The right place? part I

When I was in college, someone told me I should minor in politics or economics.

“As a journalist, you’ll always be covering these things,” this person said, “and knowing a little something about either one would help you write better stories.”

I don’t remember if this was my advisor, another journalism instructor or my sociology prof (my most inspiring instructor after the journos), but I took the advice to heart–almost. I took every class required for a government minor except one: Congressional Law. By the time that class rolled around in the sequence and I could take it, I had already secured a spot interning at NBC News in Washington, D.C, so I didn’t think I needed it. I also didn’t want to tank my GPA, and I’d heard from government students that this class was a beast.

During the past 20 years, I’ve thought a lot about the intersections I faced in making (and not making) my decision. Had I taken that class, what might have happened? I know I wouldn’t be teaching government classes. If I had picked econ instead of government, would I be teaching economics? Maybe; I like watching the markets and thinking about how costs impact consumers. I like helping students think about and understand personal finance. But writing was my true love, and so I teach creative writing and English and Lit classes, when I teach. But in some small way, both econ and government made it into this version of my life: I really enjoy looking at stories through a somewhat Marxist lens, which, you know…combines econ and government and some really interesting social storytelling. As much as I like this variety, if you know me, you know I wish I could have had just one path: journalism.

So a month ago when a student found his way to my office to talk about scholarships (finances) and whether or not the labor market will change in the next few years (econ and government), and where he might fit in, I was delighted to read the very Marxist essay he had written for a scholarship application. It was well crafted, thoughtful and insightful. And to be completely honest, it was not the kind of essay I ever expected to read in my current job. In fact, it was such a joy to read (and feel connected to this human) I wanted to find the scholarship committee and tell them “This young man deserves all the awards!”

But instead, we talked about his desire to write, his interest in manufacturing, and his concerns that he was split in two directions and didn’t know which way to go. He is as old as I was when I finished my degree in journalism, and with my “many” years of “wisdom,” I told him I thought he should finish out the manufacturing degree he’s in, spend some time working in the field, save up money and enroll in a philosophy or writing program somewhere.

He wasn’t sure about this path either, and I haven’t followed up with him to see if he applied for the scholarship, registered for classes next fall or is going another direction. But I’ve thought about him a lot over the past few weeks, and I hope that someday he’s able to see some glimmer of use in the advice I gave him. I hope it proves helpful along his career path in the same way the advice I got was helpful, even if I didn’t totally follow it. It became helpful in other, unforeseen and unanticipated ways.

I think being in the middle about two directions–being skilled in a physical occupation and being skilled with the mental craft of thought–is a thought-provoking place to be, but it can be a difficult one. As he noted in his essay, to be a laborer and see just one way forward might not be glamourous, but at least it would answer questions. At various times in my life I’ve completely agreed with that sentiment, but I think being multifaceted, as dizzying as it can be, leads to a richer life. None of my academic studies really, truly prepared me to understand why I believe that people end up where they need to be, even if it’s a long slog in the middle between knowing and not. Somehow I still try to hold on to this belief. I don’t mean this as a savior, but I needed to be there for that student that day. And I needed him to remind me that life isn’t all or nothing, any one way, in any moment or situation.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: