A minnow of trepidation

Tyler is right. This is it for him. As he begins his last semester as an undergraduate student at James Madison University, which will end in a monumental change in his life, I asked him to reflect on what comes next. As usual, Tyler doesn’t disappoint in his honest and interesting answer to the question that all second-semester seniors are pondering.

Minnows, mud and a little confetti

By Tyler McAvoy (’13), Be the Change intern

This is it. The last leg of the journey. The final lap. This coming May, I’m going to cross the finish line in a gown, get my diploma, shake a hand, and throw my cap in the air, probably getting it lost among the volley. I’ll take some photos, hug some people, and probably be asked a million times what I’m going to do with my life.

Knowing me, I’ll respond in the most impressive way possible. “What am I going to do with my life? Well, I’ll tell you! I’m going to be an astronaut/lawyer/stock broker, right after I finish my New York Times best seller, and release a few quadruple platinum bluegrass-crossover albums. I’m seeing seven figures in my future. Most likely eight once I hit retirement.”

I’ll be saying something like this on the outside. All of us graduates will be saying something like this on the outside. On the inside though, even when I’m spouting impressive non sequiturs about my glamorous life I’ve already planned, I’ll be asking myself the same exact question.

imagesWhat AM I going to do with my life?

For us under the age of 30, this is the scariest question in the universe. The chicken and egg debacle pales in comparison. “Where do babies come from?” is a minnow of trepidation compared to the Great White of an existential question that this is. When I ask myself this question, I’m not just asking what kind of occupation I want to be in as much as I’m asking what kind of person that I want to become.

I suppose, yes, I’d like to be a good person. I’d like to be innately drawn to doing good in my community and my country, and hopefully beyond as well. I’d also like to be successful because when I have my 2.5 kids, I’d like them to experience a modicum of comfort to keep their childhood’s dreamily carefree. I’d like to leave a legacy behind too, do something important perhaps, have a few babies named after me, maybe even leave behind a charity foundation for a yet-undiscovered cause that I might find a passion for.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMost of all, I want to do something that matters. Not just making a mark in the mud and saying I did that! Look at me!” but actually changing what that mud is. Almost like social alchemy. Not just changing what happens in the world, but changing what the world actually is, changing that mud to Play-Doh so other people can leave their mark in something a little less dirty and messy than it was before.

See, and already I’m caught up in grandeur; I’m caught up in such a macrocosm that I forget that it’s hard to change the world, be successful, have 2.5 kids with a decent childhood, and leave behind a legacy without actually doing something.  Back to reality. Snap of the fingers, just like that.

What AM I going to do with my life?

My goals are no way unique amongst the droves of graduates who will be produced around the nation this coming spring.  I think a lot of us will leave the stage and expect to wave our flashy, framed diplomas and be greeted by the world with open arms and big, wide grins. Unfortunately, no matter how many Magna Cum Laudes and A++s adorn our impressive record of academia, we’ll more likely to get a few sore noses from all the doors that get slammed in our face.  And we’ll move onto the next one and the next one slowly, making our way down our list of dream jobs until we find someone, anyone, who will hire us.

That’s what I’ve learned over the past four years from the court of public opinion. The number of times I’ve introduced myself as an English major and fielded the question, “Ah, so you’re going to be a teacher?” has lead me to believe that post-graduation life might eventually become a tale of endless pilgrimage just to survive. Many tell me that English is a degree that you “can do anything or nothing with,” which I’ve taken as a polite way to say, “I hope you’re not allergic to cardboard, because it sounds like you’ll get very familiar with it before too long.”

As William H. Vanderbilt once said though — “the public be damned” — I’ve gone on to maintain my cheery optimism for these past years I’ve been in higher education. I’ve come to the conclusion that there will always be critics where critics aren’t needed, and the only thing this will do is distract you from your goal. Even if I may not become a successful astronaut/lawyer/stockbroker, I still have learned more about the world and how I relate to it in my time here, than I have at any other point. When you stand back and see how many billions of people exist now and in the past who had a much harder time than you, suddenly that question, “What am I going to do with my life?” gets a little less scary. When you go further and realize you know people who can never experience university life in your own community, the problems I seem to have don’t look nearly as big. Sure, I want to be successful. But you know what? The experience and opportunity I’ve already had make me one of the luckiest people in all of human history, including the present time, too.

Sometimes I get caught up wanting to be successful without remembering that the life I’m leading — going to school, living on my own, being healthy, having an iota of liquidity in my assets — is something so unique and rare amongst the world. Billions struggle everyday with simply living, let alone living well. There are many without basic things and are happy just to be fed while I have to watch my weight because of the amount I eat. I’m lucky to be born to a certain level of affluence to allow myself such luxury I suppose and at the end of the day and whatever days come in the future, I can still come home, turn on the lights, drink clean water straight from the tap, play with my dog and read a book.

75332I have no idea what I’m going to do next. I suppose I’ll pursue success until I reach what I was aiming for. Maybe I’ll actually get around to writing that book. Maybe I’ll go to law school and wear a fancy suit and tie all day. Maybe I’ll do none of these things at all and just be your average blue-collar Joe. Who knows? I’m just glad that these past years at JMU haven’t been wasted and have given me an idea of scope in how I look toward my futureWhen the confetti is cleaned up, the chairs put away and my time at JMU is over, I know at the very least I have a good foundation to start the rest of my journey.

About grahammb
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

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