Monday, December 17, 2007

I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What Was Holding Me Back

First of all, a disclaimer.

I blog to get free stuff.


So, when -- after reading my recent post on how I felt like I had every single possible career trajectory leering in front of me and I didn't know which one to pursue -- a friend gave me a copy of a book with the very title I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was, I was delighted.

And then depressed.

And then still delighted, but a little confused.

The premise behind I Could Do Anything is that people who aren't doing the "anything" that they want to do are stuck where they are because of psychological factors from their past.

For example: a person stuck in a low-level office job who wants to go back to grad school and pursue a career in journalism might be putting off grad school apps because his teacher/father/former girlfriend told him he was stupid, and so he's afraid he's too stupid for grad school and avoids applying.

The book falls victim to the general flaw of "improve your life and finances" books, which is that it states that everyone can achieve their dreams and that no one has to get stuck doing mindless grunt work... and then completely skips over the niggling issue of "but if everyone is following their dream, who's left to do the grunt work?"

Besides that, however, it's fairly provocative and led me to make a significant realization.

As blogged here, there, and everywhere, I grew up in a tiny Midwestern town and attended an underfunded "rural route" school. A school where the high school science teacher taught the food chain, and gave the example "sun, weeds, rat, cow." (When a classmate and I protested that rats don't eat weeds, never mind about the cow, we were told that the individual elements didn't matter; the state tests were only looking for us to understand the "idea" behind a food chain.)

I was bored silly. I sat at a desk all day and didn't have a lot of friends, particularly as I got older and started doing incredibly dorky things like memorizing passages from Shakespeare and writing them down in my notebook instead of copying whatever was on the overhead. (I also wore pink suspenders to class, which probably contributed.)

And there's a chapter in I Could Do Anything specifically for the young job-seeker right about to leave a university program; a chapter which asks "Why are you not applying to all of the fantastic jobs out there? What are you afraid they will be like?"

My mind went "I'm afraid they'll be like the office work I've done thus far. Sitting at a desk all day, doing the same repetitive thing over and over, the only possibility of advancement being moving on to other repetitive things."

Then the book asked "where were you in your life when you first experienced the thing you're afraid of?"

And my mind went "OMGWTF SCHOOL! It's exactly like grade school and high school, and people kept promising that there would be something better for me, and the people in high school said it would come in undergrad, and the people in undergrad said it would come in grad school, and no wonder I'm so afraid of real jobs because all they seem to be are more of this sitting-and-waiting business!"

Then the book tells me to forgive my childhood for not giving the child Blue what she needed. I'm not sure my childhood needs to be "forgiven," because I kind of like the adult Blue, and I know that she was shaped by her childhood.

Most importantly, the book gave me some ideas about where to look for entry-level jobs that weren't all this "sitting-and-waiting business," this office work that does in fact remind me of those long classroom hours of copying notes from the overhead.

But I hate writing about my dreams while they are still so new. So... watch this space, and when things begin to transpire, I'll tell you.

Editor's Note: In case you were curious, free stuff Blue has received via blogging has thus far included grocery money (from this post), an invitation to visit Bangalore (see this post, and then click on the "Bangalore" tag to read the rest), an offer to write travel columns for an Indian magazine (from this post, and yes, she took it up), and a burgeoning social network which has led to dinner invitations, theatre tickets, etc. For which she says, to everyone: THANK YOU.


Coach Khan said...

Actually of all the educational institutions you have passed through, the one that should have been the best was your undergraduate institution. It's the most prestigious but also the one that was most focussed on developing you as a person and stimulating your intellect. I'm sorry that it failed.

You can do it!

Blue said...

I don't think my undergrad institution failed.

I'm not sure it was "focused on developing me as a person." It was more focused on stimulating my intellect and stimulating the intellect of the entire university community. Of course, this varied class-by-class. (Susan and Daniel I think will both concur.)

Where I think the university didn't do as well as it could have was with the idea "what are you going to do after the degree?" Part of that was my own fault. I nailed a mildly prestigious internship right out of undergrad and so I thought it was the next step on an ever-ascending ladder.

When the internship fell through, I found myself in a strange city (having relocated) with no idea what to do next and only outdated knowledge from faculty -- things like "walk into an office and ask to speak to the HR manager!" (Even five years ago all I got from that technique was a string of receptionists telling me to fill out an application form online, like everyone else.)

I think the main thing was that the university did what it advertised it would do. It helped me develop as a critical thinker. Liberal arts education isn't supposed to be about careers.

And yet you have to have some kind of a career at some point. :P

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