Falls Away

Illustration by Anastasiia Zubareva

When All Else Falls Away

It is a distinctive feeling that switches between a directionless ship floating around in different areas, to one full of direct purpose and velocity.

Nov 26, 2016

Before coming here, we were promised a T-shaped education. One that simultaneously provides depth into a single area of study, and breadth across various other topic matters. The idea is that we either discover the narrow, vertical part of the T after a freshman year of exploration, or we come into this institution with an already clear area of focus in mind and fill in the remaining slots with other interests and curiosities — or we painstakingly decide on a major despite finding so many other fields just as alluring.
The pressure of a distinct T crystallizing in time and well before graduation remains. Despite this freedom of exploration that we are given — the horizontal line that gives the T its finishing touch — we are nevertheless supposed to abide by the convention of moving towards a distinct specialization as we mature and move into full-fledged academic adulthood. In some countries, entering work life with a clear idea of where one is going, and ensuring that each job and promotion leads to the next like perfectly-aligned building blocks, is strongly preferred and encouraged.
This should not be mistaken with leading a balanced lifestyle, nor with cultivating a diverse range of interests. These, ultimately, must take up a significantly smaller amount of time than your main area of focus and be treated casually, as hobbies at most.
It is easy to make all of these choices based on prestige and what the market is looking for. It is also just as easy to follow your either scattered or decisive self, which directs you towards what feels right, and just go from there. There is space for all of these notions at NYU Abu Dhabi, and even perhaps a sense that all of that space given for exploration is not enough, with a pressing what-if with regards to what was not explored. Not just classes, but also places, relationships, Student Interest Groups and scheduled activities, trainings and get-togethers.
All of this exploration can be regarded as a — perhaps highly tedious — collection of many small puzzle pieces, in the process of which one should make a judgment about which puzzle pieces fit into one’s own highly complex, life puzzle. Or it can be just oh so simple.
It is truly simple when one experiences the sensation of all else falling away. The willingness to immerse oneself deeply and invest a lot of time into something becomes unquestionable, almost to the point that other things become irrelevant, almost non-existent. The phenomenon of all else falling away may happen to many of us, experienced as profound interest.
In order to put this into some perspective, one could consider an entrepreneur who is very much enamored with his idea and wants to utilize everything at his disposal in order to make things happen. There is a joke in the German language which labels the entrepreneur as selbstständig: self-employed. The term is comprised of the two words: selbst —self, ego, I and ständig —constantly. It is one who is constantly working — mostly alone, being the prime incubator of the idea. There is a sense of obsession, of fully succumbing, of giving one’s absolute best because it really matters. That too may happen with some capstone projects, although with many it doesn’t. The idea is that we are all capable of it.
Ultimately, it is frivolous to become fixated on the notion that it is necessarily a field of study which should lead to the phenomenon of all else falling away. Falling away definitely does not need to happen when we choose a major — as there are still other classes to take, and nor does it do so through the realization of the T-shaped education hypothesis.
All else does not even have to fall away — though this does push humanity to ambitious heights. However, it is highly possible and probable that we will experience this at one point or another. As this article has explored, there are other factors and constellations that come into play. The university’s nudge towards concurrent focus and exploration is valid given society’s norms, but many of us are indeed multipotentialites with varied interests, interested in diversity and what is going on around us.
The falling away can indeed happen in a different area of life; during our time on campus or the time in between, or even after. It is, nevertheless, a distinctive feeling which may be interpreted as a calling, and ultimately flips the switch between a directionless ship floating around in different areas, to one full of direct purpose and velocity.
Natalie Kopczewski is Deputy Creative Editor. Email her at feedback@thegazelle.org.
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