Practicality: The Evil Preventing One’s Career as the First Firefighting Nuclear Physicist on the Moon
“I’ll be a writer,” my ardent self pledged only four short years ago, “I just know I will. No matter what it takes, my name will be on the cover of at least one book in Borders someday. I will be published, and I will not stop until I am!” How easy it is to be idealistic at 16. When you’re a 20-year-old “adult” counting down four semesters until graduation, imagining a wedding a few years away and a child or two before you’re 30, you’re saddened to realize that there’s this thing stopping you from chasing your dreams outright while there’s still time. Oh, what is called? What is that word again…? Yeah, its practicality, and it’s the enemy of dreamers worldwide.
At the youngest, I can recall considering the issue of my future occupation; I wanted to be a veterinarian. Unluckily for me, I’m squeamish. When older, I wanted to be a marine biologist, but advanced math (and chemistry by extension) has always been difficult. I considered being a lawyer, but I can’t stand the feeling of letting an innocent down; I refuse to represent the guilty. I briefly contemplated beginning a career in the visual arts—no. I must have considered dozens of options, but there was something always nagging at me even as I pondered these other avenues, something for which I always had a talent and a passion.
I fell in love with the idea of being a writer like one falls out of a tree, fast and hard. As practicality reared itself, I feared I’d never be successful enough to avoid financial worry, and I eventually let the dream die…mostly. I’m still trying to figure out what I’m meant to do since my passion isn’t practical. Teaching Classroom English Literature? Not for me. Psychology? Therapy? Maybe. At 20 years old, everyone and their brothers are begging me to make a decision on what I’ll be when I “grow up,” but I just can’t! I only imagine how much worse the pressure is for some graduating seniors, cemented in a major and still undecided, asking, “What will I do with my life?”
I’ve felt for the longest time that we need another decade between our 20s and 30s, a sort of “threnty” period allowing us to use our time now, our emerging adulthood, as a time in which we’re old enough to chase our dreams but young enough to ignore the issue of practicality. When the infamous “they” tell us that we can grow up to be anything under the sun, they’re lying, and mostly thanks to this practicality business. Most of us know the following by now, but I’m about to burst the bubble of those who don’t: our options are restricted financially, as well as individually by our skill sets, limitations, and personal circumstances. They’re limited by where we come from, who we are, and the society we live in. They’re limited by our time. You want to be president but you’re lower middleclass socioeconomically and a Latina woman to boot? Please, do you know how many years you’d work with the very real possibility it would all come to naught? Think practically! You want to be a high fashion supermodel and advocate on behalf of a realistic media portrayal supporting healthy body image? But you’d have to put having a family on hold for much too long, the system is never going to change, and no one will hire you anyway if you’re not a 6-foot-tall size zero! Think practically! You want to be an artist and paint masterpieces? What if your “masterpieces” aren’t terribly masterful and you can’t even support yourself financially? How will you pay back all the student loans you’ve taken? Think practically!
We’ve all heard as children, “You can grow up to be president,” but the statement is false. 99.99 percent of us can’t, establishing the big difference between “can” and “may.” What we are permitted to do and what we are practically able to do are not mutually inclusive, and that’s the big reason that so many of us are undecided over a question easy to answer when we were 5. Back then, it was possible to be president, a supermodel, an artist, a ballerina, a firefighter, a doctor—all at the same time if we wanted!—because all the time in the world before us and no sense of urgency in practicality left us unrestrained. If you’re about to graduate college with no idea if you even want to work in a field associated with your major, welcome to the practical life.