Posts Tagged ‘College


The Guessing Game

I’m nearing the end of another Thursday, typically my toughest and most tiring day of the work week, and here is how I’ve spent the afternoon: watching Finding Nemo on the couch before settling down at the kitchen table to play with play-doh and listen to Mika. Did I mention that I have a college degree and this is what I’m being paid for? Awesome, right? They call something like what I’m doing a “year off” for a reason, and I don’t deny that life is mostly fun and games for me (with the occassionial bout of homesickness or I-can’t-stand-these-kids-another-minute sickness mixed in).

Of course, as with anything, there is a flip side. As it turns out, doing things like playing with play-doh, giving baths, cleaning up toys and making family dinners does not leave me feeling very fulfilled or accomplished. I’m happy and proud of the relationships I’ve formed with this family and the care I am able to give the boys, but at the end of the day I’m exhausted and have nothing to show for it. Nothing, that is, except two little kids safe and happy in their beds. While I don’t discount the value in this, it’s just a very different kind of achievement than what I was used to in school and college sports. I’m not getting hard-earned A’s on any papers, not rowing for 2 hours before anyone else I know has even gotten out of bed, not making any progress for myself.

It’s not as though I babysit all day and then just sit around staring at the wall the rest of the time; I read, I travel, I explore the amazing city I’ve planted myself in. But the other 35-40 hours a week, the hours I spend at the playground or changing diapers or breaking up little fights, leave me physically and emotionally deflated while my mental and intellectual needs are left almost entirely unmet.

People often ask me if being an au pair has turned out like I’d expected it. I tell them yes, that my job is almost exactly what I imagined it would be. What I predicted inaccurately was my own level of contentment. I chose to seek a position abroad as an au pair because of both the limited financial impact and the fact that it would be easy. Fun. Games. I would just get to play all the time. I figured I’d been working my ass off for four years, so why not give myself a break and see Europe while I’m at it? And while this has been an overwhelmingly positive experience thus far in almost every aspect, it turns out that the very thing that appealed to me about this decision is the very thing I now struggle with most.

I did not see that one coming.

Maybe I’m an idiot, or maybe I just guessed wrong. That’s what we’re all doing anyway, isn’t it? Guessing? Those of us recently out of college or approaching graduation all face similar questions and doubts about the future. As confident as some might seem in the “life path” they’ve chosen, the goal they’ve set and the means they’ll use to get there, I would bet good money that they really don’t have a clue and are just hoping they’re pointing themselves in the right direction.

I gave myself some extra decision-making time by using a year while I’m young to see Europe, something many will never find the time to do when they’re older. But now that year is halfway over and I find myself staring the future in the face – mocking me with teeth bared – once again.

What I can do now is make the most of my situation and use what I’ve learned to make a more educated guess next time around. And I shouldn’t say that my hours spent with kids leaves me with nothing to think about. Like the scene in Finding Nemo (no, not “just keep swimming”) when Marlin and Dory are clinging for their lives to the upturned tongue of a whale, debating whether or not to let go and plummet to the uncertain depths of his dark, cavernous throat. Dory yells to Marlin,

“He says it’s time to let go! Everything’s gonna be all right!”

“How do you know? How do you know something bad isn’t gonna happen?”

She thinks for a second, then:

“I don’t!”

And they let go.

I have to admit that when it comes to Dory, the free spirit and hopeless optimist, and Marlin, the over-cautious worrier, I swim in the current of the clownfish. But we could all be a little more like Dory, and I can definitely say that as far as big decisions go, I have yet to regret just letting go when the time came and seeing what would happen.


“The relationship cannot be determined from the information given”

I don’t know how to find the area of a trapezoid. As a result of this, and the need for many other formulas I haven’t had committed to memory in at least 5 years, I did poorly on the quantitative portion of the Graduate Record Examination. The reason I’ve taken this test twice now is that I have uncertain plans of applying to graduate programs in literature or creative writing – both fields in which I will obviously need to solve many quadratic equations. The analytical writing and verbal sections I can understand, but honestly, do I really have to do an extensive review of middle school math to get into a masters program in literature?

A few days after I realized for the second time that I am simply too far detached from my 8th grade algebra class to do any better on the GRE, I found myself sitting on the BART train coming home from San Francisco next to a girl who had probably just completed her 8th grade algebra class. She looked about thirteen or fourteen, on her way home from somewhere with her sister and auntie, and she was hard at work coloring a page of her notebook. There was a healthy stash of fine-point markers, highlighters and mechanical pencils in the small zipper pocket of her Jansport backpack, and she used these to decorate page after page of binder paper in her FiveStar spiral – all while quietly singing American Idol Kelly Clarkson‘s hit, “Since You’ve Been Gone.”

