Wouldn’t You Rather?
I graduated from High School when I was 16. About two days after that, I graduated from Community College with a two year Associates in Arts transfer degree. One month shy of my 17th birthday. That Fall, I entered a State University as a 17 year old Junior. Between scholarships and financial aid, I paid only for my books and my housing. I was on my way to a very different life. I majored in English Lit. Not for the employment prospects (clearly). No. Because I can compare and contrast images of God in William Blake like no body’s business.
At that time, I wanted nothing more than to be in school for as long as possible. To work my part time job. To read my books. And lead my little life. Then I dropped out. Not right away. Early in the Spring quarter of my Senior year, with about 24 credits left to graduate (16 of which I was currently taking), I left. I withdrew one day, and I never went back.
Welcome to Corporate America.
Stars aligned. Life altering decisions were made. Quickly. It was the late 90′s. Anyone with a pulse could work on computers. I knew people. Companies offered more money than I had ever seen. So, I saw. I went. I forsook. It seemed like a good idea at the time. And it was. I could never say I regret this path. Yet as I try desperately, all these years later, to disentangle myself from the ramifications of this one decision (and all the decisions that came after it), I think about that other life. The life I abandoned just that fast.
During a recent conversation with a co-worker/friend, he was lamenting the Liberal Arts leanings of his oldest (very bright) daughter. A daughter who is taking college classes in High School. A daughter who’d rather write music and poetry than show any inclination toward genetic engineering. My friend is a Liberal Arts man himself. One who gave up a career in teaching to willingly undertake the Corporate Yoke. To better support his family. To lead a different life. He wants to save his child from repeating ‘his mistakes’. Said every parent, ever.
Parallels were drawn between my background and her current path. How I/we managed to escape, and end up with ‘good jobs’, despite ourselves. Hmmmmm. This causes me to reflect on my life that could have been. If I’d followed the path in front of me to that point, would I now be rallying against a whole different set of concerns? Would that be something else to extricate myself from? Would I be arguing for more income instead of acting poor? What would I tell such a girl now? Would I be telling her the same thing, if I’d actually stayed the course?
I love books. And words. And spending much too much time thinking about the implications and allegory involved in what a bunch of dead guys said. I even delude myself into thinking their is value in it. Value in a ‘to all humanity’ way. This is so far removed from what I sit in my grey cubicle and ‘accomplish’ all day. Most of the time I try not to think about it. Needless to say, that I do. not. love. I can find value in Faulkner (which is really, really difficult in my opinion). Yet, I struggle, mightily, if you ask me about the contents of my work inbox.
If someone had given you the choice, as a young adult, between money-making and doing what you love, what would you have chosen? Not, riches beyond your wildest dreams. A comfortable financial life, spending a bunch of time toiling at stressful tasks you struggle not to loathe. Or. Or a life of less. Of modest money, where your time is spent on something you consciously chose because of your own inclination. Assuming the two couldn’t co-exist, which is not a truth for everyone (just most of us Liberal Arts types). What would you rather?
Again, no regret. My life thus far has landed me right here. And here ain’t bad. I may be looking for it to change, but the dogs, The Husband, the friends, the experience that got me to the here, no refunds required. However, if the space time continuem allowed for an empirical analysis, or if given the opportunity to council a like minded 16 year old, what would I say?
What would you say? There are more than enough questions inherent in this topic.