*(special future freak out edition!)
so I've decided to post an essay I wrote almost exactly one year ago about my life-long obsession with figuring out what I want to do; it was my first official creative writing essay. I've decided to post it not only because I want you guys to benefit from fantastic literature and a glimpse into my neurosis but because it is now approaching the "freaking out about my future" time in regards to this summer and everything beyond. I've come to realize my very specific and detail orriented plan for the future may not work out as possible, that my bank account maybe a major determining factor (the closest bourrogh of nyc i can afford is Allentown, PA) and that with an amazing time abroad I realized I don't want to end my experience in europe just yet....sigh, first-world problems.
The Capriciously Career Minded
I now view novelty ties with a distaste usually reserved for corrupt foreign dictators. I once, very briefly, wanted to be a teacher solely based on the fact that I would have a reason to form an impressive collection of novelty and seasonal ties. I figured my garishly decorated, or cartooned themed ties would win the hearts of the small children I taught. Thankfully neckwear factors little into my current career plans. Although ties may not currently be in my career planning, just about every other factor and detail is. I have more than once found myself internally debating the New York versus Los Angeles industries when I should be sleeping. I’ve mulled over transportation, real estate, and proximity to family and still haven’t come to a decision on where I will locate after college, often turning in a desperate move to Nyquil to silence my career crazed mind. True the decision of where one will start the job hunt is very important but when I often describe last night’s bedroom brain frenzy to my friends, they tell me to cool it and worry about finishing my intro level courses first. While their advice makes me push aside the Nyquil for a little bit I can’t help but foresee sharing my bed with another internal career planning session. How I long for the days of elementary school when I knew exactly what I wanted to do.
Kindergarten and first grade were some of the most cherished times of my life, not because they marked the start of about two decades of formal education or the roots of social interaction, but because it was the only time in my life where I could be labeled as a badass. I was a kindergarten cocktail of class clown and resident smartass served in a glass of primary colored clothing. I would make jokes in the middle of class, have reign over the playground and open all the windows in the hallway and class whenever the teacher wasn’t looking. The kids ate it up.
During one first grade class the teacher asked us if we could be anyone in the world who would we be? One heavenly suck-up said Jesus. Although typical answers like astronaut, president, and dad/mom came up, one classmate said, “Rodney”; prompting the entire class, and teacher, to look at me. Before I could react another student blurted out “yeah, I want to be Rodney too.” I should have pointed out to the second child the obvious impossibility of two people being me, instead I grinned and gave a shrug and short flick of the wrist; part beloved yet humble peer, part budding homosexual. Although having a handful of seven-year-olds put you in the same realm as the leader of the free world and those that gave them life is pretty substantial the real importance of that day was that it marked the start of my fascination with picking out a career and life plan for myself.
While my mom claims my first aspiration was to be a tree, namely the one in my backyard, the first career I remember picking out for myself was children’s book illustrator. My future and career often changed daily, but the idea of being an illustrator was always somewhere in my mind. My favorite illustrator, not surprisingly, often illustrated my favorite author’s (Roald Dahl) books. Quinten Blake’s illustrations were childlike yet skilled; a combination that I dreamed of emulating. I sent Mr. Blake a thick envelope containing a poorly written, yet heartfelt fan letter and a select few of my finest drawings. I might have even included my home phone number as to give him the speediest method of contacting me to credit my talent and invite me overseas to England to work as his apprentice. Although a phone call never came, a letter arrived and while clearly mass-produced and sent to all his fans, the “Dear Rodney” and his signature were in contrasting blue ink, clearly indicating that he spent at least 10 seconds acknowledging he had received a letter from some boy named Rodney in the United States. This was all I needed to verify my current career goal.
I soon realized that if was serious about this I should pick out a college; this was right before entering middle school. During dinner, I casually brought up the fact that I gave it a lot of thought and proclaimed, “I’m fairly certain that I will attend Carnegie Mellon University after high school, studying Illustration.” As if I had just informed them that after dinner I planned on eating ice cream while watching “Home Improvement.” My parents responded with little surprise or bewilderment; although I remember having a conversation with my Mom as to the merits of Carnegie Mellon later. I was completely satisfied with my choice, and why not? I had seen a few pictures of the school, knew it was somewhere in Pennsylvania and quite thoroughly enjoyed saying the name “Carnegie Mellon:” it combined the respect and prestige that goes along with Andrew Carnegie with the fun and deliciousness of one of my favorite summer treats. While basing your choice of college based on looks and name proved rather unwise (Carnegie Mellon has no illustration major), it has ironically become a personally acceptable form of judging a prospective date.
Much to my surprise, friends and classmates in middle school rarely seemed interested in discussing their prospective undergrad schools and had absolutely no desire to help me decide if it was wiser to start my career as freelance or work with a larger company. It was easy for me to dismiss their lack of interest as a sign of their inevitable slacker status in life. If made fun of, a particularly favorite retort was often glaring at them and snapping, “yeah well see how big of a tip I leave you when you’re pumping my gas in twenty years!” While this rarely had the desired affect (a tearful apology) I was usually quite satisfied, and if not I could spend a few meditative hours filling out online career or personality assessment surveys.
