Saturday, December 16, 2006

You've Got Options

There’s this sign on campus that gets stuck in my head every time I see it. It reads: “Parking: you’ve got options.” Then goes on to list some “options” as: carpooling, biking, taking the bus, etc. I think the sign should read: “Parking: you’ve got alternatives.” As far as I’m concerned, biking to school is not a parking option. Something about the improper verbiage etches that phrase in my mind until it’s like a mantra. “Parking: you’ve got options.” Over and over.

As Mrs. Figby at Letters from the Zoo talked about opening up her options relating to a major move, discussing the stress of limiting her choices so severely that the stress threatened to take over, I was surprised at the way I related to her words. Sometimes college feels too much like backing into a corner. Less like exploring my options, and more like limiting them. Every class I take, every decision I make, is another step further from all the other choices I once had. There are times when the world seems determined to push me into existential crisis mode. Here’s a tip, never ask college students why they chose a particular major. It may seem innocent enough, but seven times out of ten, they’re asking themselves the same question. I am often asked this question, usually incredulously, as I’m displaying some interest outside of my major. The families I baby-sit for ponder why I didn’t choose child development. Former teachers opine that I was such a strong writer. Friends see art on my walls and wonder at the fact that I chose business instead. Oh, I can answer the question. “Well, the world is becoming increasingly global…blah, blah…I want to keep my options open…blah…it’s such a broad field…blah, blah, blah.” Here’s what I’m really thinking: “I would have gone to art school, but thirty grand a year for a career that may not pay off that amount of debt in a lifetime? Sorry, no. Maybe I would like to write, but really, how many people get published? Besides, I can still pursue that without a $100,000 English degree. Please, don’t make me keep defending this; the words come more slowly every time.”

And I find myself wishing that my mom was there with the perfect response, the one she always shields me with: “She is just good at so many things. She’ll do well on whatever path she takes.” I’ve never told her that I cling to those words, that absolute faith that I will do well no matter where I end up. More than that, her words aren’t limiting. They don’t reinforce a specific path, they reinforce who I am.

I was in that trapped place again this week, staring down the barrel of a take home accounting final, wondering what my life had come to. I’m adding and subtracting. I’m filling in bubbles. I’m back in high school, no, middle school. I read Mrs. Figby’s words and felt a pang. I wanted options. Then I remembered. I am a college student. I am a college student with three more years of parent sponsored education. I am reasonably intelligent. I am a generally hard worker. I am interested in any number of topics. Heck, I’m single, and that freedom factor has to count for something. I have loads of options. It gave me a bit of a thrill to pore over transcripts and classes, opening up possibilities. Not one to float freely wherever life takes me, I now have A Plan. But it is a plan tempered by the realization that my plans are likely to be as ever-changing and complicated as I am. It seems utterly silly to hold myself unswerving to the plans I made three years ago, or one year ago, or a month ago. I do not stay the same, and these roughly hewn patterns for a life I’m still piecing together should not either.

My dad has this paperweight on his desk, a gift from a lifelong friend. The flat rock simply reads: “nothing.” Get it? “Nothing” etched in stone. I think I need that paperweight. Or maybe one that says, “Life: you’ve got options.”