Wheeler: Oh, The Places You’ll Go

by Katie Wheeler | 11/10/13 4:47pm

I’ve been freaking out recently because I have no idea what I’m going to do with my life. Maybe that’s no surprise to those who have given me pitying looks when I tell them that I’m an English major focusing in creative writing. Add on my prospective minors in African and African-American studies and government, and my future path is no clearer. I’ve been watching my peers go through corporate recruiting and heard about their internships that pay $15,000 a term, and while I’m not too envious of their burgeoning careers in finance, I’m realizing that someday I’ll have to find a job that actually makes money. It’s an obvious realization, but it’s threatening nevertheless.

I fully acknowledge that this is the plight of a relatively privileged girl for whom the ability to support both herself and her family isn’t urgent. Indeed, I have largely dismissed the immediate practicality of my education — or so those who disparage the English major would say. Yet studying what I’m passionate about has made my work never really feel like a burden. I actually like sitting down to write an essay about “what ways class and color distinctions and hierarchies within the African-American community influence the ways in which any of our writers approach notions of social justice.” The fact remains, however, that while pondering such ideas is all well and good, it doesn’t exactly pay for the apartment I hope to have in New York City post-graduation.

Now that I’m finishing the fall of my junior year, this stuff is hitting me hard, especially as I continue to develop an overwhelming sense that everyone else is figuring out his or her life. I’ve become so paranoid that I keep convincing myself — and unconvincing myself — that I have to start studying for the LSAT now or else seal my fate as an eternal bum. I see how far I’ve come and I’m trying to figure out what my next big achievement will be, because that’s exactly what we’ve been doing all our lives: getting good grades, doing the right extracurriculars, killing it on the SAT and, finally, holding the Dartmouth acceptance letter in our hands. It’s materialism; we’ve been trained to calculate how we can gain an edge in the competition and make an achievement of tangible value. And now that we’re past getting into college, it feels natural to start that process all over again for the next big step in our lives.

But it becomes tiring to see a material achievement as a means to more material achievements. When do we get to stop slaving away, take a breath and enjoy what we’re doing in the now? In a recent New York Times article entitled “I Want to Be a Millenial When I Retire,” Jim Sollisch remarks that his 25-year-old singer-songwriter son is currently living the life that he hopes to live when he retires. He writes, “I want to do what I did when I was in my 20s, before I ‘succeeded.’ I want to write novels and teach part-time at a university. And travel, which I don’t have time to do now but managed to do when I was young and poor.”

I want to live like a retiree when I graduate. Here at Dartmouth, we are told that we are the future leaders of the world and we are. But exploration, leadership, growth and fulfillment lie outside of more obvious paths to success, and they should be for us, not for the admiration of others. We need to be secure in the fact that just making enough money to get by or not holding a “prestigious” position isn’t failure as long as we do something that we love. In his commencement speech at Wellesley High School, English teacher David McCullough said to “climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.” It’s time for us to stop stressing out about the future — honestly, it will figure itself out — and take the classes and do the activities that continue to inspire and challenge us.

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