When she’s 5, there’s no reason to doubt that little Lucy could be a chef, a CEO, a cartoonist. But even at that age, there’s an implication that one day she can only be one of those things.
Then from kindergarten to high school, Lucy has dozens of subjects shoved down her throat, a plethora of extra-curriculars that are really not-so-extra because she must be practicing one sport, language and instrument at any given time. Personally, I remember those late nights cramming AP Chemistry, nibbling the eraser of my mechanical pencil in frustration at my apparent inability to grasp how these beehive drawings are supposed to somehow represent a tree or caffeine or fairies or something. I don’t know, clearly that test did not go so well. I just kept thinking, I can’t wait till I can just read Jane Austen books 24/7. I’d rather do 100 essays than do this.
In college, we’re told to experiment (not like that, you dirty minds!), try dozens of electives on fields and topics we’ve never even heard of to broaden our horizons, only to be told to choose a major. I had just discovered Russian literature, linguistics, and gender studies when I started looking around nervously at my friends handing in their Major Declaration forms: Mechanical Engineer, Computer Science, Economics and Political Science. Timidly I handed in mine. Major: Journalism.
“You have straight A’s in all your Russian lit classes,” my Tolstoy 301 professor said in a thick accent. “Why don’t you major in it? You clearly love it.”
“Oh, I um, I would but I already have so many journalism credits,” I lied. What I really meant to say was, “What the heck am I supposed to do with a Russian lit major after I graduate?” Sure, we’re the ones putting pen to paper on the major declaration form, we ostensibly have complete autonomy, but much of our decision is guided by things other than our pure desire: how does this translate into a job? How will I compare to my peers? Will my parents approve?
One thing leads to another and three internships in the same field later, Lucy finds herself with vast experience on one subject, and as a result is only qualified for one kind of job. If she’s lucky, maybe it could stretch to five (including waitressing).
And so it builds, our narrative, but the higher the stack, the narrower it gets. Apparently, we’re supposed to aim for a neat and tidy title we can hand out on a little textured card with engraved text so that in less than three words, someone can figure us out. I’ve witnessed the discomfort people feel when I don’t have a namecard to offer them—how are they supposed to judge me, speak to me, without it? (The same way people are confounded when pregnant ladies say they’re keeping the baby’s sex “a surprise.” Do we call it an “it?” Without a frame of reference, they have no idea how to act, what to ask.)
After graduation, I mentally vacillated between interests, fashion, writing and event planning and at one point even took a vote amongst my friends, as I found myself forcing my inner child to choose. Grownups are focused, the little voice in my head said, they pick something and work on it until retirement. One of my best friends had her fair share of snide comments when she jumped from job to job after graduation, refusing to settle when she knew the job wasn’t right for her. Should those who stick at their jobs even though they’re miserable be venerated for being responsible? Should those who have the courage to quit despite the lack of security be berated for being entitled, lazy, imprudent? It was then that I realized, no, I will not choose. I refuse to be compressed, sealed, embossed onto a 3-inch card. The summer I worked two jobs, learned how to cook and started working out with a personal trainer was one of the most fulfilling in my life. I am invigorated by balancing multiple jobs at once, accomplishing more than I would sitting half-heartedly at one job. I enjoy writing, fashion and events in equal measure, all of which I have enough passion for that I refuse to give up any one, all of which I’ve consistently contributed to on my blog so no, I will not choose so that the world has an easier time figuring me out. I’m tired of being told to go but not too far, that I can be anything but apparently only one thing. I’m complicated, as are my interests, none of which I’m willing to give up, so Dear World, no, I don’t have a name card and you’re just gonna have to deal with it.