Monday, May 16, 2011

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.


thatslondon said...

You know, Now Self is never very nice to Future Self. Don't know why she has so many expectactions.

Katie said...

The fact that you wanted to make a signature scent is outstanding! Something that would have never crossed my mind.

I still have my diaries too. They make me cringe/laugh all at once. When I tell people that didn't know me in my 20's that I used to be totally southern, they fall out of their chairs.

Beth H said...

loved this! : )

coloursmarie said...

I want to bust out my diary right now and take a picture and send it to you! Wanna start a flickr group?

Hipstercrite said...

i'm with katie. i never would have thought about making a signature scent. i kind of like that idea!

Megan said...

I have a very similar list! I think one item said "Kiss in the rain." But then...I added "--and MEAN it." Just in case I would fake passion in the rain.

And signature scent!! Oh, how that resonates with me. I *do* have one. But I'm not telling what it is.

I want to buy my parents a retirement home too,

vmichelle said...

This is hilarious. And reminds me quite a bit of myself and my random interests and aspirations over the years. Thanks for sharing - and the comic commentary.

Kristen said...

Tolly, I love this! Change a few ambitions and this list could be mine... seriously.

In college, my teacher had us write a letter to ourselves five years in the future, listing our goals and what we'd think we be doing then, and then put it in a SASE envelope (we mostly sent to our parents house) . Five years later, she mailed it to us. It was amazing (and scary) to get that letter, and made me realize - things may never work out they way you think they will, but they always work out.

Kelsey said...

Just started reading your blog, and I love this post. As a longtime "life ambitions" list maker, I can say it definitely puts things in perspective. I have yet to accomplish list item #5 from three years ago of "being a bartender in a big city" but we'll see. I'm graduating in December, so this post was nice to read. :-)

Austin Eavesdropper said...

Katie and Hipstercrite, you guys give me too much credit! I only wanted to FIND a signature scent, not MAKE one. Like ... "I only wear CK1." Why one would ever make that a Life Ambition is a mystery to me.

ThatsLondon -- It's true! We raise the bar EXTREMELY HIGH. Write a whole novel, in my 20s?! Give me a break.

Beth and vmMichelle -- Glad you two enjoyed. :)

ColoursMarie -- Oh girl there is SO MUCH MORE where that came from. Post yours!! Your entries were probably incredibly hip and awesome (complete first sustainable fashion line by 25, PeaceCorps in Niger by 27...)

Megan -- Aw! I think KISS IN THE RAIN (and MEAN IT) is a great ambition!! I think I'll add that to my current list. ;)

Kristen -- WHOA. I can't believe she actually sent them to you guys! What a *rad* teacher. What did yours say?

Kelsey -- Hi! I'm so glad you are here! And hey, you know what, maybe you will be a bartender in a big city. Just the fact that that currently graces your Life Ambitions list makes you pretty badass in my eyes. I'll wear my signature scent to your bar.

charmfinder said...

I heart this so much, Tolly. I have all of my journals from over the years (since grade school for the love of God). Those journals contain many, many lists, as I am a list-making fool. Comparing then to now is such a great exercise. Write novel by 30 on list = guilty. Write novel by 40 on list = still guilty. Thanks!

Lacy said...

OMG. A co-worker just came by and said, "Do you know Tolly?" And I said yes, do YOU know Tolly? And they said, well your picture is on her blog.

Hilarious. Made. My. Day. Where were going in that?

And #6 was my absolute favorite. So fun.

Joah Spearman said...

Love this post!
I never really kept a diary, but I have always written little notes to myself, mostly emailing them to myself in recent years, and I find that having these thoughts on paper has been invaluable.

Sheralyn Jones said...

I too kept a journal started in High School thru College and thru my graduation and move to New York City. I stopped writing in it after returning to Austin and getting married/having kids/etc. DON'T DO THIS!!
Keep writing, put it away for a couple months, but pick it back up and go for it. After 40 plus years, teenagers and college aged kids, and a divorce, I opened it up again and have reveled in who I was, who I thought I was, and
who I've become. Don't be too hard on yourself. You never know, you might be able to have a good laugh and go on :)

Jodi said...

This is awesome. Posting and sharing on Twitter. P.S. I haven't done much since college, but I HAVE discovered my signature scent. And I never take that for granted.

Pink Sun Drops said...

Aw, Tolly, you're adorable. Love that you shared this. And so glad to know I'm not the only one whose life is dramatically different at almost-30 than I thought it would be when I was barely-20.


App4life said...

Love it! I actually have had #1, 4, 7, 11-13, & 17 on my 20's list, and I've only done #17 and part of #11 (tire). My two big ones where the novel and having my first child by 30. Neither of those have come close to happening and I turn 30 in 3 weeks! But, hey, sometimes the plan that actually unfolds is way better than the one we thought we wanted, right? :) Either way...I think dreaming our ambitions into a reality keeps us human!

Lyssa said...

I LOVE this, Tolly!

