I just found this old piece I wrote when I was about to graduate college and thought perhaps others could relate.
“And what do you plan to do with that?”
Do with it? I’ve been too busy getting through college to think of what to do with it.
I probably should have asked myself this question before deciding to
triple major in the most uselessly obscure topics ever (cognitive
neuroscience, modern culture and media, gender and sexuality studies).
But when I was a sophomore filing concentration forms, I didn’t think
of a college major as something you had to do something with. I
thought of my college education as an end in of itself, a reward for
Saturday nights in studying for the SATs, not as a means to an end. I
thought that once I reached that end, I could take a breather for a
second and stop focusing on the next step. Everyone always says to do
what you’re passionate about, so I guess I missed the memo that I was
supposed to be passionate about economically useful things. “I’m
passionate about consulting,” said no one ever.
What am I go to do with my Brown degree? I’m probably going to sit
around in cafes seeking audiences for my theories about Foucauldian
confessions on reality TV and the gendered language of perception in
philosophy of mind. And when people stare at me blankly, I’m going to
ask them if they would like me to unpack that a bit. I’m going to
think about pheromones every time I kiss someone until the day I die.
I’m going to piss off my friends by psychoanalyzing them and piss off
my family by calling them out on their sexism and racism and
Eurocentrism and perhaps some kind of
hereronorma-speciesist, all rolled into one Other-fearing Boogie Man.
And rather than the productive debates this might start at Brown, I’ll
probably get that dreaded response: “You’re reading too deeply into
Let’s rewind. What am I going to do after I graduate? I’m going to
wake up the next day wondering about the giant guinea pigs or exposed
toilet or missing teeth or whatever I happened to dream about. I’m
going to go to some coffee shop and wonder if I should order a chai
latte because I really should keep to my plan not to have caffeine,
but I mean it’s not even coffee, but then again it probably has more
caffeine, but it also has milk and milk is good for your bones and
chai probably has some kind of detoxing powers because I think it
comes from India and I’ve heard they have a very healthy diet in
India, but it’s also probably quite caloric, but I shouldn’t worry
about getting fat because I’m been drinking these lattes forever and I
think I look fine, or do I? I’m actually getting a bit chubby — then
the barista snaps me out of that thought and I have no time to think
so I order the latte.
We haven’t even gotten to 9 a.m. I haven’t even gone through the
stress of deciding what to put on my bagel. And then I’ll have to
decide what to do for the rest of the day. Maybe I should go to yoga,
because yoga is good for you, but then again I straightened my hair
yesterday and if I get sweaty I’ll have to wash it and that would be a
waste of a head of straightened hair. But then there’s that cute guy
who sometimes comes to yoga and what if he’s my soulmate and I don’t
even know it, and what if this is the day we could meet and perhaps
fall in love? Am I giving up my future husband over hair? This thought
tires me out and then I don’t feel like doing anything at all.
So I go on Facebook and, via my newsfeed, end up on political blogs
lamenting the state of our country and world. If only people would
just GET it, if only people would realize they’re disseminating the
very logics they seek to dismantle, and then I think about the
objectification of women and watch in horror as my body turns to meat
before my eyes and I want to escape it and then I think about meat and
those poor little cows who had families once. Once, a guy I was dating
brought groceries to my house and made me veal chili, and I really try
to avoid meat but it was so sweet of him so I ate it, and he asked me
what veal even was, and I had to look him in the eye and inform him
that those cows didn’t even get a childhood; then again, with the
conditions on most farms, they wouldn’t want one. The peppers were so
spicy that after he chopped them his hand stung for the rest of the
night. He used a huge stuffed dog as a pillow and told me not to touch
the dog without washing it because he touched it and the pepper was so
potent, but I snuggled with it the next day because it smelled like
And now I’m lost in thought and should go back to what I’m doing, and
yoga’s supposed to help with focus, but I also need to pick up a
prescription and wash my gerbils’ cage and email a bunch of employers
about jobs I’m pretending to be interested in. And then I’m wanting to
return to the giant guinea pigs or exposed toilet or missing teeth or
whatever it was I dreamt about.
When I got a fairly menial summer job, the first words out of my mom’s
mouth were, “well that doesn’t relate to anything you want to do.” No,
duh, it doesn’t relate to my future plans because my future plans are
nonexistent. Besides, I thought I was supposed to be economically
independent, and no prestigious company has any motivation to put me
in a high-paying (or, for that matter, paying) position. So I can be
like Hannah on Girls and mooch off my parents until some hypothetical
endpoint in which my unpaid internship turns into a job, or I can be
like Marney and get paid to look pretty while old men try to grope me.
That’s the great thing about America: choices.
Speaking of internships, apparently you’re behind in the job market if
you haven’t paid your dues by providing free labor. As with
cultivating a passion for consulting, I missed the memo on this. It’s
not like I was lounging around at home during the summer. First, I
worked at a summer program for high schoolers (not a path to
anything). Then, I went abroad to study cognitive neuroscience (a path
to either medicine or research, which both terrify the crap out of
me). And then I was an editorial assistant (a path paved with unpaid
internships and leading to a dying industry).
This can’t be just me. It’s not. I’m part of a whole generation that
was told we could follow our dreams and accomplish whatever we put our
minds to. So, we developed a sense of entitlement to everything we
“put our minds to,” and now we are undergoing the shock of doing
everything right and still not seeing results. I grew up thinking that
“writer” was a job — that you could literally sit down and start
writing books and that would be your whole career. But that was around
the time my dad asked me to guess how much money our house cost and I
ventured, “a hundred dollars?” Once I developed a concept of money, I
was set straight on how much it costs to live, how much it pays to be
a writer, and the discrepancy between the two.
I often complain about this to Jagdish, the old man who works at a shop
around campus where I stop by for tea and advice. He tells me I am
“overflowing with potential” and need to believe in myself. This makes me
more bitter: it is advice like this that has made me blindsided about the world
I’m about to enter. I am officially more cynical than an old man.
When he tells me not to give up on being a writer, I ask him how I
could possibly eat on that sort of pay. “If you can’t, then I’ll feed
you,” he says.
This is the first time in a while I feel lucky. Maybe, I think, it’s
not as important what I do with my degree as what I know, and whom I
know, because of it. Maybe what we’ll do with our Brown degrees is
inspire others by sharing bits of the people we’ve met here. If we
can’t have success, we just might be the generation to redefine it.
And meanwhile, we’ll continue finding ways to acquire free food.