I remember a time when being a student meant spending your Thursday, Friday and Saturday night going out, drinking, watching movies, having dinner with your friends, partying. When having good grades was considered enough of an achievement, when having a solid resume meant being able to name one good school, and perhaps some interesting hobbies. Life was easy then, you simply followed your path from high school to graduation, to masters, without ever realizing that one day you would have to find a job.
The economic crisis was just a name, something obscure happening far away. Sure people complained about it, complained about the present state of education among other things, about the jobs becoming fewer and fewer, about professors being underpaid, but you would find a way around it. It wasn’t that bad. You were good, you were smart. You would find a job: prep school, Berkeley, high school diploma cum laude, those were names that would open many doors, plus you speak English perfectly, and, supposedly, nobody else does.
That was France. At the time I would have been content with simply being a teacher, or finding any other job that would allow me enough free time to muse in the grass for hours, like I had been doing those past years, growing up in the green meadows of the French countryside. I wasn’t worried then.
Then, I moved here. Talking to people around me, who were taking 20 units, went to the gym four times a week, volunteered during the weekend and had a part-time job, I suddenly freaked out “I haven’t done anything!” I looked at my resume and wondered what I could possibly put under “leadership position.” Playground leader in elementary school? This column didn’t even exist in French resumes!
Suddenly, my days became different, they started to stretch, to become 36 instead of 24-hour long. I tried to cut the endless lunches and coffees and replace them with appointments at the career center. I started to write for Caliber, submitted stories to CLAM, took an independent study to write a thesis (yeah, just because), considered applying to grad school, and … started to look for an internship.
After applying to fifteen and getting only two answers, one of them being a no, and the other a phone interview, it dawned on me “What am I going to do with my life?” I wasn’t content with being a teacher anymore. I wanted to do big, I wanted to do great, hanging on to the myth of the self-made (wo)man, of America being the country where everything is possible, and all those great promises that anybody who has a little bit of sense knows to be advertising concepts rather than realities.
Instead of going back to my completely unknown French university, I started to contemplate the idea of doing a PhD in Berkeley, then Columbia, Yale, Harvard. Yes, just that. I would travel the world and give conferences, and have my name printed on a book, and I would defend … blah blah blah. My head started spinning, I was dizzy. Too many possibilities and too little time.
Then my parents came to visit, and reminded me of the time where I would bike endlessly through the countryside, spend my afternoon plucking out blades of grass, sipping the sun. They looked at me now, running around, always “super busy,” living a “hectic” life (which still included lunches and coffees, because hey I’m still French) and probably thought, What happened?
Yes, what happened? Ambition happened. One of my classmates once wrote that ambition was what was lying behind the 20 and 30 something guys playing Frisbee in shorts and T-shirts. I couldn’t have agreed more. Ambition is the Great American Disease, it probably hasn’t been declared in everyone, but everybody has been infected with it. It is just waiting for the right conditions to become manifest, give you fevers and sleepless nights, make your legs restless and eager to run in circles or forward, your brain swell until it starts pouring out your ears and your mouth and on the desk of a big corporation.
Would I ever recover? I wasn’t sure I wanted to.