Guest Post: So Many Dreams, Too Few Realities

10 Jun

I asked Leslie, a good friend and former roommate, to write about her volunteer experiences in Israel.  She said, “THIS is what happens when you tell me to write something for your blog. I can’t fall asleep, because thoughts are chasing themselves around my brain, and then at 1 AM I get inspired and stay up writing until 2:30AM and now I am tired and sending you a three page blog post which is pretty much (I think) illegal in the world of bloggers. So there.”

You can read more about her travels here.

My soul crushing, thought paralyzing, niggling little worry is that I will choose the wrong path in life. I’m suffering from a crisis of choice. No, really, they’ve done official studies and stuff.  Basically, too many choices make Jane Average stressed, unhappy, and a bad choice maker.  Anyone else see the vicious cycle poised to eat us like a raging wildebeest?

In the good ole days, Mr. and Mrs. Midwest inherited their father’s farm, or Young Shopkeep took over the family business. One, or two, or maybe three career choices were open to yon liberal artist. Assuming one of these choices was a good one, you had, at worst, a one in three shot at happiness in life. Between globalization and modernization, we’ve got a whole world of careers open to us, with new ones being developed every day. My grandfather sat down and made a list (a list!) of possible careers and then crossed out everything that he would hate; the last career standing won and he became a pharmacist. Badda-bing badda-boom, you’ve canned yourself some job fulfillment. But can you imagine listing all the available career paths today? Just what sort of dissertation would that endeavor turn into? In my twisted, paralyzing logic, I now have, say, a ten in a ZILLION chance at happiness. Which is depressing. If there is a parallel word created by every decision we make, where the other us makes the other decision, than presumably one version of us is wildly, happily living the dream. But that’s cold consolation if the here and now sucks the big one.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Spoilers, spoilers. Like a good little storyteller, I should start back at the beginning.

Life in Mongolia

My first life changing experience happened when I went traveling in Mongolia after I graduated high school. It was all roses and Hallmark cards. I left being able to say, “that one time in Mongolia,” which is cool.  I also left convinced that I was joining the Peace Corps the instant I had a college diploma in hand.

This proved trickier than I anticipated. I graduated in February, proudly presented a beribboned replica walking stick and only given the faint promise of a May diploma arriving in the mail. I did have a liberal arts degree, studying film and physics (because you can do that as a liberal artist). I also had three film internships shinning like golden beacons on my resume. I had begun networking, having decided (such a wonderfully solid life-raft of a word—decided) that I wanted to be an assistant editor, or at worst, a postproduction assistant at some film, television or advertising firm in New York, Boston or Los Angeles. But I had conveniently forgotten the tiny, pinprick of a hole in my particular life raft: I hated nearly every day of each of those three shiny internships. Somewhere between the wonders of editing my own stuff in the basement of my college’s crumbling film building and the bustle of an actual workhorse of the industry something got lost. I got a bit lost.

Around this deluded networking period, I got rejected from the Peace Corps. Apparently the economic downturn generated a record number of applicants and third world countries would rather have English teachers than house builders. My cocky-I’m-a-shoe-in ego stumbled down a few rungs on the ladder as I scrambled for new post-graduate plans. In one of those random happenstances, my mom read in some Jewish magazine or other about this program, Tikkun Olam—did I want to look into living in Israel for five months?

Rebound me said “Yes! This is my wonderful new Life Decision!” I sent letters; I got recommendations; I wrote essays the way every desperate nearly-college-graduate finds that only they can. And after an awkward phone interview I got the good news: I was in!

Pause for a moment. I am not a religious Jew. I did the Bat Mitzvah thing, so at one point I could read Hebrew, but I am not what you would call a gifted linguist. In fact, I matriculated to Middlebury College in large part because there I could avoid taking a language entirely. And I have just committed myself to five months of intensive volunteering and language study in a country I have never visited which is governed by the principles of religion about which I am deeply conflicted. There’s my life raft again, deflating before my very eyes.

I land in Israel. In a haze of ambien-induced sleep, I overcome the jetlag. I meet my twelve housemates, pick four volunteering positions and take six hours of Ulpan (Hebrew Study) a day for the first month. I take a lot pictures, have shouting matches in a bastardized mix of the three dominant languages (English, Hebrew and Arabic), teach basketball (which I haven’t played since high school), momentarily despair of peaceful coexistence, shave my head (unrelated to coexistence), give the look to kindergarteners who throw wooden blocks at my back, hold an illegal immigrant’s toddler while she cries, and sheepishly join the ranks of the bloggers. Once again, life is all roses and Hallmark cards, idealism and positive action. And I love it.

