These past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about the future. I guess you could call it a mid-undergrad crisis.
Then again, it is kind of the opposite of a mid life crisis. In its typical upper-middle class description, mid life crises usually involve someone with expendable capital, plenty of skill and experience, who nonetheless struggle to find meaningful experiences for themselves as they pass the ‘peak’ of their life.
My mid-undergrad crisis is different. I have plenty of paths in front of me — too many. They all seem meaningful in their own right. But each one poses specific hurdles whose heights are indeterminate due to my lack of experience in both career and life. I know in this day and age, the feeling of wanting a future more than that future wants you is a common sentiment, but as a non-STEM major, it feels especially poignant.
As a political science major, the most obvious path is, well, politics. For one, I could never be a politician. My anarchic world view might just be a tad too radical for the general public. Call it virtuosity or call it stubbornness, but I’m not the kind of person that could compromise my belief system for greater support in maybe one of my beliefs.
Moreover, working for campaigns and politicians themselves is a cyclical market. A campaign staff is only necessary when a candidate is needing to campaign. How can I guarantee that I’m constantly working for someone that I actually support? This past summer, I worked on a campaign for a candidate for Delaware senate who I vehemently supported, but she was a once-in-a-decade kind of candidate. I stumbled on her campaign by complete accident, and there is no way, in my mind, that a stable career could come from finding such people I can get behind.
So, what about another career path? Many people in my area of interest go on to law school. This is a path I’ve considered a lot. It would give me the chance to help people in a very real, tangible way. Specifically in public interest law, I could spend my life defending those in need of help. Moreover, law is a stable field, so the anxiety from the gig-based political work field would disappear.
However, the more I talk to people in the industry, the more it falls from such a perfect image. I have heard of far more lawyers that hate their job than love it. Moreover, for anyone who has seen me walk around in Birkenstocks, holey socks, a Wal-Mart T-shirt, with hair blowing all over in the wind, the clean-cut professional environment of law might not seem like a good fit for me, as a person.
Finally, there’s academia. This has long been my dream. Its as stable as it gets, pays enough to forget that you don’t get paid too much and provides an environment where my IDGAF aesthetic fits. Most importantly, however, it is the perfect place to pursue exactly what I’m passionate about. I can keep my head in the clouds in research, but stay grounded in teaching.
However, I have come to learn that saying you want to go into academia is a lot easier than doing so. Getting into a PhD program and completing it is hard enough, but time and time again I’ve been told how competitive the job market is. Making it in academia is just a tad easier than getting drafted by the Knicks. We were all told that wasn’t a realistic goal, so why is academia?
There’s no conclusion to this article. I haven’t solved the riddle of my future. In each direction I look there lies sacrifice. What do I sacrifice? Maybe I should remember that these sacrifices look a lot scarier in the future tense. I’m certainly sacrificing many things just being here now, but I never think of them. Maybe I should remember that I’m still just some privileged white dude complaining about opportunity.