When I Grow Up.

When we were in high school, we were defined by which group you sat with at lunch. Were you popular? A nerd? Did you hang out with the drama kids? Most of us hated being labeled this way, but there was no point in trying to be someone else. Doing so would just cause you to be labeled as “non-conformist,” which was much worse than just being called a jock.

In college, our identity is often linked to our major or what activities we were involved in. These things were much easier to control, and I know that I’m not the only one that was exponentially happier in college than in high school.

But then we graduate. We’re flung into the real world, and all of the sudden we have to come face to face with who we really are. There’s no more hiding behind your friends, or using professors and mentors on your college campus to tell you what to do. You’re the one to choose what you want to do and who you want to be, for at least a little while. This is terrifying.

Once we are thrust into the real world, our identities are often dependent on our careers. Once  we take off that cap and gown, we are left with no help. Our parents are too old to understand where we are coming from. Our friends all {seem to} have it together. Our professors have moved on to help the next batch of protégés. We are completely and utterly, alone.

This may be a morbid view of life after college, but it’s how I feel most of the time. I graduated when I was twenty-two years old. How in hell was I supposed to know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life at twenty-two years old? I thought I had it all figured out too. But what they don’t tell you is how much you’ve changed since you walked onto the college campus as a freshman and declared the subject that you wanted to dedicate your education to.

I took my first Art History class my junior year of high school. As soon as I opened the textbook, I knew this was going to be something I enjoyed. And I did. I couldn’t make art worth a damn, but I could appreciate the art that others made. I poured over every detail, memorizing the characteristics of time periods and artistic styles, and analyzing each piece until both the artist and his work were completely dissected. I knew that I wanted to dedicate my life to art.

But then I got realistic. I knew that there were few available careers for the aspiring curator or appraiser. Beyond that, however, I realized that I didn’t want to commit my life to the work of someone else.

As a senior in high school, I took my first Sociology class. I was just as enamored with this basic course as I was with Art History. It was fascinating to me, seeing how people interacted with one another. And once I realized that this was a viable major in college, I signed up immediately. The classes were exciting and interesting: Sexuality and Society, Medical Sociology, Deviance in Society.

But all good things come to an end. I knew that while some of my classmates could make a career out of this subject, I didn’t want to be a scholar for the rest of my life.

And so I chose Political Science. The best teacher I had in high school was my AP Government teacher, and he made the subject so interesting. He taught you to appreciate the system and to understand why it was important. When I got to college, I took an Intro to Legal Studies class to help fulfill a requirement for my major. Once again, I knew that I had found what I wanted to do.

This time, however, the effort to actually commit myself to the subject was much more intense than any previous attempt. I took every class available: Jurisprudence, Constitutional Law, Law and Society, Criminal and Procedural Law. I drank it up, proud of myself that not only was the subject interesting, but I was good at it. I had the analytical mind that you need to study law; the one that requires logic, but still needs space to think abstractly. I wrote well and argued even better.

I was convinced that I was going to go to law school. I took the LSAT {twice}, and did well; well enough to get me into a decent school with a good scholarship. But life likes to throw you curveballs.

My husband is the smartest person I know. He is the very first person in his family to actually graduate from high school. And then college. And somehow {not surprisingly} he got into a PhD program at only twenty-one years old.

He applied to almost a dozen schools, where the number of applications is twenty times the number of students they accept {think 300 applications for 15 spots}. He got interviews at two schools, and ultimately was accepted {with a sizeable fellowship} to UC Santa Barbara, seventy miles from the nearest prospective law school.

Some people still don’t understand my decision to not go to law school. They say that I gave up my dreams so that my husband could attain his, but this isn’t how I see it.

You don’t necessarily start to think about all of the technicalities of life until you are actually faced with them. That means it wasn’t until my husband and I got engaged that I really started to think about the consequences of going to law school. One of my professors told me that everyone he knew his first year of law school broke up with their significant other. It wasn’t necessarily that I believed him, but that I didn’t want to have to go through the stress that caused people to break up.

And I want kids. I want to be there for them when they grow up. I want to be able to stay home with them when they are little, and to be able to make them dinner every night. That’s not how it works when you’re an attorney.

So now, I’m stuck. I’ve found another subject that I love, one in which a degree doesn’t require giving up my entire life. I take my first class in two weeks, and I’m very excited. Except for the fact that I still don’t know what I want to do.

Getting this degree would allow me to teach, and I think I want to teach. I also want to write, though I know it’s not a very realistic career plan.

This morning on my way to work, however, I had an epiphany. I realized that my career doesn’t need to define who I am. While it may have been awesome to have all sorts of degrees and titles behind my name, they don’t matter if I’m not happy. And I don’t need to have it figured all out now. I am the queen of planning and visualizing what I want in life, but I’ve had so many plans that they mean nothing now.

So instead, this is who I want to be:

I want to be a wife and mother first, beyond anything else.

I want to be a writer, whether that means writing a book or blogging or getting paid to write freelance articles for an unknown magazine. I just want to write.

I want to be known for my integrity. My passion. My sense of self. My dedication. These things are more important than any degree I might get someday.

So that’s it. That’s my novel for today; my epiphany and my new outlook on where my life might go next. Thanks for reading.



Kaitlyn Thatcher said...

Joelle I love this post!! It describes so accurately what us 20-somethings go through. I feel you on everything you said. The idea of graduating and having no one there to tell you what to do is terrifying! Thank you for articulating so well what I've also been feeling lately.

Beka said...

this....is a pretty awesome post:)

Megan said...

I SO wish I had that epiphany before I decided to get my post grad degree in cognitive neuroscience and neuroimaging..

A degree I will probably use for eh, a year and then will be a stay at home mommy...because that is what is important to me..kids..family..a healthy home.


Megan said...


My mom got her BA from CAL Lutheran in political science.. I kid you not.

I was born and raised in the valley..gasp..it is true..I am a valley girl (Agoura Hills to be exact)

The hubby and I lived in Irvine before we moved to England.

Joelle said...

Oh my it really is a small world! That's crazy that you grew up in Agoura and your mom went to CLU...and that you lived in Irvine. I worked in Irvine when I was still living in OC! Haha wow...

Sarah said...

Well said. You are an excellent writer!

Duff said...

I think I really love you sometimes.

andrea said...

Joelle, this was fantastic and so timely (for me, I mean). I've recently hit that one year mark, as in one year ago I graduated and found myself stuck out in the real world with absolutely no idea what was going to become of me. And the things you wrote are so true: there's no one alongside to tell you want to do, everyone else (seems) to have it all together, etc. I don't think that's a morbid view of life after college...I think it's realistic and, if nothing else, I can't tell you the incredible feeling of relief I got knowing that someone else out there feels or has felt the same way.

So, thanks. I needed that. :)

And good luck starting your class!

Adrian said...

I'm quite impressed with your high school's class offerings! I wish my high school had had the funds to offer more than US and world history, or biology and chemistry for sciences. I would have loved sociology haha

I am also impressed with the resolution to support your husband's dreams first, which allowed you to realize your career doesn't have to define you. Sometimes, things just have a way of working themselves out if we let them.