The other day in the car, I was practicing for an interview for college. My sister, Amy, who just started first grade, doesn’t really understand why everyone wants to talk to me, why I am always so busy, why my temper is suddenly about as long and just as flammable as a single match. I was talking about writing, because in some way or another, I always am; then my sister cut in with “I’m a writer AND a dancer.” Because I’m absolutely terrible with kids, my first instinct was to glance back and explain that it wasn’t exactly the same thing, but then…why shouldn’t it be the same thing?
When I was in first grade, my life goal was to move to Africa and start a wildlife hospital for baby animals. Also, I would have seven talking dogs, I would live a perfectly wealthy lifestyle, and I would be famous for being a veterinarian. Looking back, the career path doesn’t exactly seem the right fit – also, seven talking dogs? But back then, I liked math and reading, and I thought I was probably the best singer there had ever been, and I was pretty sure that I was going to become famous (even though for some reason, no one could spell my name right). SO much has changed then. I mean, I still am convinced in the stupid part of my head that I’m awesome at singing and fame potential, because I’m basically perfect. And people still spell my name wrong, even when I spell my name at the top of an email they are replying to (what, do you think I spelled my name wrong?). But I mean, MATH? What was little me THINKING?
In all seriousness, it seems as though six-year old Erika (<= the correct spelling of my name, in case you too think I spell it incorrectly) had the whole world in front of her. Dude, I could do my 100 addition/subtraction problems in 2.5 minutes – don’t give me that 5 minute crap. I could write, so naturally I was a writer. I liked music, so naturally I was a dancer. I could read, so naturally, I was a literature genius. I knew what 8+12 was, so obviously I could take on any math problem. Sure, I thought that being a wildlife veterinarian was a field I had made up, and that no such people really existed; I thought that there were about six jobs you could have (actually, I knew about the careers on the little cards in LIFE).
Now my career aspirations can be summed up to: well, I would like to be the next GRRM, but at the same time, I would like to go be a technical writer living in Tokyo, but also, it would be awesome to be the US Ambassador to Austria, and…well, essentially, I’m confused. The world is so much bigger than I thought it was, and suddenly, I’m being asked to define myself into one field. What happened to the days where I could claim to be the expert in seven different fields just because I grasped the bottom rung of the ladder? Did I trade in dreaming for a grander worldview? Surely that’s what happened.
The way I kind of see it, having a dream as a kid is like talking about the stars. You’re taught, in first or second grade, that there are billions and billions of stars out there – that if you look up at night, you’ll see them all. Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight. I feel as though seeing the first star in the sky was enough, because I knew that the others were up there, but I went to bed too early to see them all. That’s why I never saw stars. I just wasn’t looking hard enough, or at the right time. And now I look out my window and squint to figure out if I can actually wish on that star, or – nope, just kidding, that’s an airplane. I know that things are so much bigger than I ever imagined as a kid, and that there are infinite possibilities, that the stars are uncountable. But, on the other hand, I live in Atlanta. Have you ever seen stars in Atlanta? I haven’t really, either. The stars are more out of reach than they’ve ever been before, yet I know that there is so much more possibility out there. Possibility that I cannot reach unless I go the extra mile out into the countryside, out of my comfort zone and my home.
There’s a trade-off for everything these days. I wake up and realize that it would be so neat to be an architect, but those days have passed, and my artistic potential was never tapped. I wonder what would have happened if I was still playing the cello, but that ship has sailed, too. Recently, I realized that I want the world to be my playground – to be international, to study the world and it’s beautiful pieces of culture. Sometimes I feel like I can get to those stars, but other times, I’m staring at a Georgetown application questioning if my English-heavy application is going to be sitting there next to diplomat kids who speak five languages and have lived in Portugal, Germany, Turkey, and Finland at different points in their lives. I’ve given my soul up to write, and that’s a trade-off for being a strong social science-y, international-type applicant.
The college process, paired with a first grade sister, is interesting in that way. You’re forced to define yourself. You have to choose the star you set your telescope on and stare into the sky until it becomes close enough to reach out and take.