“Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost.”

I am writing this in the last hour of my life as a 28-year-old. In 45 minutes, I’ll turn 29 and enter my 30th year of life*. It’s funny how nothing has turned out the way I envisioned when I was younger.

I was perhaps an unimaginative youth. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after secondary school; I just knew I would go to university to study something. I was reasonably certain that while at university, I would meet some dreamy man. We would start living together perhaps a few years after graduating. We’d have jobs, and after a few more years we would get married and start having some babies. I was certain I’d have my first child before I was 30, but other than that, my future was oddly vague for all its specificity.

In my last year of secondary school, I still had no clue what I wanted to study. As a wee one, I wanted to be a cleaning lady. When I was slightly older, I wanted to be a lawyer, doing criminal law things. When I realized that would entail also defending guilty people, I wanted to be a judge. After talking to a judge, I became convinced that law was the last thing I ever wanted to do. I decided to pursue an undergraduate business degree in tourism management, because it was practical (business/management) and because it would allow me to travel. Before I was finished with my first year, it was already starting to become abundantly clear that this degree was not my calling. But I still didn’t know what else I wanted to do and I pretty much define myself by not being a quitter, so I stuck it out. I got to travel to Prague and Thailand. I lived in Australia and did thesis research in England. I found things I loved to do within my program (marketing and branding) and focused on those things. After graduating, I got a job with a management recruitment firm that allowed me to continue travelling (to Cuba, for instance) and which, if anything, taught me I wasn’t cut out for corporate life. After a few months in that job, I made the decision to pursue an English degree. It meant starting from scratch academically, in addition to accruing debt, but I figured it was worth it.

It was the best decision I ever made. It was in my new program that I hit my stride. I made new, lovely friends. I encountered ideas and texts which excited and challenged me. I was given the opportunity to live and study in the United States for a year, where I encountered even more exciting ideas and people, did things I never thought I’d do (like play rugby), discovered ambitions I never knew I had, and started strategically planning a career. I started graduate school, became a teacher, and met challenges I had never foreseen, let alone believed myself to be able to handle. I fought my way through many a tough moment, with the love and support of friends and family giving me many necessary boosts. In the beginning of this new year, I have found myself finishing up my first term of teaching at a new place of employment and presenting my own scholarly work in a non-classroom setting. It’s been frightening and horribly, terribly exciting. I cannot wait to see what else is going to throw itself onto my path.

But I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for the detours I’ve taken, the things I’ve struggled with, the jobs I’ve had and the friends I’ve made and lost. My twenties have been marked by tentativeness, insecurity, inquiry, and doubt, all of which – in retrospect – have proven to be incredibly productive, rather than negative or hazardous. Perhaps I’m not where I’d planned to be, but I truly believe I am where I need to be. I believe that my own path so far has prepared me for one of those things which I so very much want to do with my life: teach. In order to teach, especially in order to teach undergraduates, understanding what your students may be struggling with is of vital importance. Perhaps more than ever, young people are having trouble pinpointing that which they want to achieve in and with their lives. Or rather, perhaps this trouble is made even more problematic than it has been before, because of economic and political situations which no longer allow any kind of doubt or inquiry. With degrees becoming exponentially more expensive and jobs apparently growing ever scarcer, young people may grow anxious or depressed. What is there to look forward to when you know you’re going to be saddled with crippling debt or with the weight of (in hindsight) bad decisions weighing you down, just because you were not afforded the privilege that some people in older generations (like myself) had: that privilege to search and inquire and make a mistake here or there. In the words of Albus Dumbledore, “Perhaps we sort too soon.” Perhaps we expect our young people to know too much about their own minds, persons, and lives at too young an age. Such expectations, which I believe our prevalent in our society, can weigh heavy on a mind.

What I want to accomplish as a teacher is not just teach students how to use a foreign language in the most productive way possible, but I want to be the living, breathing evidence that it’s okay to not know, to question, to wonder, to search. As I watch the clock tick slowly towards midnight, it is that thought which preoccupies me most. I hope that in the last year of my twenties, I can continue on the path I have finally claimed as my own and become both a person and a scholar who constitutes a positive force in the lives of others.

As I took stock of my life and looked towards the future, I was wondering how other clever ladies have reflected on their own teens/twenties/thirties/forties and so on. Are there any choices you wish you hadn’t made? Things you wish you’d done differently? Or do you also value your detours and insecurities?

(Title quote from J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.)

*naturally my birthday will have already passed by the time you read this. Ah, the nature of blogging!

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Nanna Freeman

Anglo-America-loving Dutchie with a grad student twist and a mad dash of self-mockery. Sometimes I also write things here: http://notyournanswriting.wordpress.com/

10 thoughts on ““Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost.””

