in now-defunct personal blog
May 23, 2009
May 23, 2009
When I first moved back home, I was room-less. My parents had given my room to their friends’ daughter, who was a freshman at my alma mater. The guest room, meanwhile, had become storage. I spent the first few weeks of unemployment sorting through these boxes, moving furniture and, since the guest room was much smaller than my bedroom, getting rid of a little bit of everything.
I came across old magazines, books, clothes that will never again see the light of day. And, with its worn pages, my autograph book from childhood.
Autograph books were all the rage in the Philippines. You exchanged them with friends so you could tell each other about your favorites, dislikes and aspirations. I thumbed through the spiral book, rattling off names I vaguely remembered. Like a true narcissist, I’d made several entries for myself, each with a different handwriting. The answer to a particular question, however, remained the same.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
I must have been 6 or 7 at the time, old enough to possess a certain awareness but too young to wonder at life’s complexities. I’d wanted to be a nurse, of course, because my mother was one. My aunt was in school to be one. Ever since I’d been a zygote I’d known that the ticket for a better life was to become a nurse overseas.
Before I continue, here’s a backstory.
Three months after giving birth to me, my mother left to be a nurse in Saudi Arabia. She went to New York soon after and, eight years later, brought the rest of us to live in her two-bedroom apartment in the Bronx.
All throughout, she had sent us money and gifts. The TV with a built-in VCR was the coolest thing on the planet. Before that, we had to watch “The Little Mermaid,” among other movies she sent us, at a neighbor’s house.
There was a certain glamour about it, I thought. Living oceans away from home, providing for your family.
Since we arrived in the U.S. in April, we had months before school started. My brother easily made friends with our parents’ friends, who mostly had sons. I took refuge in books and writing. Starting at 8, I became an avid reader, a writer of bad fiction and later a camera enthusiast. I was drawn to documenting life, which made way for a new dream: I wanted to be a journalist. (At the time I thought I was pretty unique. It wasn’t until college that I discovered my father’s side had several writers and journalists in the family.)
As a result of an abrupt (and poorly communicated) move to Virginia, high school was a black hole of bad decisions that rebellious teenagers often make. College was where I finally acted upon this seemingly frivolous dream. I wrote for the college paper, eventually becoming editor, and interned in the summers for small papers in Podunk Virginia. A few months into a post-college internship at a reputable small daily newspaper outside Washington, I was offered a job.
I was on my way. In a few years I’d move up to a metro paper, I thought, then to a bigger metro paper and then eventually work my way to a major national news magazine, write a book and go on to achieve other lofty goals I'd set for myself.
Nearly two years later, I got laid off. Now, amid the worst recession in decades, the journalism industry continues to implode. Jobs – anywhere – are scarce.
A few days ago, at lunch with my parents and friends, my mother made an interesting offer.
“I’ll pay for your tuition if you study nursing.”
* * *
My mother has always somewhat supported my dream, but accompanied any hint of frustration or failure with the comforting words: “Be a nurse. It’s the only way you’ll make a living.”
I don’t have to look far to see this path work for my peers. My friends, sister and friends’ parents are nurses. All still have jobs. They can buy cars, save money after paying bills, shop, travel. Though I made good money as a reporter, better than many starting reporters at other papers, I had to live frugally.
My satisfaction, as sick as this may sound, came from work. I continually set goals for myself. I wanted to write better, ask harder questions, find compelling stories. I made small differences through my writing, in the form of new policies that were enforced as a result of my reporting or people who received help from strangers who read about their struggles. I discovered things about myself. One conflict with school officials culminated in a meeting where I had to stand in front of more than 100 administrators who demanded answers. I hosted a spelling bee. I talked to kids, whom I normally avoid, on career day. Every day I learned something new. I pushed and challenged myself in hopes of someday becoming great at what I did.
When people asked me how I liked work, I often said non-complimentary things about post-college life and the real world to echo how my peers viewed their lives. I didn’t want to rub it in. After all, how could you say “Well, I’m really excited about this video I shot and edited about alpacas” or “I wrote a really awesome narrative today” or “I read this great piece by so and so, which I really want to try to emulate in this story I’m writing” without coming off as a big pretentious nerd?
Toward the end, when morale tanked along with the economy, I was miserable. But when it was great, I knew I was meant for this.
I never once questioned my decision.
If I were to become a nurse, I would revert to that little girl who wanted to be a nurse because it was all she knew. I’ve grown past that. I want to continue what I started, even if it means foregoing the big house and the yacht.
Life is just too short to live for the money. I don’t want to spend 40 hours (or more) a week hating life so I could do what I really enjoyed with what’s left. I want to believe in what I do, make lasting relationships, continually learn about the world and myself, and have great adventures. Maybe that's a ridiculous ideal, but it's what I strive for.
At a time when people are replacing the uncertain with bad decisions (e.g. hastily going to graduate school to delay the job hunt or to avoid some introspection), I’m choosing to deal with the unknown. I don’t know what’s next for me, if I’ll continue to pursue a career in a failing industry or if I’ll reinvent myself as something else.
But I definitely won’t follow someone else’s dreams, even if it means failing at my own.