Continuing an old thread about what does and doesn’t suck about my day job…listening to people talk about their sorrows isn’t so hard. It’s often interesting and, if it’s your job, you’re probably a good compartmentalizer. One thing that’s sometimes a lot harder is hearing people’s unrealistic ideas about how their lives are going to get better, how they’re going to look at some imaginary moment of normalcy in the future.
At some point it became part of my spiel to ask adolescents what they want to do with their lives, even though it probably isn’t of great interest to judges or ADAs. I think actually I used to talk to younger kids about this in other jobs where I dealt with them just because I had run out of other things to ask them.*
The answers were usually either depressingly realistic (f0r kids who didn’t finish school and will have criminal records) or, well, without any middle ground, so absurdly optimistic I’d just write them down without comment. The most common answer in the second category was/is “basketball player.” I don’t know a thing about sports, but I’m pretty sure I can do the math on how likely that one is to come true. The most common answer in the first category, while I’m on it, was “something in maintenance” with other variants in food service or construction, and I should check myself about calling them “depressing” since there’s some class bullshit in that assumption. But I do have trouble imagining a kid getting excited at the thought of a lifetime in maintenance.
Talking to people about this made me think about when I had to start being realistic, with dramatically fewer socioeconomic setbacks, about what I was going to do with my life, and how it happened. Did these kids’ parents ever say “look, you’re good at basketball but you probably aren’t going to be [iconic famous basketball person]”? I’m not raising kids, nor shall I ever, so I’ve never had to be the executioner.
The rough timeline of my aspirations was:
1) early childhood: astronaut (because I had a book about the moon) or chemist (with a mental picture of pouring the tube of green stuff into the tube of blue stuff and an unspecified gratifying thing happening as a result.)
2) later childhood: artist. It is nice to think I wanted to be one, once, and thought it was an option.
3) let’s say junior high: architect, because my beloved art teacher wanted to be an architect and I was good at the simple drafting you do in Industrial Arts. Items 2 and 3 may be of some comedic interest to people who know me and my keen visual sense.
4) college: no fucking clue. I wanted to keep studying languages because I was good at them. People would say to me “oh, with that and an MBA or an MLIS you can do all kinds of things.” I would nod and try not to visibly dismiss these notions that were practical in the most derogatory sense. I coasted along like this for a shockingly long time until I got to grad school (with no interest in giving conference papers or teaching) and found I was probably aging into a demographic where it was seemly to have a career. So I went to
5) Social work school, which has worked out ok. It isn’t my dream, but it lacks a lot of qualities I dread and it confers a certain automatic air of moral superiority that’s fun at cocktail parties sometimes. Basically I feel like I’m not making the world any worse, and I’m never told “if you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean.” Things could be worse.
I found a job that didn’t cause me to wake up tired at the age of 34. Before then, I had temp jobs, stayed at things for a year, or even asked my folks for money. I had a lot of soft landings most people don’t get. I really got to ease into the not so crushing disappointment of adult professional life.
Not to speculate on the fate of dried fruit in solar heat, but what the hell is it like, I’m asking myself, to go from something unrealistic (artist, basketball player) which is what it makes perfect sense to want when we’re kids, to the worst kind of reality check; not just to the fact that we don’t all get to do what we want, but to the fact that certain circumstances cut off almost every good option? The mind reels, or the soul does, at least.
*”Look at him–what could you say to a thing like that! Did you go to the circus this year, what’s your favorite kind of ice cream, how do you spell cat?”