September 6, 2011

On The Road

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I can picture myself in high school years ago, my thoughts, concerns and questions — Yeeeeah, I’m a senior! Wait, I’m a senior??! Where am I going to live next year? Who are my friends going to be? What am I doing with my boyfriend? What am I doing with my life?

Four years later, it feels like everything has changed, yet I’m asking myself the same exact questions. My timeless and universal answer can be summed up by my senior quote as printed in the 2008 Ocean Township High School yearbook, somewhere between lists of NHS members and swim team photos. It reads:  “You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

I spent last semester abroad in Bologna, Italy.  Coming back to Cornell from the ultimate Eurotrip makes me question everything from our lifestyles to our food processing tendencies.  I find myself torn between mutually exclusive (and equally appealing) prospects, such as spending the rest of my life on a secluded country farm in Tuscany, crushing grapes with my bare feet and drinking homemade wine in a hammock with a scruffy Italian and our naked baby … or joining the ranks of Ivy Leaguers everywhere as a posh bar-hopping twenty-something in New York City. I want to be at the Giardini in Bologna, under the Eiffel Tower, on the slope in Ithaca, in the markets of Morocco, between beers in Brussels and floating down Grand Street in daylight — all at the same time.  If only I could apparate.

I always say that I have career commitment issues.  Give me a boy that I like and I’m totally fine living happily ever after, but push me in one career direction or another and I will run away faster than you can say “starting salary.” Everything I want to do has specific prerequisites that are just TOO much commitment for me right now. I can’t be a respected lawyer unless I take the LSATs. I can’t be a professor with tortoise-shell-rimmed glasses unless I do an honors thesis. I can’t be a bestselling writer without resigning myself to penny-pinching. I can’t be a well-paid business consultant without selling out my idealistic liberal artsisms. I can’t travel the world without any money. And I can’t pick one without giving up another. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t. I can’t fit it all in. Or can I?

Looking forward, it’s easy to be at once overwhelmed and grateful for the sheer volume of options, opportunities and life paths that we have ahead of us. Being a “senior” is terrifying. With many of our close friends graduated and working, or already accepting offers, our own futures loom before us like a ticking time bomb. Are we ready to trade in Collegetown for the Lower East Side?  Or to be even more drastic, are we ready to trade in our 4-day weekends for a 9 to 5 (or 6 or 7 or 8)? Why can’t we all just live la bella vita — carefree, content and well-fed?

It’s cause we live in A-mur-i-ka, the land of the free, and the home of Silicon Valley, Wall Street and Capitol Hill.  We, as Cornell students, are innately ambitious, searching for some kind of purpose in our lives, even if that purpose is preceded by a dollar sign.  It’s easy to write us off as whiny and privileged, as we stress about our imminent futures and career insecurities. And it’s true, we are extremely lucky;  we have a big name on our résumés and the potential to do almost anything we want with it. For that reason, it’s even more important for us to take advantage of such opportunities and pursue careers that will challenge, satisfy and support us.

Like many other Arts & Sciences kids, I want to do something that I love, but I don’t actually want to be poor.  Still, I really don’t like the idea of spending years of my life trying to afford happiness when you could just have it all along.

Someone once told me that your career – and life in general – doesn’t have to follow a linear path, but can be a patchwork of millions of different experiences and decisions. While we might not be able to do everything that we want at the same time, we have years and years to get jobs, quit them, make money, make mistakes, spend money, meet people, like people, love people and do it all over again.

Maybe the future is just some convoluted combination of fate, short-term and long-term decision-making, spontaneity, advice, pressure, gut feelings, and that silver shimmery mass drawing Jake Gyllenhaal from one room to the next in Donnie Darko. I don’t really know and the truth is that no one does.  If I still get lost going to the Ithaca Wegmans, how am I supposed to navigate my way through life? There’s no GPS for this kinda thing and I might make a few wrong turns along the way, but I know where I’m at right now (Olin Basement) so here’s to hopin’ my headlights are shining in the right direction.

Original Author: Rebecca Lee