January 01, 2004
If I Had It To Do Over, Counterpoint
Here I am in my late 20s, and Halley’s recent post, If I Had It To Do Over, surprised me. To me, her message read "do everything, give up nothing." If I was speaking to my 20-year-old self, I would instead say, "Make your choices. Question the world’s measures of success."
For me this may have meant spending less time in school and getting out into the work I wanted to do sooner. I was an English major in college, with a concentration in writing. As graduation approached, the dreamer in me wanted to experience other cultures, educate myself as a writer, make myself useful to other human beings. The Peace Corps interview went well -- until I mentioned I’m a lesbian. The interviewer let me know in no uncertain terms that being a woman in most placement countries would be hard enough, but being gay and out about it would be indescribably difficult. Insecure about my future and discouraged by a man who "knew better," I wavered and wondered about my other options. Journalism wasn’t the kind of writing I wanted to do, and the realist in me worried that I wouldn’t be able to support myself writing in any other capacity. I also happened to have a little hobby that paid well in the mid 90’s. So the tornado of the booming technology field picked me up and carried me away. I headed straight to graduate school for Comp Sci, then onto my first dot-com job. There I learned pretty quickly that a degree in software development is worth a lot less than a few years developing software.
If I had it to do over, I may have gone onto the Peace Corps regardless of what anyone said. (I still might.) I would not have been such a prima donna about my writing. I would’ve gotten out the pen and pad and started reporting, even if it was for a local rag that lined litter boxes around the city. I would’ve picked up a camera and learned how to shoot as well. I would’ve been more willing to let go of culturally-prescribed measures of success -- degree, job title, tax bracket, relationship. I would’ve given myself more space to find the things that make me happy, not the people who ask "So what do you do?" at cocktail parties. I would’ve taken less money for less hours at the office, and given myself time for creative projects that instead got squeezed into late nights and short weekends. I would’ve asked more people who I admired how they got to where they were. I would’ve called my own shots a lot sooner.
It troubles me when I see women trying to do it all: run the rat race as fast as their male counterparts and be mothers and students. I don’t want to spend my days feeling like there aren’t enough hours in them.
To me, the point is living one’s life deliberately and consciously. Often that means choosing some things and not choosing others. I’m wooed by romantic notions of running a one-woman shop, but to be honest, that kind of work just isn’t for me. It’s important to remember that not all work of value contributes to the GDP, though corporate culture wants us to think otherwise. When I decide whether or not to work while raising a child, my co-parent and I have to choose between the ground she may lose in the workforce and the ground she may lose with our baby. Each time one choose one thing, we unchoose another.
I have few regrets about my path. I wrote my first novel this past year, and I’m only sorry that it took me this long to do it. If it’s never published, the process of writing it will still be one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.
If I had it to do over, I would’ve asked myself, a lot sooner, more honestly, and more often: what does success mean to me?
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