In JUNIOR HIGH, I made a list with 101 qualities I needed in a boyfriend. One hundred and one?! It also had gems such as "Only wears ankle socks" with a drawing of exactly where I wanted the sock height to be, and "Is nice to teachers" ...

... writers are awesome because we get to remember this stuff!

Aimee said...

Your posts always seem so perfectly timed. Just today I was reflecting on my life since I graduated college and the goals I had for myself back then. So many of them have changed completely.

And so this afternoon I started writing out my goals for the next 5 years. All before seeing your post. Timing, I tell you. I like to include realistic things.. like learn a few phrases in spanish so I can travel to Barcelona.. and completely unrealistic, I-would-fall-over-with-happiness-if-they-happened things like shooting a cover for Texas Monthly.

But yes, I agree. Everything changes. And it's fun to write it down. And just see what happens. I'm glad I'm not the only one.

That Chelsea Girl™ said...

What fun. I've always kept a journal, it's always interesting to look back.

Ross said...

Maybe tonight you can get a 6-pack on your way home and cross it off from your list. I'll help you with it but you have to drink the first 5.

brookeyogi said...

I love this Tolly. I'm graduating from Grad School on Saturday and still remain with similar questions. Transitions are interesting aren't they? They promote within us self-doubt, self-reliance, self-assurance...everything! I'm wondering if you remember me, your yoga partner at Dharma and instructor for one very unique class. I hope you are well! I'm so glad I reunited with your blog upon reinvesting in my own.

Austin Eavesdropper said...

CharmFinder -- Let's do it, girl!! Write our first books together, by 40. :) And hey, I've actually READ your proposal. You, my friend, are well on your way.

Lacy -- Heh. I believe that was during Rush. I see we all blew-dryed our hair for the occasion! I thought about posting this one specifically on your FB wall, but it thrills me to no end that your coworker beat me to it. And PS, I still haven't found my damn signature scent.

Joah -- I know! I like leaving a paper trail of Past Self, too. The notes. The emails. Hold onto them! It's fun to excavate your past.

Sheralyn -- Such wonderful advice! I still journal these days, but it's mostly on my computer. I opened it up the other day, and was shocked at what an ANGRY PERSON I was. Um. I think I need to journal at times when I am not venting ...

Anyway, I love that your life journey has been so thoroughly chronicled, through all of your many chapters. Maybe you'll share parts with us some day?

Jodi -- WHAT IS IT? Seriously. I'm dying to know. Right now I spray on something called "Sugar Sugar" and I think it kills people. But I like it because it smells like cookies.

(And, thank you for posting. :)

Pink Sun Drops -- Well, you know us bloggers. We share, overshare, and share some more! I was definitely ridiculous at age 20 ... and now that I'm at the ripe old age of 30, it is refreshing to look back at the things I thought were so important. So monumental. Makes you realize that your current issues -- the challenges, the fears, even the dreams -- will likely fade in 10 more years, and give birth to new ones. Nothing is permanent. And I think I kind of like that.

App4Life -- GIRL! I am relieved I'm not the only person who secretly desires to learn more about "science." And their car. You can change a tire? Good for you. I can kind of jump my engine. Only because I've left the dome light on so many times and killed my own battery. So it was knowledge born of necessity.

(And, happy almost birthday!!)

Lyssa -- "IS NICE TO TEACHERS!" I love that, Lyssa. You wanted a nice guy! One who didn't wear dorky thermal socks. You must, MUST post that diagram someday of where the socks should hit on the ankle. I sure hope your Colorado man has cross-referenced this picture.

Aimee -- I've seen your photos. And you know what? I think shooting a magazine cover is NOT AT ALL OUT OF THE QUESTION. At least it would not be if I were calling the shots. Your goals seem realistic, and attainable! I applaud you for making the list -- even if parts of it are not so realistic. Because those types of goals are ok, too. I still want to sky-dive.

That Chelsea Girl -- It so is!

Ross -- Heh. Husband, I may not have the six-pack (either the one referenced in this list OR the one you envisioned just now), but it was always my secret Life Ambition to marry a musician. And somehow I snagged you without a signature scent!

@Brooke -- Ummmm YEAH I remember you! I talk about our "very unique class" *all* the time to people. ;) I'm going to write a story about it someday. Congratulations on graduating from Grad School!! Are you staying here in Austin afterward? Say yes. Also, are you still going to Dharma Yoga? I desperately need to return.

Kate said...

We must hang out IRL! I have nearly that same list written out in my volumes of college/post-college journals. I was even a defunct Tri-Delta sister.
What a lovely post, thank you for writing it.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely love this post because I think just about everyone can relate to it. The idea that I thought post-college meant stability is hilarious to me now. Love that you're a Tri too, sista!

Courtney J. said...

Ah, I loved this post! I wrote a (less funny) post a few months ago on the same topic over at my mostly social media blog. Now, I want to go home and hunt around for my journal... Great read!

brookeyogi said...

For the time being, I am still an Austinite. Teaching yoga and social working it up. And Dharma yoga on occassion but I'm trying not to spend money right free yoga it is which includes but is not limited to podcasts in my room. Love reading your blog always.