The last few weeks I’ve been forced to really stop and ponder what I’m doing with my life. Why I’m living where I’m living, why I’m studying what I’m studying, how I’m taking care of my finances, what kind of job I’d like to have later and how I’m ever going to make ends meet when graduate school is over… It has been a crappy, crappy time in that sense. This unwelcome self-assessment and feelings of inadequacy and fear which I would usually simply drink away (sorry mom and dad) was brought on by outside forces questioning my decisions over most of my adult life and some of my future ones too.
At first, I saw myself sinking into an existential depression. Then I thought about how in spite of all these doubts which of course I fucking have – so fuck you assholes who have been forcing me to answer questions I don’t really have answers to yet – I didn’t exactly arrive at this moment by mistake. I chose my choices. Sure, some of the life choices I made were stupid and accidental. But others were quite meticulously calculated. I worked hard to be where I am today. All of this is part of my own unique little story and I like it. Regardless of my not being able to fill out an Excel spreadsheet with my five-and-ten-year -fucking-life -plan, I am pretty happy with every little accomplishment I’ve had so far and so very enthusiastic about the near future! I’m still young and I like to think I can still make lots of exciting choices. Anyone who thinks bringing me down is giving me a “reality check” obviously has very different priorities than I do. And that’s totally fine. But please keep your own frustrations with your miserable life choices brought on by self-doubt the fuck away from my dreams, thank you very much.
I recently saw this quote somewhere: “The last thing that the world needs is more successful people.” To be honest, I’m not sure where. I definitely know it was online. Maybe Facebook or Buzzfeed or something. I’m not even entirely sure whoever said it meant it the way I understand it, but it sure rings true to me.
I was thinking about how I started higher education by studying international business of all things! I remember being very young, maybe fourteen even, and dying for a little independence. I looked at the state of my life, living from pocket money to pocket money, and I thought: I definitely want to be “successful” later. In the most shallow possible sense of the word. I wanted money and money was going to mean freedom. Studying something like “business administration” seemed like a fast track to the life I wanted. I wanted to make lots of money and travel and buy a car and an incredible apartment in a cool city. I wanted to buy expensive designer clothes and gadgets and sip Mimosa’s in Vegas – I’m seriously rolling my own eyes as I write this!
It’s quite absurd really, how much I absolutely do not want to be the person I wanted to be at fourteen.
It’s not like I long to live in this student life of semi-poverty forever or anything, but my priorities have shifted a lot. For instance, while I still very much would like to live in “cool” cities until the day I die, I see no purpose whatsoever in buying real estate. Unless I can really, really afford it. Like, if I could for whatever reason buy an apartment in cash because I’d won the lottery, I probably would do that. It would be kind of cool to shape a place to suit what I want and that’s pretty much the one thing you can’t do when you’re renting someone else’s property. I also really have no interest in ever owning a car unless I live somewhere very remote with abysmal public transportation. In which case I would probably move, to be honest.
Extravagant clothes and gadgets are out of the wish list altogether. Not because I’m claiming to not be materialistic at all, I think most of us are to a certain extent. But even on my meager existence as a graduate student, I have way more stuff than I could ever need. If I ever really want something expensive I just have to wait a little longer to buy it, boo fucking hoo. The way I see it, if I ever do have that much money lying around that I can buy whatever I want, I’m sure I can do something more interesting with it than buying more stuff! Probably, I would spoil the shit out of my parents. Not that I could ever repay all of the investment they made in my future and my overall happiness, but I would love to buy them experiences they would never buy for themselves –like language courses, exotic trips, and adventures or whatever. Which leads me to traveling. That is the one thing still very much on the agenda for me, always. Besides the leisure of it all, right now the dream is to have a job that requires me to travel. I would be so, so grateful.
Look, I would be lying if I said I didn’t look forward to one day earning a decent middle-class income and having a slightly more freed-up life in that sense. But I can honestly say that I have absolutely no fucking interest in ever becoming rich. My professional ambitions sort of clash with that outcome anyway. What drives me into wanting a career in academia is knowledge production, the exchange of ideas and collaborations with brilliant and inspiring minds. And if I’m very, very lucky hopefully enlightening students, colleagues and a few decision-makers with my findings as I go along. While some academics can and do have very nice jobs, comfortable incomes and published books which happen to sell very well, I don’t see myself ever choosing to do something for the sake of making lots of money and nothing else. What I consider to be a successful career is a fulfilling one that you can live from. And perhaps most of all, a career you can live with.
The strive for financial success as a goal in itself is just not something that I see as the best use of my time and I certainly can’t see how more self-indulgence would do the world any favors either. Abundance of stuff, of assets, of greed, we have plenty of that already. Too much. And sure, we also have enough academic papers being published seeing as productivity rates are ridiculous nowadays – the free market logic is alive and kicking at the university too, undeniably and increasingly so!
But of all the career choices I could make with my specific set of abilities and interests, independent research is the one that I currently see myself enjoying the most. I have no real fear of being unemployed because I know that, if this doesn’t work out, my little Swiss army knife of skills is suitable for other purposes too. And you know what? This unplanned self-assessment exercise only made me realize that I don’t really have a reason to freak myself out over the future.
I decided long ago that so long as I have a choice, I’ll take a fulfilling professional life doing something not all people understand the value of over one whose “success” can be only measured in [insert your currency of choice] any day.