Part Two: The Corporate Hereafter

by Julie Sloane | 11/25/97 6:00am

"O concete prosim, vystup a nastup dvere se zaviraji." The words trill from my lips in a flawless Czech accent. Add some red lipstick and an icy sneer and I could easily pass for the evil communist temptress of American Cold War movies. Throw in an audience who actually spoke Czech, however, and gales of laughter would follow. After spending a week in Prague, my crowning Czech achievement was, "Attention please, the subway doors are closing."

Granted the phrase was not terribly useful in everyday conversation, but at every Metro stop I felt like I understood what was going on. At least I never got whacked by the door.

Now back in London, Prague Metro lingo makes little sense, but letting those Czech words roll around in my mouth recalls the best trip I have ever taken. From the moment I rounded the Baroque cobblestone street and stared up at the floodlit facade of an enormous Gothic cathedral, I was absolutely taken with Prague.

Striking beauty aside, not only can you get a delicious breakfast for three dollars, but the laid-back restaurants allow you time to sit and enjoy. Seven years post-communist, Prague lacks the business bustle that make cities overwhelming to me. Every flea market vendor seems to sell the same purple slippers, and towering Stalinist apartment complexes skirt the town, but the people are friendly and the pace of life relaxed. In a word, I found Prague livable.

Sitting late one night in a cafe frequented by American expatriates, I was blissfully slurping a strawberry smoothie and writing postcards when my friend's voice sliced through my thought waves. "You know," he said, "after we graduate, we could be expatriates in Prague for a few years. We could find jobs and cheap housing. That would be great." In mid-laugh my lungs caught on something. I think it was clarity.

That is exactly what I want to do. I want to be a writer in Prague. It has such an impoverished starving-artist ring to it, but on the other hand, it would make me sublimely happy. Sitting in that cafe, I thought ahead to my upcoming corporate internship and then I looked out into the picturesque Prague winter night. What a dilemma.

One year ago I was premed -- I was on a very clear established path to a respected profession and a financially secure future. Grueling as it was to be in the grind, jumping off that train was one of the most frightening and difficult things I have ever done. The well-trodden paths of corporate recruiting and law school give institutional guarantees, but between the lines is a big empty white space. It is so easy to jump into the corporate mosh pit. I applaud anyone who loves law or accounting or public relations and if a pre-professional career is your golden fleece, more power to you. But for some, the institution is a security blanket. Many will make money, few will be remarkable.

At the same time, living in ultra-expensive London underlines to me the importance of money. Being the heir to the Sloane fortune means that I need to get a job. I genuinely fear that the years of labor that went into getting a Dartmouth diploma will find me making coffee in a New York Starbucks, waiting for the mythical Big Break. I've experienced the glorious realm of fast food, and "Would you like chips with that?" did not bring a fulfilling conclusion to a day's work and neither did the paycheck. Even if acting is your passion, a life of waiting tables may leave you tired and bitter.

But as much as we need money, the fact that we were selected by Dartmouth means that we have potential to blaze new trails. We can be artists, filmmakers, and writers. We can open small genetics labs that find the next major disease gene. But first we have to take a risk, a gamble with the future. Talking to and reading about adults who have found success in individualism, certain patterns emerge. The celebrity in any field rarely moved from the point A of college to the point B of success. Critical acclaim often requires trial and error, and the most frightening element of all, chance. Will I be inspired by Prague to write an international bestseller, or will my parents have to bail me out?

I don't have the answer. But I do have youth, idealism, the ability to change my mind, and fortunately, two more years to decide.

What I hope to look back and say is this-- Two roads diverged in a wood and I, I climbed a tree. And hopefully that will make a difference.