  1. Ah. Having stumbled into this a good ten days late (is my comment even relevant at this point? is it going to dissolve into the internet wasteland of TOO LATE?), I have so many things I could tell my teenage self that it would be a whole ‘nother post. So, I’m going to commiserate and write a thank you note: this is like getting a great big hug and a kick in the ass at the same time.

    Kick in the ass: I need to do something about where I am now, at 23, although it seems like there’s very little I can do. I, also, am failing for the first time in my life (Have I failed academically? Oh, hells yes. In life? Not quite so spectacularly as I’m doing now.); and it’s like a daily punch to the balls I don’t actually physically have. And, I’m actually actively trying at finding work and sometimes, it’s all I can do not to beg a complete stranger to cut this kid a break. Because that’s what I am now, a kid; nowhere near to being the adult I dreamed of being, and I wish someone somewhere would just make me a list of things to do to get back on track.

    At the same time, it’s moments like these when a stranger on the internet saves your sanity and a little bit of your soul when she tells you that it’ll be okay. So, thank you, wise lady.

  2. 1) happy birthday, dear!

    2) this was a really good read, and very much what I needed to hear at the moment. I’m just at the “holy shit i think i’m on the wrong career path” moment, and I really have no idea what to do next. It’s incredibly comforting to know that people, well, bop around a lot.

  3. Happy birthday!

    I love this post. When I was a kid, I wanted to be (at different points) a ballerina, a nun, and a baseball player. When I was in college, I majored in Classics because I enjoyed it, without any plan for what I’d do afterwards.

    I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. This bothered me for a while, and then I realized that almost no one else does either.

    I totally agree that we “sort too soon” and also think that, while having a job you don’t hate is important and having a job that’s fulfilling is awesome, you have to look for fulfillment in places outside your career (kinda like you can’t expect a significant other to fulfill all your emotional needs).

    Would I rewind a few years and be more decisive about my post-graduate plans? I don’t know, really. Right now (living with my parents, soul-searching, job-hunting) is really the first time I’ve failed at anything for a substantial period of time, and I think I needed that experience. I don’t like it, but I’m learning from it, and I’m actually really lucky to be where I am anyway.

    1. Thank you!

      Good point about fulfillment. I definitely agree! But I do think you need to get something positive out of your job (environment). I spent one summer working in an absolutely soul-crushing place and it was terrible. I thought I could power through it, and I did (not a quitter, me), but it was just horrendous.

      I think most of us who did degrees that haven’t really led us to anything career-wise will always have niggling doubts about what-ifs and might-have-beens. I don’t see how we could stop that. But I try to look at it from a “well, that’s what I did and I am what I am now because of it and I kinda like me, so booyah” point of view.

  4. My fiance and I have struggled with these same questions, worries and successes. He started as a commercial lawyer, then went into teaching and is now pursing a degree in IT. I once thought I wanted to be involved with ministry, then education, then journalism, then education, then just being a backpacker forever, then more journalism, and now–finally!–I’m pursuing a degree in medicine. It’s weird how life takes us on such a complicated journey of comparisons and self doubt (I say this as I take a break from job applications). What’s more confusing and hard to weather is the incredible competition there is for jobs these days and the sometimes ridiculous requirements being made of entry level workers. I just keep thinking that in many cases, we don’t even get the chance to try something new because we can’t get in the door. That being said, your words have given me hope today. Thanks for the well-worded and thought-out post.

    1. Oh yes, the competition for jobs and the disconnect between the job market and recent graduates is definitely a terrible and problematic thing. It’s taken me quite a while to find real, steady employment because everything is just so messed up at the moment. Overqualified for most things, not enough experience for many others. It’s a crapshoot right now, or so it seems at least. And I have no clue how we can fix it.

      Thanks for the kind words and good luck with following your ambitions! I hold out hope that when you do this, everything will work out in the end because, well, what do we really have besides hope?

  5. Thank you so much for sharing. I often look back at the moments and people that have shaped my life (changing jobs to get away from an incompetent boss, moving to places to be with the wrong guys) and realized that I’m so glad I had to deal with those challenging and crummy situations, because they led me to my current happiness. I am definitely in the learn-from-your-mistakes and have-no-regrets camp.

  6. I try not to feel regret, because I know that every bad choice has led to a better me.  I do have one thing that nags at me – when I was offered the position where I am now (which I looooove), I was offered another position (which I would have loved less).  I took the one that I would love, but there was a little bit of trickery going on in terms of my future, and it nags at me.  I wonder how things would have turned out if I had taken the less-awesome-for-me job at a prestigious place, which could have changed my trajectory.  Or, my current job could just hire me for the long term, and the nag would go away.

    1. Oh yes, I definitely get those feelings. They’re tricksy (to keep in line with the Tolkien theme). Having worked great, okay, and one absolutely terribly soul-crushing job, I would vote for “job you love” any day of the week, but when there are degrees of love, rather than love-hate binaries, you do get a space for doubts and what-ifs. Still, more love is always a good thing than medium amounts of love, right?

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