In the three days that I was home over Spring Break, I made the rounds. Besides spending quality time with the parents (dinner, “Argo”), there was my grandma, sister, niece, nephew, and finally, my grandpa.

My grandpa is not always an easy man to spend time with. He runs a dog sitting business and, at any given moment, has up to thirteen drooling guests chasing him around his house. Visiting grandpa means that you will leave with a second coat: one made of dog hair. Grandpa tends to be very opinionated, and lectures without much patience for disagreement. As sweet and well-meaning as he is, his company is often barbed with frequent criticisms.

When I was younger, I often dismissed what I considered to be an unceasing spew of convictions. But recently, I’ve realized that most of what he says is pretty intelligent, or at least well argued and well articulated. And although I may not always agree with him, I’ve come to appreciate his provocations. And at our lunch together over break, Grandpa proposed an idea that I spent quite a deal of time mulling over as I made the trip back up to school.

To summarize, my grandpa believes that young men and women are incapable of making mature decisions regarding their futures at the age of eighteen—at that point in their lives, they simply haven’t lived enough in the world to decide how they want to live in it. Ideally, he says (did I mention that my grandpa is an idealist?) college age students would receive a liberal arts degree and then serve in the military or the Peace Corps for three or four years. Both forms of service would give students a period of self-sufficiency, independence, and exposure that would make us, well, adults. The experience would have us examine the terms of the world and the terms of living before we commit to a career. He insists that the combination of attending a liberal arts college—where we learn how to learn—and a stint in the service—where we learn how to live—give us perspectives necessary to navigate our futures.

Heavy stuff for Spring Break. But particularly heavy for someone who sits unsteadily on the cusp of her future. As of right now, I don’t entertain any plans of going into the service—but, all the same, I think his proposal is a good thought experiment—maybe even a good life experiment. Do we really need a Thoreau-ean trial in self-reliance to consider ourselves mature individuals? And more importantly, should we change our dreams and interests based on the difficulties of living in the world? Would that change be a function of knowing ourselves better, or just losing faith in ourselves in the face of harsh realities?

And is liberal arts just expensive procrastination? His proposal implies that our education fails to provide us with trustworthy aspirations. And perhaps more fervently, it suggests that college is not, as some would have it, a test in self-sufficiency. I know that we are all doing our laundry now, and there are some of us out there who support themselves to significant degrees, but how protective is the Bowdoin Bubble? We are certainly more independent than we were before we matriculated, but is our independence conditioned to such an extent that it distorts our goals? I would hope not.

But my biggest question for Grandpa—and at this point, you all should realize that I’m not talking to “Grandpa” anymore—would be this: at what point do you just have to take the plunge? When will we ever be totally certain of something before we’re actually immersed in it, actually in pursuit of it? There are all sorts of merits to preparation, (and all sorts of merits to maturity), but sitting there in front of my grandpa, sharp and persuasive as he was, I had to ask the question: isn’t there only one way to find out if you like something? 

I left my grandpa’s house curious, but ultimately unconvinced. I distrust any plan that claims to maximize efficiency in our lives. I will have learned nothing as a liberal arts student if I cannot learn to appreciate the process of figuring things out. After all, isn’t that what we’re getting a degree in?