Editing your life ambitions.

Me in college: “Hippie Tolly”

Me in college: “Sorority Tolly”

I know several kids who are graduating right now.
Some high school.  But mostly college.
The biggest myth about college is that it’s the place where you “find yourself.”  Which as any college graduate can tell you, is partly true.
But only partly.
When I graduated college seven years ago, I thought I had a lot of things figured out.  My career path, for example.  I was going to get my PhD in English Literature, teach at an adorable little liberal arts school, and walk around wearing terribly hip glasses all day. Victorian literature would burst out of my smart, expensive tote, and I’d stride into class each morning with an exhausted but confident smile, ready to shape the young, nebulous minds before me.
However.  Before that, there was the whole matter of getting through college itself.

And while I was there, actually stumbling through it all, I carried huge, unresolved questions about my self identity.

See, each day, I looked around at the feminists, the environmentalists, the Christians, the lesbians, the Young Republicans, the Green Party, the newspaper staff, the soccer players, the sorority sisters, the stoners and the baseball team.  I studied their language and their habits closely.  I listened to their slang.  Watched how they dressed.

And I quietly wondered where I fit in. 

On some days, I showed up at the student-run coffee bar for slam poetry readings, wearing tattered jeans, jewelry from a Native American reservation, and a thrift store t-shirt.  I nodded along to the poets’ earnest rants against racism, NAFTA, and meat.  I added my name and email address on the Students Against Unrecycled Paper clipboard that was being passed around, and in the margin scrawled “this is an outrage!!” for good measure.
Then, the next day, I skipped over to Tri Delta clubhouse.  Flat-ironed highlights bouncing in the wind.

I wore my Tri Delt pin and made a Tri Delt shape with my hands, and pledged my allegiance to the Trident Sisterhood.

Or was it the Dolphin Sisterhood?
The truth about college and identity is: It’s confusing.  Even after you graduate, you’re still groping around in the dark for a while.  You try out one path, and it looks as though it’s leading somewhere promising, then a scary monster pops out from absolutely nowhere and you are like GET ME THE HELL OFF OF THIS PATH.

This truth applies to work, romantic relationships, circles of friends, and apartment leases.

During the past few weeks, I’ve gotten a few really nice emails from students who are about to graduate college.  I can hear both the excitement and trepidation in their notes, all wondering (explicitly or not) just what, exactly, is supposed to come next.
I’ll spare you my advice to them — it’s not very sage.

But I will share with you a very timely discovery I made this weekend, while cleaning out one of my old book shelves: My college diary.

Or rather, one of roughly 12 I kept during that period.  I had a lot of feelings, ideas, and (dear God) opinions during that four-year stretch.  What you are about to read is a list of “Life Ambitions” (actual title) I made for myself at the age of 20.
This list was composed on March 15, 2003.

Can you believe the same individual wrote:
14. “protest regularly against issues that conflict w/ morals”
15. “develop six-pack”
5. “get doctorate degree”
6. “find signature scent”
Doesn’t it seem like a bipolar person wrote this?  It’s not just the wide, eh, variety of goals here — but that each lofty goal is immediately undercut by something I’m sure I read at the gym.  Or possibly in Glamour.
So just for kicks, I went through this list today.  Here is an update, nearly 10 years later, of my progress on “Life Ambitions.”

Out of this whole list, I accomplished exactly two things!

Both #9 and #17 have now been ticked off.

I did go to a protest once … against the War in Iraq … but mostly I stood around by myself, wishing I had brought a sign or something.  

I haven’t bought my parents a retirement home yet, but I still think it’s my favorite Life Ambition on this list.  I also haven’t gone sky-diving (but I’d like to), run a marathon (HELL no), or written a novel.  But maybe that one will actually happen someday.

 Additionally, I didn’t get a column in the newspaper (someone watched her Sex & The City very closely in 2003), but I DID start a blog!  Three, actually.  The first two completely sucked.  I’m still sticking it out over here.

For the most part, knowledge about cars and “science” (Life Ambitions #11 and #12) continues to elude me.  My transmission’s functionality has been explained to me several times, but all I hear from mechanics is: “blah blah blah MAGIC, blah blah blah MAGIC.”


So new and upcoming graduates: My only piece of advice is probably, keep a diary.

Make your own list of “Life Ambitions,” if for no other reason than it will be totally hilarious to look back over them someday. 

Truth be told, I still make “Life Ambitions” lists for myself all the time.  Now that I’m nearly 30, my goals have changed tremendously.  I’m too shy to share them with you now.

But maybe, in a few years’ time, I’ll let you know if I’ve reached any.

happy graduation to you all.