I was a big fish in a small pond. My school’s class sizes and individualized teaching affected my confidence levels and ability to be myself. There was a strong sense of learning for learning’s sake, and that by putting individual worth into something we might find meaning in it. For example, I was handed a saxophone on the first day of 7th grade, so I could learn to play music. Without much guidance, I taught myself the instrument, and others, in the ways I found best. Always, I was given the responsibility to learn on my own terms. And I found interests in all sorts of things.
Still, I can’t remember not listening to music all the time. My brothers would give me mixed tapes they had handpicked; I’d listen religiously. Then I got my first laptop at the beginning of high school and it had a recording application. I started making mixed tapes for others and eventually making my own music. It seemed to be the only way I could explain how I was feeling. With all of art, there is a part of the inexplicable. A good friend of mine, Evan was kind of in the same boat – we were both looking for an arts lifestyle once we left high school. We weren’t really in that environment yet. He influenced me the most, as being a friend and someone going through the same thing. We bounced off each other a lot.
In our school’s group discussions, some people hadn’t found their passions yet and couldn’t contribute to that conversation. They didn’t know what they wanted to do. I think the search starts with looking at anything you really like to do. Genuinely. You can’t find it by trying to be anything you’re not. I struggled with that a lot. I used to “try hard” for a long time. I would exploit myself to make friends. I’d compromise who I really was in the face of others. Eventually, I came to terms with who I was and started protecting my dignity and personal strengths. To find those strengths, you can step back and look at those things that really make you happy. If you’re doing math problems and it’s making you happy, I’d say maybe you were happy in finding concrete things and answers. Sometimes passion is pigeonholed as something artsy – but you can have a passion for talking to people or hosting events. Passion is widespread. It does require you start believing in yourself as soon as possible.
Surprisingly, picking a school didn’t have much to do with music. It had to do with the place, the environment. My top choice was Ohio State University to study business and communications, while doing music in the city. I ended up not getting into that program, so I reevaluated my choices. I’d applied to music schools in Chicago, Nashville, Boston, and Cincinnati, and I looked for the environment that would allow me to do things individually. Didn’t matter as much what the program was but more what my resources would be.
Now the fear is I’ll end up going there and it won’t necessarily be what I thought it would be. But that’s a fear that deserves to be overcome. If I go with expectations, I’ll happily discard them for reality. I know what I’m getting into isn’t exactly what I think it will be and I’m open to that. My high school had an immersion project where you spent several months in one study. One option was an independent immersion where you crafted an experience and proposed it. Junior year, I picked jazz piano and spent two months going back to doing lessons, even though I’d taken them years before. I wanted to really learn how to play, and it was difficult. It reminded me of all the work that goes into pursuing a dream. That dedication eventually has to kick in.
When I was looking for colleges, I could never explain what I was searching for. There was this force driving me to look for a certain environment or to visit colleges’ Facebook pages and see what kind of people were talking and how they talked. Turns out, MARV was the exact description of what I was truly looking for. Although I was already almost across the bridge from high school to college when I learned about MARV, it definitely made me feel more at peace with my decision to go to Columbia College. It gave me a unique confidence for what’s ahead.
Alex Heaney is an 18-year-old life-enthusiast who believes the word ‘passion’ comes with too much baggage nowadays. You can get in touch with him @HeanWolf and check out his music at luzambi.bandcamp.com and soundcloud.com/alexheaney.