanted to see what was underneath the surface, because the only way they could appreciate the quality of life’s outcomes was to understand the integrity of the process creating that outcome.
If the process challenged the status quo along the way, asked a question that had an answer no one else pursued, was based on a clear understanding that there was something better out there that wasn’t in focus just quite yet—well, that was worth pursuing. If it was a question with an answer that was already a part of the milieu, well, forget it.
It isn’t easy seeing the world that way, ever—but especially so at seventeen. Convinced you’ll live forever, sure the rest of the world can’t possibly see things the way you do, the designer, the comedian, and the chef embraced professions that required them to make people see the world they way they do. It wasn’t enough to see the line on that groundbreaking skirt if no one wore it, or to bring those flavors together in a new way if no one tasted them as an ensemble, or to get to a punch line with a new perspective if no one heard it.
They didn’t have the adolescent convenience of dreaming up their version of the way the world is supposed to be, and living cozily in that bubble until reality came along to pop it. The only way their life was fulfilled was for someone to embrace their new idea and welcome it into the everyday world.
Even then, the joy was momentary. When you live on the edge of the world, your job is to bring What If to life in a way that delights others. Once that happens, the newness of What If quietly folds into the huge mound of What Is, and the idea that was once seen as innovative is now business as usual, pushing the boundaries of the known out a little farther—and pushing the designer, the comedian, and the chef a little farther away, to a new edge of the world.
Creation implies newness, and once an idea becomes part of what’s known, fidelity to creativity is only measured by concocting a new something new. It is your calling; it is who you are, and fidelity to self is the ultimate badge of honor in the world of something new.
If you aren’t careful, that life can be pretty tiring, given everything else the teen years bring that isn’t new to the world, but can be painfully new to you. Like every student I’ve ever worked with, I had to sign a form telling their colleges they were ready to engage in the uncertain world of creating among thousands of other like-minded young adults. They were ready, so I signed their forms, but the creative life offers no guarantees—and as I lifted my pen off the page, I hoped the balance they had in their lives right then would stay with them all of their days.
The headlines have been sadly full of stories about a different designer, comedian, and chef. No one can say what their balance was in their final days, but it is a reminder that we must look sharp and stand guard for all our students, most especially the creative ones. Their minds are mighty palettes of the possible, but their hearts must be equally resolved to keep one eye on the world as it is, and one in the world that could be. We must always help them do that.