Art education is often so completely underrated. You want to develop grit, or other skills that will help you survive in the workplace after college? Make art (and learn about the process of making it).

The majority of my students have trained in the arts; that’s how I market myself, given that I’m someone still actively engaged in my own art making. Today I watched the rough cut of an indie feature in which I starred. The experience, even just there in the room with the rest of the ensemble of film artists who made it with me, was breathtaking—terrifying at times, exhilarating at others. After the screening, we were asked to write out our reactions to the film: the themes we’d identified, the scenes we thought best encapsulated the movie as a whole, the aspects of characters that needed further clarification, possible titles for the film, and anything else that we wanted to address.

Seeing myself in character, on the screen, doing perhaps the best work of my life, was an overpowering blend of subjective and objective experience. I felt all the things coming back up that I remember going through at the time that we were filming last year; and yet, at the same time I felt like I had the same degree of removal as would a regular member of the audience. I was simultaneously completely in it and completely observing it at the same time.

Whether or not you’re literally watching your own mug up on screen, or going through the arduous process of creating and revising your work and putting it on display for others, it is an intensely vulnerable act. It’s terrifying because you know that there will be judgment at worst and criticism at best. It’s exhilarating because it is your labor of love—yours alone, unlike anything that anyone else could have possibly made.

I thought of two of my students immediately afterward. Both are about to finish their junior years. One is a guy who discovered film-making just a couple of years ago; he loves shooting videos. The other is a young woman who has been a committed ballerina through most of her life.

The filmmaker is setting himself up for immersion in college. He wants a BFA, and it had better be hands-on from day one. In fact, he has a pretty strong mind to forego any of the classroom stuff and just go the vocational route, although the “plan-B” part of his brain (and the influence of his parents) won’t quite allow him to completely circumvent the liberal arts.

The ballerina is coming out of many years of an extracurricular schedule dominated by dance. Her college research process is in great part about familiarizing herself with the degrees to which her school options will allow her to fold dance into her studies. She doesn’t want to give it up, but she doesn’t want to miss out on any of the opportunities that her college experience may offer because she’s dancing her life away.

For the filmmaker, he’s off to discover himself through the pursuit of his art. For the dancer, placing the world that she knows so well into a broader context will be her next step toward the adult world. Either way, it’s the weaving in and out of the subjective and objective experience that will largely define their paths for years to come.

By Nick Soper