Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I worry that I haven`t reached my potential -- and then I worry that I have

posted Sun, 12 Dec 2004

It was 20 years ago today that I finished college by turning in my last paper – on Ulysses, I think it was. I am actually class of ’85, but finished a semester early to save money.

To save about $2,000. That’s all. Tuition was about $4,000 a year at that time. My living expenses were almost nothing, because I was living rent-free in the Weingarten’s garage apartment and eating at the faculty club where I waited tables at lunch.

My life has not turned out as I thought it would – not that I ever had a grand plan. I always envied my friends who knew exactly what they wanted to do. When I was in second grade, I wanted to be a doctor, a pilot, an astronaut, a writer and a comedian. I am not making my living as any of those now.

But when I look back, I don’t see many things I would change. Some things, definitely. Some things (mostly men), I want to slap my younger self and yell, “Stop! Stop right now! This is a BIG mistake!”

But other things – graduate school, Peace Corps – I don’t regret at all. So I wonder where the turning points would have been that would have made my life turn out differently? And should I have chosen them?

I was going to marry my college sweetheart, Bobby. I didn’t. We broke up and he married one of my sophomore year suitemates in 1992, which was well after the statute of limitations had expired on dating a friend’s boyfriend. Or ex-fiancé, even.

I started working on an MA in English at the University of Texas right after I finished my BA at Rice. This was mostly to kill time before Bobby was to graduate in 1986 – he took five years to complete his degrees in physics and electrical engineering. But I dropped out of that program after half a semester when I realized there was almost no writing involved, just some tests and a final. This was graduate school – and there were no papers! I had done four papers a semester per class at least at Rice – shouldn’t I have done at least that in grad school?

I fell into a job with Prudential Health Insurance because they were the only company that made me an offer. I actually chose to quit that job to get an MBA – and chose to join the Peace Corps after grad school.

I took the job with Ryder in Miami after the Peace Corps because again, they were the only ones that made me an offer. I escaped that sweatshop (don’t let anyone ever try to convince you that corporate finance is glamorous) to my current job – because they made me an offer. Little did I realize we were in the middle of a booming economy and I could have gone to work almost anywhere – a woman with an MBA who is fluent in Spanish? Diversity candidate dream. I blew it.

When I read back over this, I realize that I am not someone with a lot of direction. Instead, I have been buffeted about by the waves of chance (on the sea of life, yada yada yada).

Or, more to the point, my career goals have never been conventional. I don’t care about job title or prestige. I want to do interesting, challenging work and of course, I want a decent income, but I have never cared if I become CEO or VP. My job exists to get me the money to do the other things I want to do. If the job itself happens to engage me, that’s just icing on the cake – but I do not define and have never defined myself by my work.

My personal goals haven’t been conventional, either, I guess. Several boyfriends have wanted to marry me, but I’ve never wanted marriage and children enough to marry any of them. Maybe it was them – maybe it was marriage and children – I don’t know. Now that I am 41 and so very used to living alone, I don’t know that I could live with someone else. It would have to be a huge house.

Maybe I’ll have more of a clue in the next 20 years.

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