Final Letter

I'm going to close this Learner Portfolio with a bit of an unorthodox message.

This school has been a great experience. Having been on the receiving end of ableism and apathy in the educational system for many years, it's no surprise that I blossomed as both a student and a capital-P Person when I finally entered a place that

  1. could actually develop my skills in my true areas of interest, and
  2. really just understood why I struggle like I do, and offered to help.

Two >4.0 GPAs (junior year), 3 actual job offers (senior year), and a 1490 SAT score don't lie. Still, consider deeply my following disclaimer.

In order to be what the IB wants you to be - a responsible, functioning citizen of the world - you need to forget about the IB.

None of this matters. Real life will undergo a process of abstraction - of quieting down and losing much of its complexity - as soon as you take that first step out the door. Get a job, volunteer for projects, anything that makes your horn a little less green. The outside world is very different. You won't get these insanely vague and unpredictable judgements from a faraway European organization dedicated to making your life miserable if you aren't neurotypical, uncommonly precocious, or unable to function without silly little things like food or sleep. If you're doing badly, people will tell you so. My bosses tell me:

If I do what they want, and it improves whatever product we're pumping out by any significant measure, I'm doing well. My purpose is being fulfilled. That's it. They make it clear by then saying things like "Good work!" or asking me if I can take on additional responsibilities (implying that they think I'm qualified enough to branch out into other, similar fields). There are no strange boilerplate statements about "personal engagement" or sets of vague criteria to follow.

In a way, pressure is a bit more constant in "real life". You have to comply with new demands on the hour, and it can take a some time before you produce something that, in the words of venerable Cardiacs leader Tim Smith, is "worthy of laudation." If you ask me, though, it really beats the vague uncertainty of waiting, religiously checking exemplars, asking your teachers about what to do... only to receive a dismally low score in spite of all your efforts because of some silly reason like "your tables exceed the pages they are on by one cell." Be warned: this is by no means an endorsement of laziness or poor adherence to proper form. Work your behind off. Be your own worst critic. I'm just saying that success is so much easier to grasp when your work has a tangible effect upon the world, because the people overseeing you NEED you to know if you're screwing up or on the right track. If an IB student does poorly, she might not get into her reach schools. If a nuclear power plant operator does poorly, people die. The earth is ravaged and rendered poisonous for a long, long time. Now, which of those consequences seems more severe?

As I write this, it is becoming more apparent that I sound like I'm in favor of toxic working conditions. I cannot express this enough: do not follow this advice if you're not doing something that gives you happiness and purpose. "Boss" is just the word I use for someone you trust to give genuine feedback when you engage in an activity meant to have a real, tangible impact on the world. If you're a game designer, your beta testers are your "boss." If you're a home baker, your family is your "boss." If you're trying to improve yourself in some way, YOU are your "boss." To reiterate: you want this feedback, this instruction, because whatever you set out to do will not produce its intended benefit if nobody tells you immediately, objectively, and specifically when you're messing up.

Accepting this mindset early is what will really make you a global citizen. Gauge all of your efforts by their effect on whoever they are meant to benefit. Don't say or do things just because they'll look good on your resume. (Here is where I make a very pointed glance at some people, who know exactly who they are. Don't be like them.) The ultimate beauty of it all is that when you stop going over the semantics of what it seems like people want to hear, you have the peace of mind and the freedom to organically grow into a human being who actually does good and impressive things.

Now, doesn't that sound a lot better than just getting a 7?