An often captive, yet sometimes unwelcome, audience came in the form of distant or elderly relatives. Almost as standard as the cheek pinching greeting was the “What do you want to be when you grow up?” While I relished the opportunity to discuss my career plans du jour, often with a pace and tone reserved for speed junkies, the response was often an uncomfortable smile usually followed by the relative retreating to my parents. I imagine they would engage in conversation with my parents, silently trying to decide if they were some how responsible for instilling in me such fanatical fervor. Once my adolescence took a turn towards the bitter, sarcastic side, I would often picture these awkward family scenes differently. I now pictured a distant relative fishing for some way to start small talk by asking for the third time, “So what are your plans for the future?”
“I’m looking into cannibalism.” I would say gazing just beyond them, as if peering into a wonderful future, then refocusing to see their repulsed face.
“I’m only kidding!” I would reassure them, “I could never eat anything as fatty as human flesh. I’m actually looking into becoming a lawyer, although I’m worried that’s too similar to cannibalism.” Of course in reality this conversation never took place, but it was in frequent rotation in my head.
In school I took comfort in days when adults would come in and discuss their careers. Although these speakers often had careers that didn’t interest me in the slightest-car salesmen, army commander, nurse, state policeman- I found myself enthralled with the stories of how they professionally progressed to where they were. When the car salesmen discussed how some of the people who work as salesmen on the lot may come to own the dealership and potentially many dealerships, I gasped, unable to contain my excitement. I leaned forward and looked down the rows to see if others were as visibly excited as I. They weren’t. The representative from the army, the nurse and the state policemen, while perfectly interesting, didn’t make a dramatic impact on me because I knew that unlike them I wanted a truly rewarding and respectable career…like one in advertising.
The newfound interest in the world of advertising seems to have begun around the time when, coincidentally, the movie and books I was exposed to seemed to have main characters who were all part of a dynamic, fast paced, creative advertising agency. Usually the advertising executive would have slightly funky glasses and work in a Manhattan office building that had rich hardwood floors and dramatic windows. Mel Gibson’s character in “What Women Want” may have been the polar opposite of me but his job as an advertising executive seemed so understatedly glamorous that I found myself picturing my future employment to be a near replica of his. I might have been identifying with the other lead character, played by Helen Hunt. Despite the cattiness, superficiality and general abhorrence for his job, Augusten Burroughs some how still made the advertising world seem appealing to me. Perhaps his small references to the six digit salary and the designer furniture made me overlook the countless negatives. Although the realization of the media’s sway on my professional influence is a bit off-putting, I’m just thankful I didn’t watch an excessive amount of serial killer movies.
When I arrived at high school my desire to map out my future was now met with admiration and applause rather than the surprised eyebrow-raise and inquisitive head tilt. Although complaining about traveling into the depths of the south for my older sister’s college tour vacation, I secretly adored each tour and would often pretend as if I was at the stage of applying to colleges; keenly observing and listening so that when it actually was my turn I wouldn’t subject the tour guide to the inane questions that only a novice would think to bring up.
The gods issued out an unfortunate punishment for me when it actually was my turn, for after my first college tour I knew I wanted to go to that school and only that school. While I should have instantly hated the city of Boston for it’s mind-boggling roadways making me late to the tour for Emerson College--throwing all that college tour professionalism out the window—I ended up loving it for how un-Pennsylvania it was. There was no ever-expanding construction to create new and bland suburban developments, only ever-expanding construction to preserve old and endearing buildings. There was no junior driver’s curfew of midnight; there was the freedom of public transportation—which shuts down around half past midnight. I loved the exotic erratic-ness. When we finally reached Emerson, I had already done extensive research on the college and knew that personality wise we got along perfectly; we both shared a love of the arts and distaste for math, we both considered ourselves creative yet a little scattered, and we’d both rather spend the afternoon in the shopping mall than the basketball court. Once I saw there was a physical attraction I had the application overnight-ed two weeks before the early acceptance date. Once I found out I could double minor in addition to my major I had the admissions office on speed dial. My friends and teachers advised me to apply to other schools and take other tours but while I perused the website and campus of Boston, New York and Syracuse Universities I couldn’t help but feel as if I was cheating on Emerson. It’s a shame because I had so many more tours in me. I might have kids just so I have a legitimate reason to tour colleges, and I’ll start them off right; if they attend AM kindergarten it will leave us with the entire afternoon to tour prospective schools.
The fate of my obsessive outlook on my future seems to be laced with irony for the closer I get to having to actually make decisions on my career, the less and less I know exactly what I want to do. Although I still have intricate plans and hopeful wishes for what I would enjoy doing, there seem to be too many to focus on. Instead of a career du jour, I’m in line at a career buffet; which makes me nervous because all the buffets I’ve been to before have been populated by loud, overweight families who tend to be oblivious to how much food they’ve taken and how much of it has artfully ended up on the loud floral bed spread they have seemingly passed off as clothing. While there may be nothing scarier than comparing your own future to a strip-mall buffet, I have faith in my somewhat hazy future because my first grade classmates snubbed the president and their own mothers because they believed in me. Even if I don’t end up obtaining my dream job or career, I was more popular than Jesus in first grade, and the Beatles couldn’t even pull that off.