If you had asked me what I would write my narrative about at the beginning of this week, I
probably would have said something like the year I spent living in Mexico. Or maybe I would
have written about the faith journey I’ve had throughout my time at Smith. But I never
would have said that I would write about my family. This workshop is supposed to be about figuring
out my future and my family isn’t my future; they’re my past.
But if my family is just my past, why have I found myself writing about them again and again
in this workshop about life after graduation? I’ve been writing about my family taking
in foster kids throughout my childhood, often extending our family to eight people. I’ve
been writing about adopting my little brother. I’ve been writing about my dad’s
struggle with bi-polar disorder. I’ve been writing about our big cross-country move when
we piled everything we owned, including two cats and three guinea pigs, into a budget rental
truck and an ’82 Toyota van and drove from Vista, California to East Hartford, Connecticut
the summer before I started high school. These are all events that have had a profound impact
on who I am, but they are stories that I don’t often tell, because they’re complicated.
When I left home for Smith, the stories became even easier to not tell. No one knew anything
about me or my family, so I was free to be whoever I wanted. People would believe I was whoever
I said I was. I never lied outright, but I kept quiet about a lot of my past, or told simplified
versions of things.
After years of selectively sharing my past, it has been startling to me that it has come up
so much this week, a week I intended to spend figuring out what the next step in my life is.
What does any of this have to do with my future? Why am I thinking about it so much right now?
The truth is, I don’t know. I am an avid journaler and pride myself in self-analysis,
but even I can’t seem to puzzle this one out. I want to neatly tie it all together. I
want my narrative to be a few paragraphs about my past, a few paragraphs about the identity
I have created at Smith, and then a conclusion about how they fit together and what it means
for my future. But the connection between my past and my future just isn’t so black and
Maybe the connection is guilt. I feel bad because after all my parents have sacrificed for
me, my worst nightmare is moving back in with them after graduation.
I felt so happy living in Mexico and I want to go away again to experience something new.
I feel hungry for travel and the excitement that comes with navigating a new place. But at
the same time, my brother is eleven and I can see the disappointment in his face every time
I head back to school after one of my short trips home. I miss going to his band concerts and
hearing his stories about what he did at school And guilt isn’t quite the right word,
either. It’s that I love my family and I just wonder what I could be missing out on by
moving somewhere far away.
But then again, I don’t think it’s just a little twinge of guilt that is making
me think so much about my family at this point in my life. I think it is something deeper than
that. I think it is part of a bigger question about what it means to be an individual. I never
thought that that was something that I struggled with. My parents aren’t overbearing
or controlling, so I’ve never felt a lot of pressure from them to make a decision one
way or another. they’ve always come around to support me in whatever I do. I’ve
believed myself to be a completely separate entity from my family. I thought the unique identity
I had formed for myself at Smith was further proof of my individualism. But now, as I reflect,
I’m not so sure that I am as free from the question of where my family ends and where
I begin as I thought I was. Does my past make me who I am, or is it the choices I’ve
made and experiences I’ve had, or some combination of them both?
So those are my half formed musings about my family. While writing the narrative about to
this point, I’ve felt a little resentful because my family was taking up so much of my
brain when all I’ve really want to write about is my dreams for the future. But I’ve
decided that I don’t need to feel torn and agonize about whether I should write about
what I really need to write about (my family) and what I want to write about (me as an individual),
I can have my cake and eat it too. If I don’t know how to make my past narrative fit
with my future narrative, that’s ok. I don’t have to choose one or the other, I
can write them both. So here goes part two.
In my intro to anthropology class as a first year, we watched documentaries and read ethnographies
about cultures all over the world that were struggling with war, poverty and discrimination.
It was pretty intense and every day after class my friend and I would have to decompress by
walking home together and mulling over the atrocities we had discussed in class. We often wondered
if we could ever make a difference. We concluded that we would have to have careers that worked
for social justice, because there were so many things wrong with the world that the only way
to make any kind of dent would be to devote ourselves completely. Studying in Mexico for a
year fueled my desire to do something productive, something that would have a positive impact
on people’s lives. It also instilled a strong desire to travel and live in new places.
This sort of dreaming was so easy to do while I was in Mexico; something about living in a
new and exciting place allowed me to imagine equally exciting post-graduation possibilities.
But coming back to Smith senior year brought back the old doubts about whether I could or
should embark on new adventure after graduation. I had played around with the idea of doing
a service program like the Peace Corps or the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, but coming back to Smith
made we wonder if I choose something a bit more “career oriented.” Everyone around
me seemed to be doing something practical. It feels like everyone I know already has an investment
banking job lined up, or at least a couple of interviews. Those that don’t at least have
a list of all the possible publishers and advertising agencies where they’d like to submit
their resumes. When I mentioned to members of my family that I was interested in doing a year
or two of service after graduation, the raised their eyebrows and asked if I ever planned on
getting a job in the real world. This has all got me thinking that maybe I should drop my women’s
studies class and take statistics instead, or that I should be looking for a job where I can
start putting away for retirement now, not barely squeaking by on a stipend from a service
program. This would be success.
I’ve been thinking that my ideas about traveling and doing something good are too idealistic.
But when did “idealistic” become such a dirty word? I am idealistic and That’s
what gets me excited about life after Smith. It’s not something I need to apologize about.
When I tell people I want to do a service program next year, I hear myself justifying it by
saying that it will be good way to use my Spanish again and that it would give me good work
experience. Both of these are true, but they’re not the main reason. The reason is that,
after twenty-two years of taking, I want to give. I want to make a difference and I don’t
have to preface that statement by saying, “I know it’s really idealistic but…” I’m
tired of feeling shy about what brings me joy. If I start settling for less that what makes
happy now, what kind of future will I have? I don’t know my ultimate career goal right
now, so I don’t know what the best path is to follow, but I know what I want to do next
year, so I’m taking the risk, accepting the consequences and seeing where I go from there.
Being true to who I am and living without regrets is what I consider success.