I don’t know how it’s already almost April but since it is I really want to share this nugget of truth with my kindred souls that are about to walk out of comfort and into what the world likes to call “adulthood” — otherwise known as “the giant black hole of confusion and naps.”
Look, this isn’t going to be a post about me complaining that I have it so rough for being shoved into adulthood. I quite enjoy the independence and being responsible for myself. I’m also pretty pleased with the direction my life is going. That’s not the point of this post, though.
I read a funny quote one time. It went something along the lines of “We expect 18 year old kids to choose a degree and a career immediately at the start of college when six months ago they were expected to raise their hand to ask permission to use the bathroom.” We also expect young twenty-somethings to get a “real” (full time) job (with benefits) right out of college.
That’s actually not funny, that’s scary.
Now, don’t get me wrong, straight out of high school I knew I wanted to pursue two things in college: yearbook and photography. I knew I loved those two things, and the wonderful professors at CBU *cough*Mike Berger and Mary Ann Pearson*cough* managed to sell my major(s) to my parents in a way that put their minds at ease that I wouldn’t be studying something completely useless. I’ll tell ya, 85% of the students who went through the graphic design department are currently working in their given field. (Yes, this is a shameless plug for the CAVAD department.)
So straight out of high school, I dove head first into those two things. Yes, there was a moment of panic in my second semester of my freshman year where I thought I should just switch majors while I’m ahead and try to be a nursing major or something because being an artist is flipping HARD. But that moment of panic went away when the first person ever asked me to take engagement photos for them, and I was hooked.
In addition to knowing what I loved, I knew what I didn’t want to do: swim. Also I sucked at it. Dad wanted me to keep at it, but he knew that swimming on top of a major and a minor and choir all at the collegiate level was completely insane and I would burn out like a candle in the wind, so he didn’t fight me on quitting that one. Retiring from my short swim career was one of the best decisions. Choir was a totally different story. It only took until the end of freshman year for me to figure out I wanted to be done with choir, but dad “didn’t want me to make his mistakes” and quit too early. Ugh.
“I think we should stop asking people in their twenties what they ‘want to do’ and start asking them what they don’t want to do. Instead of asking students to ‘declare their major’ we should ask students to ‘list what they will do anything to avoid.’ It just makes a lot more sense.” Amy Poehler
Sophomore and junior year of college were really good in the school sense. I had some REALLY good professors. Amazing, really. And in my junior year I finally sat my dad down and said that pursuing music was useless because it wasn’t something I was passionate about anymore. I didn’t want to do it. I WANTED to do yearbook. I WANTED to focus on my writing and design and photography and nothing else. He finally listened.
Here’s the problem I had growing up, and still to this day I struggle with it: telling my parents I don’t want to do something. Growing up I wasn’t allowed to quit anything. Ever. Which made it really difficult to stand up for what I DON’T want when I was finally “allowed” to (in front of any adult figure). For a long time I was stuck in this perpetual state of being 17 and still not really being in control of my life. I didn’t know how to! Because even though I was 18, 19, 20 (okay and 21 and 22 and 23)… I was STILL being told that I had to live up to expectations that weren’t my own and do things that I didn’t want to do.
Don’t get me wrong. I had some great memories and experiences come from the things I didn’t really want to be doing. But once I turned my back on them, I started having even better experiences. 2012 was the first year that I wasn’t in choir anymore. It felt amazing. I miss singing in a group sometimes, I miss the feeling of my voice fitting into place in a chord. But I really don’t miss having about 10-15 hours of my week devoted to music when I wasn’t passionate about it.
Fast forward to graduation and the three months that followed.
I hated graduation. That jackass yearbook director had found so many brilliant ways to make me hate it. I was so busy with other things leading up to it that I didn’t even get to do my nails (forgive my vanity, but it was just the cherry on top of how much I hated that day) or really find anything of real significance to be excited for the whole ordeal. The highlight was that it was International Star Wars Day and that my family was there.
I think I applied for 100 jobs. Minimum. Dad kept telling me to just apply to be a receptionist or a secretary because I’m so good at organizing things to make life simple. I let my pride get in the way and applied for design and photographer jobs left and right. My pride told him I would rather work retail or be a server and be a photographer and suffer for my art. My pride said that path had more dignity. My pride still says that, and I still listen to it.
I got my first retail job, dad told me it was time he needed me to pay rent, I told him he and mom weren’t allowed to restrict my photography any longer. (They didn’t want me shooting boudoir.) This was my first stand. Then I got the job with Walsworth, which was exactly what I thought I wanted. I loved it for the time I had it, but I learned very quickly that it wasn’t what I could see myself doing for longer than a few years. Even that felt like an eternity to walk away from photography. Not that I walked away completely, but it was on the back burner because there just wasn’t the time I wanted (it needed) to devote to it. Leaving that job to pursue being a full time creative was my second stand. Then the CAVAD department at CBU asked me to recruit for them and through that showed me their unwavering support of the individuals who chose to be taught by them.
Dear anyone from the age of 18-24,
You are not required to figure it all out by the time you graduate from high school or college. You are absolutely permitted to stick it to the man when you don’t want to do something. Your twenties aren’t for having it figured out, they’re for starting to figure it out. This doesn’t give you permission to not be a functional and contributing member of society. Figure out how you can contribute to its betterment and DO it. Even if that means volunteering. Just don’t fall into the lie that you need to have the 1950’s American Dream by the time you’re 25.
Thankfully, I figured out fast that I didn’t want to pursue sales. I chose to suffer for my art and I’m happier for it. I went back to working in retail and the possibilities of going through that company with my photography are endless (my store manager just asked me to be more diligent about taking photos for our store’s Instagram). I’m generally poorer than I’ve ever been in my life. Yet I’m fed, clothed, bathed, and housed. At 18 I knew what I wanted to do for the next four years, at 22 I was at a loss, at 23 I figured out what I didn’t want to do for the rest of my life and what I wanted to try for the foreseeable future. At 24 I’m going to be doing it.
They lied to you when they told you it needed to be figured out by 18. Stop believing the lie and start believing that your dreams are capable of supporting you. Here’s an early congrats to the grads.
Just put one foot in front of the other, the rest will work itself out.