Four years ago, I firmly planted my feet on the starting line with hundreds of other competitors. Adrenaline surged through my veins and my body leaned forward slightly in the hope that it would give me a slight edge. When the gun rang out, I took off and never looked back. For years, I didn’t stop. I didn’t question where I was going, just kept at it. Then I reached the finish line and was greeted in a whirlwind of confetti and graduation gowns. I stood back and watched my peers rush past the finish line, just as I did. When I looked around, I realized that I hadn’t reached the final finish. There weren’t stacks of money lying on the floor to greet me. There wasn’t an executive in a fancy suit waiting to hand me the keys to my own company. My education came with no post-graduation luxuries, just a piece of paper with my name on it. The path I had just emerged from seemed tumultuous at the time that I traveled it, but from the vantage point at the finish line, it seemed to be nothing compared to facing the next step. Staring the opposite way, toward the future, the path was endless, the horizon hazy and undefined.
One of the shortcomings of our society is that it encourages people to rush through everything without ever stopping to look around and take it all in or figure out where they want to end up. Life’s a sprint to get through the next milestone: get through high school, tackle college, find a job. Run, rush, sprint. When I came back from college, a sense of dread filled me when I realized I didn’t have the summer job I had always had when I returned from college. I was unemployed and no longer a student. In a panic-driven craze, I sent out cover letter after cover letter, praying that someone would take pity on a recent college graduate looking for work, at least temporarily while she figured out what she wanted to do with her life. After all, that is the next step after college: to find a job. Finally, a temp. agency landed me a position at Bryant & Stratton College as a receptionist who also does data entry. It’s definitely not a position that I went to college for, and at first that fact gave me anxiety. Was my education a waste? Will I ever find a job in my field?
As the weeks dragged on, I realized that the position wasn’t so far off the beaten path. It was–and still is– a chance to break into a professional work environment and make a steady source of income. I work nights, which leaves my days free. Working at Bryant & Stratton has given me a sense of security. It has allowed me to write in my spare time and to halt my wheels and assess what I truly want from life. For the first time in years, I have had a chance to pour through novel after novel, wrapping myself up with characters who embark on great journeys and overcome impossible odds. I find myself with my head in the clouds, contemplating characters’ actions and examining story lines from an infinite number of angles. When the fire simmers on one story line, I pick up another book and repeat the process. Not one of the books I choose is assigned reading, and it feels liberating to read at will as opposed to as commanded.
This has given me time to contemplate what kind of novel I would like to one day write (though I’m hoping to make that one day happen relatively soon). I’ve been pooling my favorite novels and jotting down which aspects of each I enjoy the most. Not surprisingly, strong female characters top the list, as do novels set in an alternate universe and novels based on an epic journey of sorts. I read to escape reality, but by the same token, I write to understand it. I write to understand life, society and myself.
Much like writing, being home has stimulated this desire to understand my situation in life. I find myself wondering who I really am and where I’d like to be in ten years from now. The question that adults asked me as a toddler seems to have resurfaced and is now more pertinent than ever before: What do I want to be when I grow up? In this phase of life, however, it seems more appropriate to say: Where do I want to be in another year? In another five? In another decade from now? Ideally, I could see myself settled down in a city like Washington D.C., writing for National Geographic Traveler and traveling the world in my spare time, writing stories. Realistically, I will probably be living in a city in a small apartment, struggling to get by. Such is the curse of the writer, and it has been a possibility that has terrified me for years. But the more I think about it, the less it actually scares me. I’ve come to view that kind of lifestyle as more of a blessing than a curse, because, at very least, I’d be doing what I love: writing. What better blessing can a person have than to live a life filled with the sole thing they love the most?
I have stressed and fretted and questioned the future until I was blue in the face. I have consulted numerous professors, professionals and parents on which path they believe to be the best for me. That included questioning of whether or not graduate school will be worth it. Some said yes, others blatantly stated, “What are you crazy? A Master’s degree in English will get you no where!” Maybe it won’t. Maybe I’ll end up paying off student loans until I’m in my grave. But in my defense, I will never turn down the opportunity to learn more. Education will never work against me, and in this particular instance, I will have the chance to learn from renowned faculty members with incredible stories to tell.
Recently, I completed my second interview for a job as a reporter for the Springville Journal. I’m still waiting to hear back about whether or not I got the job, but I did have the honor of meeting with a very inspirational woman who happens to be the editor of the newspaper. She went for her Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing, while simultaneously working in the position I applied for. A few short years later, and she is now managing editor of the paper, as well as a creative writing teacher and a published author. She teaches a class for National Geographic which has given her the opportunity to travel, and she is currently awaiting the publication of her first book. Essentially, I see a reflection of myself in her, or at very least, the self I wish to be in five or ten or even fifteen years.
So maybe I don’t have everything figured at the ripe age of twenty-two. At very least, I have a passion and motivation. Even if I do struggle, this lifestyle will provide the pleasure of meeting more inspirational people such as the editor of that paper. The economy is working against me, and there’s a very likely chance that I will never write anything that will receive the attention that F. Scott Fitzgerald, George Orwell, David Benioff or even J.K. Rowling received. But for me, it’s enough gratification when my cousin accidentally reads my essay that she found resting on a stack of papers and says, “Wow, I felt like I was reading a real book.” I don’t need to be world-renowned, as long as what I write means something to at least one person. That, to me, is the mark of a successful writer.
Here’s to hoping that my words make even a fraction of a difference to someone. Even if they don’t, at least I’m living my own version of a dream.