“I think life requires us to be a little daring, a little adventurous. Really living means escaping what is comfortable and familiar and finding joy in people and places far beyond where our imagination could have taken us. Test the status quo, be the adversity to old ways of thinking, don’t accept that those who don’t believe in us have any power over us. We must learn to be ourselves without apology.”
I have started this entry a dozen different ways and each one seemed more and more detached from what I was really feeling inside. I felt obligated to tell you how much I love St. Louis and my network there. I tried describing just how impressed I was with my classmates (some of whom turned down full-rides to Harvard to be there.) I tried describing how in-awe I was as I stood at the bottom of the steps leading up to Brookings Hall. But the funny thing about having a new audience for your writing is that your voice suddenly changes and becomes uncomfortably unfamiliar. It’s a result of this knee-jerk reaction to satisfy a thousand other hungry readers rather than your own intrinsic need to just write for the hell of it.
That’s kind of how I started feeling in the middle of dinner Saturday night.
Saturday, March 31st. Missouri History Museum in Forest Park. 8:00pm:
I was lost in a sea of white, candlelit tables and completely blanketed in the murmurs of slightly intoxicated small-talk. The university had rented out the Missouri History Museum to throw a celebratory dinner reception for the new admits. Someone was speaking at the podium but I was hardly paying attention. Just prior to the dinner (and unbeknownst to the planning committee) the museum erected a 20-foot tall woolly mammoth in the middle of the room. Naturally – because I had to watch the speaker between the legs of this beast – I got distracted.
I wanted so badly to see myself in the faces that surrounded me. I wanted to feel what they were feeling and have the desire to play to their game. But there is a huge part of me that worried I would stand up in the middle of the speech, walk outside, down the marble steps into the darkness of Forest Park and just never look back.
The scariest thing about joining the ranks of these incredibly accomplished people is that my idea of accomplishment is abnormally estranged from what society sees it as. Yes, I want a good career, a husband, kids and a nice house. But I wouldn’t doubt for a second that I’d also be the kind of person to come home from work one day, pack up the family and wake up jobless on a beach in the Maldives the next.
I must have shaken a hundred hands over the weekend and they all asked the same question: “What do you want to do?” They all expected the same answer, too. No one expects me to say what my truth really is. And that is that I just want to live. Why should my answer be the description of a job? I don’t necessarily ever want my job to define me. I will never be a mother, never a wife, never a homemaker, never a businesswoman. I will be all of those things but I am not married to the idea of being defined by any of them.
This seems taboo to a lot of people. The idea of having an insatiable itch to explore the universe is entirely too large to comprehend and so I am often left saying exactly what I think my audience wants to hear.
I am certain that my biggest struggle in grad school will have nothing to do with the work. It will be the struggle with accepting that I don’t want to come out of this the same way everyone else does. This isn’t my conveyor belt to the conventional life. I sometimes question whether or not an MBA can be anything BUT that.
This isn’t to say that I doubt the vast open-mindedness of these students. After all, they are far more traveled, educated and experienced than I am. But I can’t help feel as though they’re all on a train which will eventually stop at a final destination where they will have one solitary, well-defined purpose and my train will be left do-looping the universe while I make periodic, mildly poignant realizations about life.
Or maybe that in itself is my purpose?
Sitting in a museum staring at the face of a wooly mammoth certainly isn’t the opportune moment in life to decide what your purpose is.
So I came to the conclusion that I didn’t need to know yet. I am right where I need to be and if, for any reason I feel like I don’t need to be in this spot anymore, I’ll change direction.
Ten years ago I thought I’d be married with kids by now but I’m not. And I most certainly am not in the right mindset to even want to be. So, why should I continue to plan out life in structured increments? Why should I value it by material possessions or societal milestones? Does a high-power job make one person’s life any more accomplished or fulfilling than another’s? And why does it need to be defined by any of those things?
I spent too much time trying to make my story marketable or emotionally accessible to the general public. I spent too much time feeling constricted by societal norms. But my MBA doesn’t have to be the same tool for me that it is for others. Can’t I make whatever I want of it? And can’t that be true for how we invent ourselves as well?
I am myself. I am jobless. I am a traveler. I have no less than ten boarding passes to take me around the world this summer. I have love. I have faith. And I have a letter from Washington University in St. Louis that says I will have a coveted spot in their classrooms come August.
That is what I am and that is all I know.
Suddenly the hush broke and loud chatter washed over the room again. I was swallowed up in conversation almost immediately. The speaker announced that the after-party would be at Mandarin Lounge in the Central West End. It is a trendy rooftop bar that happens to be owned by my cousin. It was a great night but by the end of it I was ready for my quiet hotel room where there were no expectations, no half-truths and absolutely no societal obligations.
I sat in my bed and watched the cursor blink on my computer screen. I didn’t have a good story. I just had the truth.
And I’m ok with that.
We don’t owe anything to our audiences other than the truth. The only purpose, the only responsibility I have is to continue exploring myself and the world around me to find out what exactly my truth might be.
Perhaps I will not simply be a businesswoman or a mother or a wife or an MBA.
Maybe I am (and forever will be) just a student of this great, big universe around me.