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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.

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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.

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Comments

katherine
Reply

It may sound like a cop-out but I try not to think about it too much. As much as I hate many aspects of my job, I still like what I do in theory. I would rather be doing this than many other jobs. I make a decent living. Part of me wishes I would have “lived up to my potential” but I’m sure that comes with it’s own side of headaches. The truth is, I like more hands-on, social work jobs, but I can’t afford to go back, because, now, with a kid on the way, I want him to have a lot of advantages (choices) in the future and don’t want to limit his potential – if he so chooses to make the most of them.

dogsordollars
Reply

I’m with you on the not dwelling. I usually don’t. It’s not always useful, especially too much of it. But certain conversations get my wheels spinning that direction.

And I don’t think any of us can really go back. Even if you do, you don’t. Its always a different experience once you’ve left that bubble. Once you know whats at stake. Different priorities inevitably change it.

And congratulations on the impending priority. Sounds like that is sending your wheels spinning. And well it should.

Cheryl
Reply

I feel as though I’m right smack in the middle of those decisions right now. I’m 22, did the university thing for a few years and then stopped. My boyfriend is military and waiting to be posted with him was as good of a reason as I could come up with. Do I go back to school? To finish or for something else.. between an Air Force pilot and whatever I went back for we could make a more than comfortable living but desperately all I want to be is a mom (some day in the distant future) and stay at home. Does hindsight make this easier? Magic 8 ball that can help out? If you come up with some answers, let me know! :)

dogsordollars
Reply

If I had answers! I’ve only questions. Questions and momentum, inertia, where life takes you, and making the best of that, even as you try to steer your ship the way you (think) you want it to go.

Miser Mom
Reply

So, from the other side of the the looking glass . . . as someone who has stayed in those ivory towers all my life, I can tell you that many many people in my world see grad school as the cop-out, and getting a job as the tough-but-worthwhile choice. Grad school is what you do when you’ve been in school for a while and can’t figure out what else to do, so you just keep staying in school.

Of course, it’s not a cop-out for all grad-school-geeks. For some people (like me), it really does work out well; I love being a professor. But for others, it’s just an avoidance of the “real world”.

This is just to point out that even for those who stay in academia, it’s common to wonder whether the grass would have been greener over that-a-way.

dogsordollars
Reply

Thank you for that! I was thinking of your perspective as I wrote bits of this. As much as I wistfully think about my doctorate that would have been, I wonder at my ability to have attained it debt free. And how that, compounded with all the other decisions, could have changed things so dramatically.

Avoidance of the real world sounds like nice work if you can get it. ;)

Roberta
Reply

Goodness, this must be the topic of the week. I was just talking about education and career choices last night with co-workers. As for myself, I wish I had put myself out there while in college. I took Art History and dropped out as a Junior. I had a natural aptitude for it and did well without much effort. I chose Art History because I was too afraid to try Studio Arts/Painting. I worked at the phone company in the 80s in college and made about $35k a year but found I could not work and go to school but I HATED the job but chose it over school. The regrets are rolling in. I’ll be 50 in April next year and make about $15k a year. Yeah, you read that right. It’s not a mistake. I plummeted to poverty level. I love to be alone, to write, to think. Every single day I wonder how to rise up and out of this situation. This was a good blog post. Thank you for posting it!

dogsordollars
Reply

What an amazing story, Roberta. And yes, pretty much a perfect illustration on this post. You need your own blog! I’d certainly love to hear more.

Karawynn @ Pocketmint
Reply

You did it to me again — my reply is too damned long for a comment. Will answer via blog … in a couple of weeks, as I have three other time-sensitive posts to get out the door first. Nrgh!

dogsordollars
Reply

Comment via blog post, I love it. And look forward to it. I’m finding fellow blogger inspiration a powerful thing. But, I’ll wait to be educated on car insurance first. ;)

Roberta
Reply

I do have my own blog! Click on my name and it will take you there! And thank you, I needed that hug ; )

dogsordollars
Reply

I knew that! :) I just wasn’t registering the blue link at 5:30 this morning.

cassadega
Reply

i followed the same path….by age 20 I had a bachelor’s in Fine Art with an emphasis on painting restoration, and by 22, an additional degree in Commercial Photography and Graphic Design. I went the path of the ‘troubled artist’. I had several opportunities to work with larger corporations, and make a lot more money with a squooshy job…but always opted for something that I ‘wanted’ over what I needed. I made shit money, lived in shit apartments, but never once regretted my decision to live the way my creativity directed me to. And after about ten years, it is finally starting to pay off. I am running an art gallery, making money on the side as a photographer, and in general, still surrounded daily by beautiful things and beautiful people.

I hope that my kids follow the same path, because regardless of what life hands you, you should go where your soul leads you. Money will always come and go, but you will always have your talents and interests by your side.

Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment, but I love working hard and pushing myself through my struggles, in an effort to avoid having to work for ‘the man’. :)

Erica / Northwest Edible Life
Reply

I’m just here to say that we had essentially parallel HS/college timing things. I was a 19 year old college grad myself, though it was really a miracle I made it through that final quarter. :) I think university is always *worthwhile* for someone willing to really do it, even if it doesn’t directly connect to a career, but is only sometimes actually *worth it*, if that makes sense.

Career advice for cats and foxes : Pocketmint
Reply

[...] was thinking about this recently in part because Sarah asked, “If someone had given you the choice, as a young adult, between money-making and doing what you [...]

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