Reader’s Forum — Julia Hemsworth

Young And Dumb

I went to Staten Island Tech, a math and science high school that boasted a perfect graduation rate and acceptance into top colleges around the country. They told the students that we were special, that we were destined to do great things and be wildly successful, especially with their help. I had to take AP level courses and engineering classes because that looked good to colleges and was supposed to help me lay out a path to a career in a STEM field. Ultimately, none of these classes were particularly important when I decided to apply to art school.

I don’t regret going there; I met all of my lifelong friends there and it was a very happy time in my life. But I was so conflicted and confused. I started carrying a sketchbook around with me when I was in 3rd grade, and I never stopped. I would draw until four in the morning. I would secretly draw throughout class. I was literally drawing non-stop. So, when it came time to start thinking about what I wanted to do with my life, I was looking at what everyone else was doing – studying hard, getting high SAT scores, getting scholarships – and it bummed me out. I was smart, but I wasn’t as smart as them. I wasn’t an award winner or even really a competitor when it came to stuff like that. It made me sad to think that I was going to give up the thing I loved doing the most just to do what was “correct”, especially when I didn’t hold a candle to the kids that were really trying. So I pursued the thing I wanted to pursue.

I had been called naïve before, but after deciding to pursue art I had to start fighting the idea of being “dumb”. It wasn’t blatant; I don’t think anyone ever really called me dumb to my face. It was more of an implication. There was this sense that I was throwing away opportunities that I had been granted based on my success in school. I had to explain my choices, provide proof that jobs in this field existed, and show what I was doing to pursue them. People asked me why I couldn’t just do this on the side. I was told I wasn’t going to make any money and wasn’t going to get anywhere (that WAS said to my face). It was like I should have known better, and ultimately I made this decision because I was young and impulsive. I was young and dumb. For a little while, I believed that was a bad thing.

Then, nothing turned out the way anyone thought it would.

After freshman year of college, half of my friends changed their major. I watched organic chemistry force a bunch of pre-med majors to realize that all they wanted to do was write novels. People changed schools entirely. It got even wilder after we graduated. People had to move back home. Nobody got a job in their field, and if they did, they hated it. Across the board, everyone was very broke and very much in debt. Despite all the prep and planning, all the studying, and all the hard work, no one was any better off than anyone else. We were all back to square one.

Surprisingly, instead of scaring me into regretting the choices I’ve made, navigating this world post-school has made me realize just how much I appreciate being “young and dumb”. I’ve realized that instead of avoiding things because I should know better, I don’t know better. I don’t know anything about this world that I’ve barely dipped my toe into, and coming to terms with that has been insanely freeing. I’m happy that I’ve let go of being so worried about being wrong that I don’t do anything. Because that’s ultimately what it comes down to. We should know better. We should know that most likely, passionate endeavors end in failure, and if you try and you fail, you should have known better and you were wrong for trying. So you just shouldn’t try. But I’ve watched people do everything right. I’ve watched people go down the route that was supposed to lead to success and happiness, and they still failed. They were still wrong. And that hurts more than trying and failing. Doing everything right and still failing says more than just “You should have known better.” It says “There must be something wrong with you.” People can’t see that this system of thinking we’ve created is failing them. They can only see that they’re failing in the system, and I’ve seen that destroy people.

The Overweight Brain resonated with me a lot while reading it. The idea of play and growth especially jumped out at me. It’s such a practical idea and it makes so much sense, because that’s what real life (insinuating that the life you live as a child isn’t real) is. It’s just “playing” at new things, new roles, until you get good at it. You try and you fail and you grow. If anything, by making schools something other than a place to play and grow, it’s almost un-equipping us for real life. It made me very reflective of where I am now and how I got here.

I still have a lot to figure out. I still worry about justifying my actions to those older than me. I’m still afraid of standing in a room, fighting for my place to speak, and being wrong. After seeing Loiz Holzman’s talk with author Irshad Manji, I realized that this might be stopping me from asking questions. So I have to keep working on letting myself learn and grow. But I’m going to have to work on that for the rest of my life anyway, so I might as well get started now.

Julia Hemsworth is an up-and-coming illustrator from New York, as well as the administrative assistant at Independent Voting. You can find her work at


Politics for the People

Conference Call With Author

Dr. Lois Holzman

Sunday, December 8th

7pm EST

Call in number: 605-313-5156

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The Overweight Brain

How our obsession with knowing keeps us from getting smart enough to make a better world

Founder of the Politics for the People free educational series and book club for independent voters. Chair of the New York County Independence Party.

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