October 16, 2020

STELLA | What Do We Want To Be Now That We’re Grown Up?

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Some of you still have a couple years before you need to figure this out, others of you already have – the return offer signed, sealed and delivered. But how many of us will answer this question the same way as we did in kindergarten? Our misspelling hands scrawling on our first homework assignments, writing down the reasons we wanted to be firefighters, astronauts, artists, secret agents, veterinarians, movie stars, the President, our fathers and mothers.

Not once did you hear trade analyst, consultant, HR representative. Yes, that’s probably because half those words weren’t in our vocabulary yet. However, while our interests do change, and our innocent career aspirations become long lost answers on home video interviews (or hobbies at best), how much should we let them?

As a senior, staring down into the black abyss of the real world after Cornell, careers are almost always on the mind. If we haven’t already lined up an offer, we’re searching, or planning our search once recruitment opens. Most of us, anyways. It’s hard not to when attending a school that has built its reputation on the high employment and graduate school rates of their alumni.

This is simultaneously a fantastic and detrimental aspect of Cornell. They prepare us for this rigorous recruitment and connect us to alumni networks (nepotism is the number one trick in the book), but, in so doing, they create an atmosphere on our campus geared towards pushing ourselves into high paying positions. While there is nothing wrong with wanting to make a comfortable living for ourselves, there might be something we’re letting go of in the process.

Even Cornellians that begin their four years here without any intention to switch out of their music major sometimes feel the pressure to sign up for a business or computer science minor, something more “practical” to add to their resumé. When your friends are lining up for info sessions, it gets you thinking.

Yet, maybe we shouldn’t let the corporate recruitment culture that emanates from our campus tether us to three or four industries. While not all of us can afford to explore multiple career paths after graduation, surviving on familial wealth, we also don’t have to choose a career path that works us from 7 a.m. until midnight just for the flashy paycheck. I have no doubt that some of us revel in the idea of spending weekends behind a computer, analyzing the trading patterns of Tesla, but at Cornell, there are a lot of us that put our passions on hold to establish a sense of security early on.

At what price do we sell our childhood innocence?

For those of you who have read my columns before (the three of you not including mom and dad), the tone of this one might feel a little different — a little less satirical. But as is the spirit of this column, let’s get back to our roots.

Cornell makes us nearly forget how many careers there are out there. We may not think about it everyday like we do about the engineers that work to keep Zoom running, but there are New York Times Crossword creators out there. There are people who travel the world searching for the best place to shoot the next Marvel blockbuster. There are dog toy designers for our Mr. Snowball’s and our Baxter’s. There are fortune cookie writers (I think they particularly need help in this field: “You must try, or hate yourself for not trying” isn’t a fortune as much as a judgement). We don’t need to limit ourselves to our recommended Handshake and LinkedIn gigs.

The Cornell alumni base is incredibly helpful, but just because there isn’t a large quantity of graduates in San Diego following the behavioral patterns of otters in their coastal biology professions doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to break into that field. Even if our interests have changed since kindergarten, as is the likely case, our modern day hobbies probably still have some roots in those old aspirations. It’d be a shame to let them go completely. And while building legos or hosting tea parties can’t earn us a living wage, architecture and event planning can. While we might not want to make finger painting and playing dress-up into our full time careers, we can and should still dedicate freetime to our art or to thrift shopping. Just as clubs at Cornell can serve as an outlet for these hobbies, we must also find ways to continue doing what we love once we’re out there in the Big Apple or the Bay or wherever else. It might be one semblance of our former lives to hold onto as we start buying our friends blenders for their housewarming and engagement parties. One reminder of what life was like before we signed away our booze money on electric bills and phone plans.

At the end of the day, we need to figure out how much our happiness at waking up Monday through Friday is worth. Does the excitement at heading to the office (or the Zoom conference room) make up for the $20k smaller paycheck? Cornell might say so, liberative parents might not, pushing their children to seek out what they truly want to do while making flower crowns with them in the backyard. The question is then left to us – one of the many coming our way when we leave Cornell’s bubble.

AJ Stella is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at astella@cornellsun.com. Stellin’ It Like It Is runs every other Friday this semester.