College is kind of a big deal. I feel like we don’t talk about that enough. I mean, being on my own doesn’t just mean I have to do my own laundry (well damn, I can’t even do that). See, my friend and I got into a conversation about this. We deduced being on your own means that you are solely responsible for all of your emotional baggage. You become the ambassador for “all that shit back home.”
When I was in high school back in Connecticut, sure, certain aspects of life kind of sucked. But at least I could draw a distinction between me and the problems that were causing my misery. Now that I’m on the other side of the country, surrounded by people who know absolutely nothing about where I come from, all of the bad stuff lives in the abstract. In their physical absence, I carry the facts of my life around like parcels of luggage, internalizing the external, assimilating it to my self-identity. I suppose this is why the sordid details of our past, when we leave the nest, tend to coalesce into shame.
This is why, I suspect, we evolve into guarded creatures, shameful of external circumstances beyond our control simply because we have internalized them and taken on the burden of their memory. That said, I think these very unsightly details can be sources of strength and courage. You just have to separate yourself from them, treat them as things you have overcome and not things weighing you down, which isn’t easy when all you have at your disposal is vague recollection.
All of this is very well said in the abstract, like most things. The truth is, I haven’t quite figured out the proper way to regard my unbecoming origins. Even when I was in high school, I was very guarded about my upbringing, so it’s not like sweet old Connecticut is the answer. Who knows – life is confusing. (Duh, you say.) You’re led to believe your teenaged years are the most baffling period of your life, and therefore pine for the days when you’re 20 and you’ll have yourself all figured out. As if.
Your twenties are waaay more confusing. At least in high school I had a purpose (get into college) and could convince myself that I would resolve all my insecurities and concerns in that mythical place. In college, you don’t have an excuse. I mean, I guess some people just set up a new goal: grad school, or a nice job. I asked my dad, a doctor, how he dealt with all of this confusion when he was my age. He confided to me that to deal with that massive uncertainty, he put his nose in his books. He studied relentlessly and got by on the contrived belief that becoming a doctor, professional and successful, would bring him inner peace and security. He is 65 now, and wise and truthful. When he talks, a wistful gaze slips over his eyes. He wishes he had become an English teacher.
To think: my father, an English teacher. Had he confronted that confusion, done the painful job that many avoid of asking himself what he really wanted to do with his life, would he be lecturing to high school students in a tweed jacket? Would he be more content with himself? Would his eyes be twinkling, beset with conviction, instead of pathos for what could have been? No doubt he is happy, and successful; he has helped untold thousands of people in their most endangered states. I am proud of him, and perhaps his choice of career is extraordinarily minor compared to how he has chosen to raise his family–and here, he has not gone wrong. Maybe angst is just something that dissolves of its own accord; maybe there are others ways to affirm oneself outside of the framework of a career. I suspect that regret is inevitable and unavoidable no matter what you do, and thus indicting my father for his decision is unfair to him. We all carry regrets. It’s what you do moving forward that matters and for as long as I have observed him, my dad has stayed true to himself.
I too have regrets, and that makes me nervous I’m going to do something that leaves me with still more. Doing the most generic and socially acceptable thing seems like the less risky and therefore the most attractive. After all, I am plagued with countless uncertainties about my choice of major, my career, my likelihood of success, the “right” path I should take from here on out. There are so many possibilities that I am paralyzed with choice. Like every human being on the planet, my greatest wish is to be happy. Like every student here, I want to be successful. In a world of infinite choice, the road in front of me looks like a minefield.
One misstep and I’m out. It’s so tempting to avoid all this, to put my head down and tally off the days until graduate school, and then after that an entry-level job, and then a better job, and so on and so forth. But I fear that I will end up on the other side regretful. Perhaps I will have a mid-life crisis because I didn’t take the time to figure out what I truly wanted to do with my life when I was 20.
I am confused. I know this is normal because my friends are too, and because I have done a lot of Google searches about this. A very big part of me wants to run home to my room and slam the door on the howling world. It will always be there, though. Ah, forget trekking to Mount Doom. To take a step into the vicious wind, and stay there – to face an unkind world and endure it until we claim our place in it – is a feat of ungodly courage. One could spend the rest of her days in the Shire or a decent job, pretty content. Beneath it will be an awful fear. An awful fear of the world beyond she has never had the courage to know.