The liberal arts life: Choose your own adventure

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"It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves - in finding themselves."

-Andre Gide

It came back to me in a rush of memories—exploring a volcano, climbing the stairs of an ancient castle, peering through navy-blue depths from the submarine's window. I felt a happy thrill to see the gothic-edged framing of the portal on the book's front cover, the same Art Deco font of the series title, in a fiery red banner—"Choose Your Own Adventure."

"You're the hero of the story! Choose from 40 possible endings!"

Unbeknownst to me, my 10-year old son had fallen under the spell of the books I enjoyed as a child, his arms filled with a teetering stack of the books from our public library. "They're kind of addictive," he admitted, with a slow smile.

If our communal Netflix queues, Instagram tableaus, and bookmarked travel sites are any indication, many of us long for escape, for adventure—something novel. In the 184 different "Choose Your Own Adventure" books, you can explore life as a spy, peek into magic kingdoms, journey to different planets, or suit up as a ninja. In each book, at various places in the story, you make a choice, and then follow its consequence. And yes—spoiler alert—sometimes that choice leads to your untimely (but still exciting!) death.

But the good news is this—you can go back in the story and try a different choice and "live" again.

Exploration, discovery, selecting a path we like better than the last one—just like my beloved book series, the liberal arts education offers us a similar and powerful opportunity to sample many different possibilities in the four-year experience. As the hero in your own story as a Luther student, you may find yourself down a dark and twisty path towards a major that suddenly does not seem like home, or not even a place to visit briefly. In the liberal arts, you can veer off and start a whole new way; in fact, students change their paths, or majors, on average about five times during their college experience.

And while you may feel alone on that path sometime, there are many friendly faces here ready to offer a lantern to you—especially your professors and academic advisor. Since this is your adventure—you always have a chance to turn a new page, and ask for help along the way.

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Last year a new advisee came to talk about his spring semester plans. He was pursuing a management major but his first attempt at the required foundation course had not gone well. "I'll have to take that one again," he said, slumping in his chair with a heavy sigh. As we started talking through some other courses for the semester that would support the major, he continued to sigh, his eyes cast down to the floor. Nothing seemed to interest him.

I decided to back up a few steps, and asked, "Why do you want to study management?"

He paused for a minute, apparently surprised at the question, and then admitted that it hadn't been his idea, a relative had encouraged him to do it.

"What interests you so far at Luther?" I asked. "What courses have you actually liked so far?"

He began to tell me about his communications classes, both of which he had really enjoyed. Our brief conversation led him to a new path towards a communication major. For the first time since he'd sat down, I saw a new brightening in his eyes. Our hero had chosen a better adventure for himself.

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This week, my management students will embark on a small adventure right here on campus, with an assignment to meet new people at our Fall Career Fair. Each year when I announce the assignment, students' eyes grow wide with concern and even fear. I can imagine their internal dialogue: You're going to make me go and talk to a TOTAL STRANGER? Even worse, a PROFESSIONAL STRANGER???? I am not a professional, I don't have any clue what I want to do for a career—so why would they want to talk to me

Yesterday, as we discussed the plan, one student asked hesitantly, "But what if I don't even have a resume yet? I'm not . . . ready!" I reassured him that I do not expect him to be ready to interview or apply for a job. The goal is to practice interacting with professional people, learn a bit about the different organizations, and connect these "real world" companies to concepts we're studying. And I do have one other agenda: in a world where we often explore through internet browsers and finger swipes on a screen, I want students to spend more time in the company of others—both in the classroom and beyond.

It is not just through experiences that we find ourselves—but in building our connections with others. As we practice being brave and vulnerable with others, as we go deeper into the core of learning who we are and who we want to be, we follow our own adventures, our life in the liberal arts.

Alexandra White

Alexandra White

Alexandra White, Luther College assistant professor of management, joined the Luther community after nearly 20 years working for a wide range of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, start-ups and management consulting groups. At Luther she teaches principles of management, data analysis for business decision making, project management, and introduction to business. In January 2018, she will co-teach PAD 450: Exploring the Ethics of Sustainable Organizations in Sweden and Norway.

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