Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Happiness is a white kid wearing a rainbow

The last few months have been a series of disappointments I don't especially want to hash out on this blog. In short, I've been unlucky in love, unlucky at finding work, culminating in a rejection letter from the University of Toronto for the Public Policy & Governance graduate program.

And yet, by all accounts, I've been remarkably resilient and optimistic under the circumstances.

I had, what you would call, an epiphany. I've decided to drop out of the rat race. What a cliché, I know. Except I'm turning 23 (therefore, barely out of the gates) and I can already feel the double-noosed temptations of prestige and power tightening around my neck.

I think I've always been secretly envious of people whose personal introductions included a professional title.

"Hi, I'm Joe, Executive VP of Big Pharma."

"Denise, Bullshit Detector."

It all seemed so fantastical, so exclusive, so adult.

When relatives bragged about their children, their education was invariably linked to a like-sounding job. What else would you do with an accounting degree besides becoming an accountant? Likewise, what else would I be doing apart from journalism?

So here I was, teaching piano part-time, reading about millionaire financiers becoming janitors and delighting in schadenfreude, when I noticed the parallels. I was also on track to basing of my entire existence on my professional job title. To borrow Simone de Beauvoir, I was defined in relation to a career whether I was frustrated, rebellious, or even indifferent to it.

Until then, a potential activity was weighed against its usefulness as a resume padder. A friend of mine, currently enrolled in medical school, described it best. He said he joined an organization that promoted cycling for the blind and, being a keen marathon rider himself, was matched accordingly. While he did eventually have fun, he confessed that he was initially motivated by how impressive it might look if he ever decided to pursue ophthalmology!

His candor was refreshing.

While I don't feel professional anxiety, especially the kind fresh graduates are encountering, is anything new, I do believe there is a greater stigma surrounding those who could care less about having respectable ambitions (for my generation, at least). Sure, it might have to do with the entitled attitude a lot of us possess, but behind the bravado is insecurity. Insecurity I can't afford to carry with me any longer.

So in one sense, these last few months have been awfully unproductive. On the other hand, I asked my dad to teach me how to change motor oil, I taught myself Photoshop and printed out some kickass calling cards (I've already received design requests), a local coffee shop offered me a baking position, and I'm starting a book club.

"You've joined the B-team," said another friend, chuckling. Maybe I have. I just don't want to live my life like some fatalistic metaphor, determined by a series of self-serving obstacle courses, always shooting forward on a predictably sterile path.

I don't want to compete with men on dates and mirror their goals, their aggression, and their nonchalance or pursue those whom I use to compensate for the values I was too ashamed to profess. I want to put my life out there, genuinely and with compassion, and discover complementary individuals willing to part from that game as well.

My best friend, a student at Harvard Law, skyped me and said: "Oh my God, you've become a total hippie!" So much insight and wisdom in so few words.

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