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Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost

January 17, 2012

I am writing this in the last hour of my life as a 28-year-old. In 45 minutes, I’ll turn 29 and enter my 30th year of life*. It’s funny how nothing has turned out the way I envisioned when I was younger.

I was perhaps an unimaginative youth. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after secondary school; I just knew I would go to university to study something. I was reasonably certain that while at university, I would meet some dreamy man. We would start living together perhaps a few years after graduating. We’d have jobs, and after a few more years we would get married and start having some babies. I was certain I’d have my first child before I was 30, but other than that, my future was oddly vague for all its specificity.

In my last year of secondary school, I still had no clue what I wanted to study. As a wee one, I wanted to be a cleaning lady. When I was slightly older, I wanted to be a lawyer, doing criminal law things. When I realized that would entail also defending guilty people, I wanted to be a judge. After talking to a judge, I became convinced that law was the last thing I ever wanted to do. I decided to pursue an undergraduate business degree in tourism management, because it was practical (business/management) and because it would allow me to travel. Before I was finished with my first year, it was already starting to become abundantly clear that this degree was not my calling. But I still didn’t know what else I wanted to do and I pretty much define myself by not being a quitter, so I stuck it out. I got to travel to Prague and Thailand. I lived in Australia and did thesis research in England. I found things I loved to do within my program (marketing and branding) and focused on those things. After graduating, I got a job with a management recruitment firm that allowed me to continue travelling (to Cuba, for instance) and which, if anything, taught me I wasn’t cut out for corporate life. After a few months in that job, I made the decision to pursue an English degree. It meant starting from scratch academically, in addition to accruing debt, but I figured it was worth it.

It was the best decision I ever made. It was in my new program that I hit my stride. I made new, lovely friends. I encountered ideas and texts which excited and challenged me. I was given the opportunity to live and study in the United States for a year, where I encountered even more exciting ideas and people, did things I never thought I’d do (like play rugby), discovered ambitions I never knew I had, and started strategically planning a career. I started graduate school, became a teacher, and met challenges I had never foreseen, let alone believed myself to be able to handle. I fought my way through many a tough moment, with the love and support of friends and family giving me many necessary boosts. In the beginning of this new year, I have found myself finishing up my first term of teaching at a new place of employment and presenting my own scholarly work in a non-classroom setting. It’s been frightening and horribly, terribly exciting. I cannot wait to see what else is going to throw itself onto my path.

But I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for the detours I’ve taken, the things I’ve struggled with, the jobs I’ve had and the friends I’ve made and lost. My twenties have been marked by tentativeness, insecurity, inquiry, and doubt, all of which — in retrospect — have proven to be incredibly productive, rather than negative or hazardous. Perhaps I’m not where I’d planned to be, but I truly believe I am where I need to be. I believe that my own path so far has prepared me for one of those things which I so very much want to do with my life: teach. In order to teach, especially in order to teach undergraduates, understanding what your students may be struggling with is of vital importance. Perhaps more than ever, young people are having trouble pinpointing that which they want to achieve in and with their lives. Or rather, perhaps this trouble is made even more problematic than it has been before, because of economic and political situations which no longer allow any kind of doubt or inquiry. With degrees becoming exponentially more expensive and jobs apparently growing ever scarcer, young people may grow anxious or depressed. What is there to look forward to when you know you’re going to be saddled with crippling debt or with the weight of (in hindsight) bad decisions weighing you down, just because you were not afforded the privilege that some people in older generations (like myself) had: that privilege to search and inquire and make a mistake here or there. In the words of Albus Dumbledore, “Perhaps we sort too soon.” Perhaps we expect our young people to know too much about their own minds, persons, and lives at too young an age. Such expectations, which I believe our prevalent in our society, can weigh heavy on a mind.

What I want to accomplish as a teacher is not just teach students how to use a foreign language in the most productive way possible, but I want to be the living, breathing evidence that it’s okay to not know, to question, to wonder, to search. As I watch the clock tick slowly towards midnight, it is that thought which preoccupies me most. I hope that in the last year of my twenties, I can continue on the path I have finally claimed as my own and become both a person and a scholar who constitutes a positive force in the lives of others.

As I took stock of my life and looked towards the future, I was wondering how other clever ladies have reflected on their own teens/twenties/thirties/forties and so on. Are there any choices you wish you hadn’t made? Things you wish you’d done differently? Or do you also value your detours and insecurities?

(Title quote from J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.)

*naturally my birthday will have already passed by the time you read this. Ah, the nature of blogging!

This post was originally featured on Persephone Magazine.

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