Mere hours ago, I finished my final final of my final semester of undergrad. It’s so final, it seems terminal. My emotional reaction is at once unexpected and natural. I’m filled with an anticlimactic nervousness linked to what will come next, like a worrisome bee who goes from one anxiety tulip to the next. I’m happy and proud of my accomplishments, I just expected myself to cry or run outside and frolic in the nearest field while a U2 song played softly in the background and credits rolled. It’s a more subtle feeling, and probably a more honest one.
I’ve decided to take a year off of school because I had neither the time nor the energy to fully put my heart into applying during the semester, especially since I was still figuring out what I wanted to do when I grew up. There was no spark or one particular class that made me realize “this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” I’m not sure to blame myself for being afraid of commitment or for being too interested in too many things (Can I haz all the postgraduate degrees?). This indecisiveness is driven by my fear that I will end up in a career I don’t particularly like. Higher education’s move towards vocational training is partly to blame. That peers assume an English degree necessarily means I want to be an English teacher. Many see college as a means to an end, instead of a journey of self-discovery. I started college at 18-years-old; at 23, I am light years ahead of where I was when I started, but still not quite ready to declare who I am at my core.
It will be strange, not being in school. For my entire life, or at least since I was a preschooler, I’ve been in school; I’m pretty good at being a student, by now. Not only that, I’ve grown accustomed and dependent upon the instant gratification of getting good grades or winning awards as a means to feel accomplished. Outside of academia and sports, you don’t really get that kind of congratulatory air as an adult. I doubt any of my bosses will write accolades in the margins of the work they are would be paying me to do.
Right now, I plan to get a Masters Degree in Political Science, because I already obsessively follow what goes on in Washington. That’s all well and good, but how will you pay for it, you may ask. That’s a very good question. I’ll have to do well on the GRE, and maybe do political volunteering to make myself look attractive enough to get those elusive scholarships and grants. It’s like being on the bachelor, but instead of a rose and a frightfully doomed love life, I’m fighting for the chance of self-betterment. I already have a crippling amount of undergraduate debt, and I’m afraid that economic factor will color my choice of career more than passion. I’d also like to get a Masters in Writing, but I can’t see that as a viable option unless I have another, more marketable skill (Political Science) to get me a decent job. Writers don’t make much money unless they write about wizards, vampires, or fan fiction about said vampires. It’s a sad state of affairs when following one’s passions is a luxury of the wealthy.
Meanwhile, I need to stay productive for this time away from school. Outside of work, I need to feel like I’m bettering myself. I’ll do volunteer work for the Democrats during this presidential race, partly because I know the paid positions are highly sought after, and are probably already spoken for. There are a myriad of other projects I could of undertake to keep my school-driven activity going, some more realistic than others, but I mostly don’t want to be someone whose only activity is split between work and leisure. As much as I like videogames and movies — and I love videogames and movies — I’d feel ultimately unproductive and like I was falling behind other people if that’s all I did when I got home from work.
Maybe that’s the “me generation” talking, but I want to be an “and” person. By that I mean I want be able to answer questions about myself with an “and” so I don’t have to place all of my self-worth in my work. When asked “Mary what have you been up to?” I won’t feel compelled to engage in the exaggeration contest or salary-driven penis measuring that seem to color post-grad conversations. I admit I’m jealous of young people who get to engage in creative work. I won’t be a trust-fund baby running my own gallery or fashion line, but I can at least make a zine once in a while and run a free beauty blog. After graduation, the game is to balance passion with pragmatism, work with whimsy. I’m just starting out, but I’m sure as long as I can keep both sets of values, I’ll be fine.