Getting Prepared for the Unpreparedness

Sophia Zhu ’18
Opinions Editor

In the past two weeks, life certainly didn’t treat me well. Two days after going through a painful oral surgery, I was hit by a turning car while riding my bike. So then, with a constant sore mouth and difficulty swallowing, I had to suffer through the terrible whiplash and bruises on my legs. Even worse, unlike my time at Smith, my current role as an intern doesn’t allow me to take days off or to even complain about my inner discomfort with anyone I meet. I still have to go for my regular work hours, beam with pleasure at all the co-workers and guests and continue to be tested for my capabilities as a contributing member of the organization.

But soon enough, I started to admire the human body’s ability to heal: the pain gradually faded and the wound healed. Within two weeks, the previous severe discomforts became a distant dream. Healing does take time, but this resilience is the most valuable gift that’s endowed to our vulnerable bodies and brittle spirits.

While everyone is born with this gift, not all of us allow it to develop to its extreme — since we can only become more resilient after a full cycle of breaking and recovering. As kids, we grow and learn by exploring freely, making mistakes and even getting hurt from time to time. But as we grow up, we become more fearful of failure, more conscious of others’ opinions and thus more careful to avoid being unprepared. But unfortunately, things that we try to “smartly” avoid are exactly what prevent us from moving forward.

I became increasingly aware of the fact that in life, not only are we often unprepared, but many incidents cannot be prepared for. It’s thus crucial to have a tool kit that can manage the gaps in existing knowledges and a mind set that can adapt to the ever-changing environment. Embracing uncertain challenges often leads to inevitable injuries, such as the foreignness when going abroad or the lack of confidence after a career change. But the natural power of resilience takes time to reveal itself. After all, you can never experience the miracle of resilience and progress if you don’t take the risk in the first place.

This is why I like learning new languages or being exposed to new environments. It can be uncomfortable — such as the feeling of loneliness when you get sick and your family is miles away, or the frustration when you struggle to harness a foreign tone. But it will all prove worthy, I believe, as what we learn from all these unpleasant experiences is the invaluable ability to deal with the challenges of life.

There is a belief that the world is made up of two types of people — generalists and specialists. By emphasizing the significance of being adaptive and open to all kinds of challenges, I am not simply praising being a generalist. There is danger in being a generalist as it is uncertain how we can compete with someone with a specialty in the same field. However, I also doubt there is a clear line between generalists and specialists as there is no barrier for generalists to specialize in one of many things that interest them. Those who fit into the intersection between these two categories could be the final winners in the evolving world as they are well-qualified to embrace all the unpreparedness.

Then I came to wonder if the meaning of higher education should be to prepare students for their future by simply offering as many specific skills as possible. Rather, I consider the ability of learning — above all other skills — a must for today’s young generations that face a world full of uncertainty as well as possibilities.

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