If you're serious about a creative passion, you can pursue it while keeping your academics afloat. (Illustration by Yunyi Dai, Maryland Institute College of Art)

Academics have the potential to provide some of the most enriching experiences a young adult can sink their teeth into, from a number of different perspectives. Assignments and class discussions invite intellectual collaboration, opportunities for skillful growth and lifelong friendships.

This positivity has a fine line, though, because the instances I just described only occur for a small and specific number of students. An equally probable outcome is that classes and assignments act as stifling sources of anxiety which, for some, might be even more mentally inhibiting than dropping out.

Regardless of what you study and what you see yourself doing creatively for the rest of your life, just because these two things may not overtly intersect does not mean that you must choose one over the other. The human mind is a continually evolving tool we have at our fingertips, with nearly unlimited memory capacity and an unparalleled ability to adjust to adversity.

Why allow school to come between you and your creative passion, when it could very well be providing you with invaluable knowledge without you even realizing it? Here are a few tips on how to foster your creativity, especially if you think school is suffocating it.

Be Honest with Yourself About Your Priorities

Possibly the greatest challenge you will encounter on this journey is how entirely unregulated the path you take might be. What you study and what you create might appear so different to the naked eye that you might not have access to the resources you could need to receive feedback on either.

As a result, it’s your responsibility to identify exactly what you want from both academic and creative endeavors. From there, it’s up to you to identify exactly what steps you need to take to achieve your professional goals. No one has the right to say you’re wrong, but this fact will make learning from your mistakes significantly more difficult.

While I cannot speak for everyone, it’s not necessarily your obligation to put effort into your academics if you truly believe that your field of study lacks any correlation to your creative practices — a conclusion you shouldn’t come to lightly.

In artistic and performative fields, many establishments do not rely on GPAs to assess the benefits of hiring a worker. If you believe that honing your creative skill at the cost of a letter grade will benefit you further in the long run, by all means submit that paper late. As long as you are communicative about this perspective to anyone else who might be extending great effort to put you through school, you betray no one by placing your intellectual efforts elsewhere.

However, keep yourself in check. Just because your passion might lie outside of curricular requirements does not excuse you from academic obligations. While grades might not matter in the grand scheme of things, the process of finding the balance between ambition and responsibility in itself is valuable.

While you’re still in school, you have some social leeway regarding decisions you make; use this time to fail early so when you’re further into your professional life, you will already have learned a myriad of lessons to help expedite the process.

More Subjects Have Overlap Than You Might Think

One of the many flaws of our current education system is its failure to communicate future applications of the content you’re learning about. While today’s math teachers continue to tactfully offer their responses to the incessant questions of “When am I ever going to use this?” it’s incredibly limiting to only offer students a list of professions that employ the subject matter being taught.

Knowledge is not a one-to-one machine that simply checks off a single box of information necessary to human survival; it’s a goldmine that can be dissected and reworked down to its most fundamental principles.

Personally, it was not until long after I had graduated high school that I realized the positive effects that 12 years of dense mathematical education has on a person. While I don’t remember anything past pretty basic algebra, the formulaic nature of mathematical ideas has helped me immensely as an intellectual. Numbers are simply an allegory for all logical thinking; equations offer the baseline for all deductive reasoning.

You might never get paid to do math beyond the scope of a cash register, but the harder you commit yourself to apprehending the general content of a course, the more malleable your mind will be to an array of problems.

Mathematics is just a small example from my own experience of trying to walk the line between your creative passion and academics. It’s important to remember that not everything you learn is going to manifest itself in some perfectly accessible form. You might not even have a conscious understanding that you retained a piece of knowledge, but that by no means implies that you should reject all learning outside of your chosen field or ignore your creative passion.

Seek Out Ways to Incorporate Your Passion into Your Studies

A healthy way to improve your creative passion is challenging yourself to find ways to incorporate it into activities related to your field of study. Perhaps you have an assignment with an open-ended formatting requirement: Could you find a way to produce a creative piece that fulfills the requirements?

Maybe you have a big exam coming up: Can you incorporate your creative methodologies into your studies to retain information more effectively? These are the questions you need to be asking yourself if you want to succeed both academically and creatively.

They might not always have obvious answers, but the further you need to stretch yourself to achieve the desired results, the more dynamic and better suited you will be to make a living off of your creative passion.

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