I kept peeking at her artwork and couldn’t help but crack a condescending smile or two. She’d splattered the page with little phrases that I’m sure were significant to her and was working on coloring them. They went something like this:

LiSTeN tO yOuR hEaRT

CASH rules EVERYTHING around ME!

MuSIc is the way i LIVE

sOmeTImEs we WoNDer if tHe FIGHT is wOrtHwhiLe…

And so on and so forth. I sat there remembering what it was like to be that age – only a short eight or nine years ago – and the way everything seemed terribly important, terribly real, the way all of our thoughts seemed profound, bold and original (especially when embellished with a fresh set of glitter gel pens). As I shook my head and giggled to myself over her silly melodrama, quietly judging her petty, adolescent frame of mind, I realized something that sobered me right up: she would probably do better on the GRE quantitative section than I did.

While I’m glad to have left most of my teenage melodrama at my senior prom, glad that I no longer enjoy writing words with a variety of capitalization, there are clearly some things that I would have been wise to hang on to (at least according to the folks who write the GRE). I mean, her notebook was kind of silly, but I found myself wanting to borrow one of her markers and I couldn’t get the Kelly Clarkson song out of my head all night. Though, from my experience, it’s probably safe to say that she’ll remember those song lyrics long after she’s forgotten the pythagorean theorem.

Since you’ve been gone, I can breathe for the first time. I’m so movin’ on, YEAH yeah…


Undeclared Plans

It’s now been about a month since graduation; over the course of that month, I’ve gone through some disappointments in my shaky post-college plans, experienced some soaring successes in my summer goal of being more social and spontaneous, and turned twenty-two. I’ve discovered that it takes about this long after commencement for people to stop sympathizing with your flighty don’t-have-a-clue-in-life attitude toward the “real world,” and start asking questions; only, now they expect answers.

A part of me enjoys telling people I’ve recently graduated; they light up and treat me for a fleeting moment like it’s my birthday. The other part of me—the part that tends to dominate—dreads sharing the news; inevitably, people ask what I’m doing next year, and because I can’t bring myself to lie too often, I have to admit that I don’t know, that I’m trying to do certain things, that I’ll offer updates in a few months if they happen—and if they don’t happen, I’ll probably be in hiding, wallowing in my own shame and disappointment. Well, I don’t actually say that last part, but I think people still see straight through my forced optimism and excitement at what the future may hold. (I do feel optimistic and excited sometimes, though it’s generally only after a few drinks.)

Applying for summer jobs, for example, brings perhaps the harshest reminder that I am not yet grad school-bound, not zipping up a hot new pantsuit for a sweet new office job, and not yet booking tickets for any long-term, enviable travel. All I want, right now, just to keep me floating for a couple of months, is a casual summer job. But when I handed over my application at a small-town, family-owned restaurant today, the owner looked up at me and asked, “Why aren’t you looking for a real job?” I stammered, trying to explain the temporary in-between phase as she gave me a pitiful smile and a half-hearted promise to call.

Fortunately, people at least react differently now than they did upon hearing of my uncertain college plans. After high school, once I finally knew my higher education destination and finally felt prepared to face the inquiring urges of so many unwanted advice-filled adults, it occurred to me that they would also want to know what I would be studying, not simply where. I didn’t see the need to make such an important decision when the option “Undeclared” mercifully appeared on the drop-down menus of every application I filled out. What’s the rush? It seemed acceptable to me. No one is actually sure about everything or anything, so I thought it was fine for me, a clueless 17-year-old, to be unsure about this.

But when adults, and many students my own age, heard that I was undeclared they would all of a sudden start shifting on their feet, wringing their hands, and their faces would melt into the look you might give someone after they told you they’d just come in last in a big, very important, everything-depends-on-it race. “Oh, well,” they’d start to say, shaking their head, “you know, that’s OK.” Pursed lips managing a forced, uncomfortable smile below a creased brow. I should have worn a giant red “U” on my chest for the first two years of school. (Yes, I did ultimately major in English and now reference books like The Scarlet Letter.)

So you finally choose a major, end up doing pretty well in it, end up feeling like hey, you can do this. Then it’s over. Right when you figure it out and really get good at the whole college thing, it ends. You get your empty leather portfolio on a big stage in 100-degree heat, and then go…celebrate?

Many people seem to understand this inner struggle that I’m sure exists in most recent college grads, the bittersweet taste that hangs in our mouths after a toast of champagne and a big slice of sugary “ConGRADulations!” cake. For this reason, when I tell most people of my lofty hopes and rather unlikely plans for the following year, they clap me on the back and say, hey, good for you. Whatever it is, good for you. You have time.

I guess they only behave this way when you’re not asking them for a job. I now long for the days when I could answer questions with a simple “undeclared.” I don’t know why that’s not an acceptable term to use for future life plans. Sure, I have my goals, but what I am actually doing will, until further notice, remain undeclared.

"Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost!" -Henry James, The Art of Fiction
January 2019
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