Photo Courtesy of Buena Park High School

April 15, 2016

MOHAPATRA | Chocolate Cake Aspirations

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For the longest time, I wanted to be a chocolate cake when I grew up.

When I was seven, my mother had very naively assumed I wanted to be a doctor because I  religiously followed a television show featuring the lives of a group of doctors (not Grey’s Anatomy), and I routinely donned the lab coat and toy stethoscope to examine my dolls and stuffed animals. However, when she had a life talk with me, a wise woman of seven, I had said, “Can you imagine what it must be like? Someone could die. Their life would depend on whether or not I can do my job!” I then proceeded to explain my deep ambition to be a chocolate cake: everyone loved chocolate cakes; I loved chocolate cakes; they made people happy; they made me very happy.

Now, I am being forced to account for practicality with the classic What will you do with your liberal arts degree? question. Apparently, studying something simply because you love it is not a good enough answer. Since hoping to make a positive difference in some distant, yet-to-appear-in-concrete capacity is not a safe paycheck option, when I tell people I am majoring in economics and government, the conversation more often than not steers into finance or law school. I sometimes even receive pitiful looks when I steer the chatter away from those fields.

From chocolate cake to an aspiring political analyst to a kind-of-sort-of-journalist to let-me-get-my-degree to I’m-just-trying-to-pass-my-classes, my aspirations have assumed different identities to the point where the idealist in me is beginning to feel squashed. My goals have become increasingly conforming, and I don’t know if I should feel happy about that. I’ve never been impressed by  doing something just for the sake of adding a cool line to a resume. I’ve never been able to resign myself to doing anything other than for the love of it.

Mama still has life talks with a slightly less wise version of me who sometimes gets dejected with the direction in which I am shaping my studies, especially given the extremely competitive and stressful atmosphere at Cornell. Every time, she says, I must do the happiness test. She is convinced that my seven-year-old self had this figured out better, and lately, I have come to agree. It sometimes looks like the fine print and intricacies of life have caught up with my wise seven year old self a little too harshly, but I hope to never let that chocolate cake spirit go. I’ve replaced the cake for the sake of stata regressions, overly complicated graphs and innumerable pages of IR theory, but why on earth should that mean I will not end up being the chocolate cake I wanted to be?