Follow your dreams
“Follow your dreams, you can reach your goals. Beefcake. BEEFCAKE!” ~ Eric Cartman
After I graduated college I spent six months in Israel living on a kibbutz, cleaning animal cages in the petting zoo, learning Hebrew, and “finding myself.” What I found was that I was exactly the person I was before I left. Only I was unable to truly appreciate what that meant until I had left my life behind.
As was the lesson timelessly told by Paulo Coehlo in The Alchemist, sometimes you have to leave home to discover that what you’re looking for was always in your own backyard.
Some lessons in life have to be learned more than once. And sometimes they only stick when learned the hard way.
When I was twenty-one years old I had a BA in Literature: Creative Writing from UC Santa Cruz. I found myself thinking like a Muppet from the Broadway musical Avenue Q: “What do you do with a BA in English?” The answer, of course, was more school, then teach.
Yes. At 21 years old I wanted to become a professor of literature and creative writing at a university. So why is it that I am going to be somewhere between 32 and 38 by the time I finally realize that goal?
Because some lessons in life have to be learned more than once. And sometimes they only stick when learned the hard way.
When I was 21 and about to apply to graduate schools to earn my MFA in Creative Writing I became side-tracked. An older, presumably wiser, family member who cared about my well-being and success in life above all else convinced me that going to law school was a better choice than going to grad school for my MFA.
His argument seemed solid. A JD would open more doors. To become a literature professor I would have to work my way up living in places like Colorado or Omaha. But if I had a JD I would be more of an asset to universities. I could teach their pre-law and political science classes in addition to creative writing, and in that way I would be able to realize my dream without having to leave my beloved San Francisco Bay Area to do it.
He didn’t expect me to practice law. But if I did, I would have permanent job security. People would always need lawyers. And then there would be the financial security – who earns more than attorneys?
Eight years later I can see the flaws in his argument. Who would hire a creative writing professor who held a JD but no MFA or PhD? Would it really be that bad to live in another part of the country if I were doing so to realize my dream? And security, well, you can toss that concept out the window in today’s economy. When I was employed as a lawyer I never earned a ridiculously high salary, and when the economy tanked I was laid off along with everyone else. And of course no one ever told me about the $130,000 in student loan debt I would incur to earn this coveted JD. I can see it clearly now as far more of a liability than an asset.
So I took a little detour. I turned my back on my path in order to find my professional self. And at the end of the day what I found was that I am the same person I was at age 21. I still have the same dream of becoming a university professor.
I had to dedicate eight years to the study and practice of law in order to find out that was I was looking for had been in my own backyard all along.
So here I am. Turning 30 this year. Unemployed with a JD and license to practice law, studying for the GRE and preparing my applications to graduate school.
At this point in my life I can’t afford to incur any more student loan debt to return to school. So I am only applying to the graduate schools that fully fund their creative writing students. Which means I will be relocating to someplace like Michigan, Minnesota, Texas, Iowa, or Ohio.
When I was twenty-one I would have abhorred this prospect. Now I absolutely revel in it. I get to realize my dream!
I don’t care if I took an eight year detour. I now know unequivocally in a way I never could have appreciated straight out of undergrad that this is what I want to do with my life. I am no longer going to become a professor because I am asking the question, “What do you do with a BA in English?” I am becoming a professor because it is what I dreamed of for the past eight years while I was doing something else. Because when I think about spending two-to-eight years studying literature I am all and only excitement. Because if I won the lottery tomorrow and never had to work another day, this is exactly what I would be doing with my life.