"Peace Players" basketball tournament

Around this everything-coming-up-daisies period, I have an epiphany. I realize that I don’t want to be an assistant editor or a postproduction assistant because those jobs would SUCK. And they would suck for a few years before I was promoted, which is a LOT of suckage. Because if I can be happy (for a Jew, this is really saying something) in a life of volunteering, which I don’t mind, and language study, which college-me hated so much she would rather munch on glass shards, then what else could I be happy doing that I’d previously written off my metaphorical dissertation of a list? I decided that Decisions (with a capital “D”) were silly, and I had a world full of possibility awaiting me once I touched down at JFK. All I had to do was find ONE thing that would make me happy. How hard could that be?

Flash forward a month from this revelation, and you’re back at the beginning of this post. Diagnosis: plethora inducing paralysis. Symptoms: long, stressful periods of meditative rumination and long, whiney skype chats complaining to anyone who will listen.

Luckily, one of my skype buddies had her head on straight (wink, wink, future guest poster Diana) and snapped me out of my completely mental funk. The world of possibility is largely in my head. If I stop thinking about the many careers that exist (not to mention those careers that will be born tomorrow) and start thinking about actual job descriptions for entry level positions, I’ll be able to ferret out that golden apple in those zillion bushels of choices. Maybe I can’t pin down exactly what lights my soul afire in the floaty metaphysical world of words, but I should be able to find a job listing that holds, for me, the promise of happiness.

Some kids at the unrecognized kindergarten for illegal migrant workers' families where I volunteer.

Does this story have a moral? It should. When Sarah asked me to write something for her blog, she wanted (and I quote) “a post on your experiences, a la ‘I took time off to volunteer and discover who I am.’” Well, her ‘post‘ has rapidly turned into my monologue-cum-essay with no ready moral. So for Sarah, and for clarity’s sake, here are some morals you liberal artists can take from my story:

Decisions are dangerous and silly if they’re not flexible. Don’t get stuck in something yucky just cause you’re holding to your guns.

Trust in the journey. The process is worthwhile, even if some people give you that look when you say you’re still figuring things out.

Alternatively, planning is for wusses.  Place your trust in the mysterious tentically sea gods of fate. Something (possibly incredible) will work out in the end.

Skype is wonderful. Not only can I have my psychoses sorted out by a buddy across the planet for zero dollars, my Jewish grandmother can tell me to my face that she can’t talk now because she’s reading my blog.

Write a blog. It’s like a public diary, which makes it like a Facebook Status Update or a Twitter, but way classier. And you can brag about things like Hits and Comments to people who don’t care.

Don’t limit yourself because you think you know what you like. You are stupid, and have no idea how limitless you can be. Which is scary. But as the Hallmark card might say, “You’re worth every minute of the struggle.” Because if you power through, you might just end up somewhere amazing.

UPDATE: Leslie is now writing for  Check back often for more of her eloquent insights! – Sarah


5 Responses to “Guest Post: So Many Dreams, Too Few Realities”

  1. Jackie Attwood-Dupont June 11, 2010 at 8:57 am #

    Very nice Les. I don’t think it’s too long but I have been known to write about how Monet is like food on my own “food blog” so you probably shouldn’t trust me!

    Sarah: props for a very excellent idea! This is a nice-looking and probably very helpful site.

    And Leslie is right, it’s nice to brag about comments, ratings and pings, and to have a public diary! So go for it.


  2. Sarah June 21, 2010 at 1:05 pm #

    Haha, thanks Jackie! It was actually totally Ryan’s idea. When he asked me if I wanted to contribute, I warned him that he may regret it. Apparently unemployment is SRS BSNS, whereas I prefer to post pictures of bears on trampolines. So like, yeah.

    Also, Leslie, Emily Dickinson once said, “Dwell in possibility,” which makes you think that it would be okay to contemplate the wonders of all probable career paths. But Emily Dickinson was also a pasty agoraphobic shut-in obsessed with death. See what dwelling does to you?


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