I live for today.
I’m realising this only at age 43, although it should have been evident decades ago. The first clear sign was my entire college career.
Most of my peers probably had some inkling of what they wanted to do — if they didn’t know they wanted to be an engineer, they at least knew they would study mathematics. If they didn’t know what they would study, they usually had an inkling of the type of career they wanted, that is, business, technical, artistic, academic.
I went to college because that’s what people with my interests and goals did, and because my father thought it was the only way for women to have the opportunities he had never had.
I had no goal.
How did I choose the university I attended? Did I select an academic major and seek out the top schools in that field, like an aspiring engineer might look at MIT? Did I pick a university based on its location, so I would have the opportunity to enjoy four years in a bucolic setting?
Essentially, I stuck a pin in a directory.
My interests were varied and unfocused, as they remain today. I began by thinking I would like to pursue Native American studies, not understanding what this meant or where it would lead. I later concluded that Natives didn’t need another European-American like me to “help” them.
Then, still in idealist mode, I decided the U.S. Foreign Service was for me. Everything about the Middle East fascinated me — that’s how little I knew. I attended a Model United Nations conference where I was supposed to represent Oman. I knew next to nothing about Oman (25 years ago, you couldn’t simply go to the CIA fact sheets online, or online at all). At one point, a question arose in committee about the U.S. and oil, and when I gained the floor I gave a speech off the top of my head for which I received a long ovation. It was probably not something a representative of Oman would have said.
I worked hard, but my application to the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service was summarily rejected. My dad had taken me to Buffalo for an interview with a Georgetown alumna. I had never been in such a wealthy neighbourhood, in such a richly furnished house, or in conversation with such a sophisticated person. She undoubtedly saw through me immediately. and it was an uncomfortable interview.
In the meantime, for my other three choices I considered the solicitations I’d received, including one for a great books college and another for an upper-crust women’s college where attractive girls were shown riding horses in the verdant and hilly countryside. Maybe that’s the life I wanted, but it wasn’t me. I researched the prestige factors of some others, finally selecting two universities in New York. I also applied to the University of Chicago based on its reputation, as described in the guides, without regard to location or program.
All three accepted me, so I was off to the University of Chicago as the college farthest from home and from my experience.
The University of Chicago did not require students to commit to a major until after completion of the Core. I thought that I might pursue a degree in political science or even, after encouragement by a 4th-year student, Islamic studies.
After a year’s struggle through the Core, especially math, physics, and chemistry, I began to realise that my strengths also did not lie in the social sciences.
That left . . . English language and literature.
Fortunately, I was able to take other literature courses as well, including Latin American and Russian literature. Happily, too, a course on the Anglo-Saxons counted as literature, and I was also able to take a couple of courses in English and American history. (History! Why didn’t I think of history as a major? I think I did, but it required too much reading, and I has become a slow reader.)
So I’d landed on English language and literature. It wasn’t easy and required more reading than I could handle (especially 18th and 19th century novels), but most of the time I understood the subject. My morale and grades improved. One year, I even appeared on the dean’s list.
Fast forward to graduation day, June 11, 1983. Two friends from New York and my roommate attended. I laughed at the president’s speech and pretentious manner, collected the diploma, drank some champagne, felt a little lost on Sunday, and woke up Monday . . .
Without a job. With nowhere to go, nothing to do, and no money.
While my classmates had spent the previous year (or more) applying to graduate schools and to businesses, pursuing internships, and in other productive activities, I’d done nothing. The idea of a post-college career apparently never occurred to me.
My dad now tactfully suggested I get a job. If I couldn’t within a few months, I would have to return to New York.
Just as these suggestions were rightly about to become a command, I found a jo selling tickets for the Chicago City Ballet. Then, within a couple of months, I’d obtained a job. Not a career, although it would last as long as a career without offering any of the emotional, moral, or even financial rewards.
For a while, I considered going to law school. I convinced myself, however, that the mentality does not suit me. In reality, I don’t have the mental, physical, or emotional discipline required.
I’ve also thought about a master of liberal arts degree. This would do nothing for career planning, but it might round out what I believe to be an inadequate academic background.
Another possibility was psychology or social work. Although I didn’t fare well in behavioral psychology or general classes in these areas 25 years ago, maybe life experience has better prepared me for them. Yet, in their way, they require a scientific and statistical way of thinking that has always eluded me.
Now, I’m wondering if I should to become accredited as a business communicator. I have no formal training in communications, just a lot of observational experience and intuition. If I succeed, I don’t know what I will gain as I don’t think it will change anything, and I am not sure that I feel that this is a meaningful objective. If I fail, I have a deep-seated fear there is nothing left.
I live for today. Yesterday is fraught with unplanned joy and pain, and tomorrow bears the promise of more.
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