Life seems to be a lot about choosing between paths, with the frustration and insecurity of being unable to see past the bend. I have read several articles (and heard several rants) about my generation's inability to choose, in particular. Time magazine even ran a cover last year, lambasting us for our collective ambivalent ways. Of all of my friends, only one has chosen a 'real' career (and she has her doctorate and a position on next year’s faculty at our College in hand.) The rest of us are working barely-over minimum wage jobs (or several of them) trying to figure out our next move.

A month ago today, I started a graduate program in education, hoping to make a choice of my own. I talked a good game to the Admissions folks at Drexel about how every job I've ever held has been about teaching and education - albeit informal - that those bits of the job were the most challenging and the most palatable, and about how I spent last year in a school every day with special needs kids, that those hours in the classroom made me want one of my own. In fact, I've spent a long time trying to convince myself of the same thing. But it's not working.

This week last year, I got on a plane to go down for a 3 week long job interview (can you sleep on rocks, can you build a fire without matches or flint, can you de-escalate a raging client, can you find a way out of a canyon, can you navigate without a compass, can you splint a broken leg, do you know the cultural differences between AA and NA, can you recognize dehydration, do you know your drug slang, can you effectively confront a lie) for Wilderness Quest a wilderness therapy company that operates out of southeastern Utah. I got the job, and worked there for about a month before realizing that my future with Peter was more important than my future in the desert. There were also specific things during that time that I came to understand about myself (mostly) and about the wilderness therapy industry that made for a jagged fit. These realizations were painful, but needed.

Since then, Pragmatism has become the operating force behind career related decisions. I want a job that has insurance. I want a job that will allow us to travel. I want a job that will let me be home when my kids get home. I want a job that makes some kind of positive difference in people's lives. I want to go into a field that will allow me to get a job no matter what off the wall place we decide to move next. There didn't seem to be alot of wiggle room. There aren't that many jobs in the real world that offer that kind of flexibility, much less that I'm already half-trained to do. So I convinced myself that I should join the rank and file, after a several-year meander through more exotic pay-stubs.

To those with real jobs, real careers, this will probably sound like a whine. But I have met and heard of so many people making a good go of it off the highway. Jess met a lawyer couple several years ago who quit, bought an RV and are now clam-happy migrant river guides across the western US. My boss in Seward runs boats in lower 48 in the winter (although now he is moving North to manage the Landing's kayaking gig full time.) A couple in Austin quit the mainstream, bought some land in the hill country, and now run zip-line tours out of their back yard.

So now I'm spending the better part of my week working through online classes on Assessment Strategies, Classroom Management and Teaching to State Standards. I'm taking mind-numbing prerequisite courses at the community college. I'm remembering with some trepidation what an accomplished procrastinator I am. And my heart (can you tell?) isn't in it. On some level I know that this is what I need to do. This is the choice I have to make for everything that will come after. But at the surface, I can only remember that my pack and brand-new +15 bag are gathering dust in the closet, I haven’t been in a kayak in almost two years, and the longest I've been outside since leaving Utah is a hair's breadth short of 24 hours. A big part of me still wants to make a life of those things, not just a hobby. But I'm slowly losing faith that it’s possible, and the asphalt and cement that covers most of the earth here isn't helping.

I have recently talked to several friends that are stuck in limbo, trying to figure out what it is they want to do. It usually involves this choice: going after their heart, or going after security. No wonder we're stuck at Kinkos and Starbucks and Borders, dragging our feet to the fork in the trail.


beholdhowfree said...

I totally want all of these skills! (can you sleep on rocks, can you build a fire without matches or flint, can you de-escalate a raging client, can you find a way out of a canyon, can you navigate without a compass, can you splint a broken leg, do you know the cultural differences between AA and NA, can you recognize dehydration, do you know your drug slang, can you effectively confront a liar)

beholdhowfree said...

what?!?! are you saying i don't have a real career? since when is talking to male prostitutes not a "real" career? or being an aspiring opera singer/artist? oh wait....

At A Hen's Pace said...

Mary--Great post. I hadn't thought about your generation in that way, or how differently you may think than my own, tho I'm not that much older than you. But it's true--when we graduated, just about everybody I knew got "real jobs" or went on for another degree in their field. We went to college so we wouldn't have to work in retail! Most of us made our choice around sophomore or junior year--or whenever it was that we switched majors for the last time. Our forks in the road have been at smaller crossroads--do I spend my spare time and resources on this or on that? We struggle sometimes with wanting to follow our hearts somewhere in a big way, but I guess kinda trust God to provide for those hearts' desires in His way and His timing. (Like E's kinda miraculous AMIA ordination, and the community or church plan or whatever it's going to be. And guess what? Randy Y. is getting an MDiv to become a hospital chaplain--a passion for him.)

I don't neccessarily wish a "career" for my daughter. I'd like her to be well-educated--and maybe if we homeschool her through high school, we can see that she gets a mind-broadening education--but I'd like her to have the kind of flexibility you've described, especially because what she really wants is marriage and children. So I'd probably encourage her in the pragmatic route in the short run, so that she can take the scenic roads for the rest of the journey. Having kids really does change your perspective. You'll love sharing your passion for the outdoors with them. You'll be glad you and Peter spent the years working so you could buy the land you'll raise them on. You'll maybe have the chance to be entrepreneurial on your land once you get it. Life is longer than you think, as Frederica M-G said to me when I met her. For some reason, it totally choked me up when she said it.

That said--Get outside, girl! Plan a camping trip or three! Even if it's now just a hobby and not a lifestyle, it's a renewing activity for you. Maybe the two paths after that fork are nearer each other than you think, too. If you teach, you'll have summers to work outdoors, perhaps. All things in moderation, as I always say.

This got much longer than I meant and I hope it makes sense. I hope it comes across as encouraging!