I recently discovered (and was appalled to find) that I have a “real career”. After I graduated college, instead of going into software engineering like everyone else, I did a lot of random dabbling–one year of graduate school, a year and a half scooping ice cream, a little bench chemistry, a brief turn as a tech writer, a docs manager, and finally project management. Up until then I’d had a right-angle career change every few years. Now I’ve been doing project management for five years and am obviously well-established–I mean, it’s no longer trying a bit of this and that, it’s a career. Weird.
Last year I was out visiting an old, old friend (best friends in middle school) who is in the all-but-dissertation phase of his litcrit PhD. He was considering summer jobs, reading through the classifieds…”Hey, I could be a taxi driver! They’re hiring for cocktail waitresses…you think I could do it in drag? There’s always bartending, or there’s a manager position at this liquor store…” …and suddenly I felt a little melancholy. I make way more money than he does, and I don’t think I’d go back to my starving-student days, but I was suddenly envious of all the options he had open because he was starting at the bottom, because he hadn’t put anything into his career yet and thus had nothing to lose. It drove home a point I’d long mulled over, which is that creation is essentially an act of destruction: as you carve away, the stone loses all the things it could have been as it becomes your sculpture. To choose one path is to destroy all the others; and yet, refusing choice leaves nothing but a dumb stone.
I think that’s what growing up is about: finding and making choices, and slowly paring away all the things that you could be, until in the end you’re simply who you are. The choice is necessary–there’s no value in remaining a blank slate–but it’s sadly true that choosing one path requires surrendering others. The key, I think, is to love the path you’re taking–take it with passion and drive–so when you look back on your creation, you’ll have no regrets.