The common phrase "think outside the box" is often used to describe how one should push the limits of their creativity. To stand out from the crowd and rebel against the status quo, one has to flex their artistic muscle. With that said, how does an academic environment affect the path to creative success?

The age-old tale of a starry-eyed artist graduating high school and moving to the "Big City" is one we are all familiar with. However, what we don't always see is the other starry-eyed person with just as much drive who doesn't leave right away, but instead books it off to college. Does this decision counter the intended benefit of college and hinder one's potential opportunities? Or can it enhance networking skills and build bridges? I was fortunate enough to speak with a few local artists who shared their take.

When I asked Imani "IFF" Dunn (@iff_imani on Instagram), a Singer/Songwriter who is currently a junior at Evergreen State College, if she felt like school is a hindrance on her music career and why she chose to go to college, she responded with the following:

"Going to college was always a no brainer for me, so I went because it seemed like the right thing to do. I know it helped push me to develop a good work ethic, but it definitely feels like a hindrance too. It takes up a lot of time, so now I'm just trying to find more balance between both."

Playing it smart about one's dreams seems like the best way to go. However, with how time-consuming school can be, I was curious to know how she would describe her artistic career today:

"I'm mostly trying to record again. I'm currently working with a local producer, drawing a lot more to conceptualize visual art for my merchandise and eventually start selling it. Art is where I thrive and shine so taking time and money out to invest in it is really important to me right now."

Prioritizing and finding a balance between wants and needs is a lesson anyone can relate to. Dreams are amazing in their inherited nature of endless opportunities, but when a hobby transforms into the passion they become intertwined with reality. Can that balance ever be found or does there need to be a sacrifice? I also spoke with Dancer and Creator Avery Gardner (@theaverygardner on Instagram), a graduate from the University of Washington, and asked the same questions stated above to get his perspective:

"I mainly went to college because I was told to go, so I wouldn't say I chose that path myself. Being a black male without a college degree in this world is hard, so there was societal pressure as well... And school was ABSOLUTELY a hindrance! There was no balance and I was sucked dry artistically. I had to dedicate time to classes I was partially invested in when I'd rather be seeking inspiration."

Seeing how he is now a graduate and currently teaching in the Seattle area full-time, I was intrigued to hear how he describes the shift in his artistic career post-college:

"I would say it is a perpetual evolution; constantly changing. I'm always trying to do something different and top what I've done in the past."

The mention of evolution is key to this discussion. Looking back on the past can show us how much we have learned or how much is left to learn. I asked both Imani and Avery what they would tell their younger selves, knowing what they know now about the reality of being an artist in college. What about their earlier mentality and perspectives on their careers would they alter? Here's what they had to say:

"Prioritize your art and try to put money aside for it. Also, don't compare yourself to other people. I used to think "oh everyone gets to do this and that" but not everyone would do something the way I would. So definitely just focus more on my art." -Imani
"Be unapologetic. With art, school, everything. Be unapologetic." — Avery

As an artist myself, I left both interviews feeling inspired. Every experience of college is different, however, it was nice to know that the balance between chasing dreams and being smart about them is a common struggle. However, the main takeaway is that whether one is paying to "think inside the box" or not, finding your own avenue for your definition of success is what's most important.

So, do your passions align with your definition of success?

Below are Videos of each artist's previous works

SoulOut Showcase Volume 4 | Avery Gardner Choreography YouTube

Finding My Way - Imani YouTube