I’m not an ist. If I have to go back to work because it turns out we just can’t make ends meet, I have no idea what I’d do — I don’t know what I am. I used to tell my ex husband (a microbiologist working as a chemist) that everyone else was an ist or and er, but not me. They all knew what they were. They had job-identity, probably career-identity. I didn’t have that way back then, and I still don’t have it now.
I chose my major by default: I couldn’t decide on a major and spent so long just taking filler-courses that the university finally sent me a letter telling me to pick something or they’d have to boot me out. The trouble was, I didn’t have any clue of what I wanted to “be when I grew up” and I found pretty much every course I took really interesting, so I just moved from semester to semester enjoying nearly every course I took so much that, each time, I thought this course might be the subject, the thing I was going to do for the rest of my life. I took courses in visual art, macroeconomics, microeconomics, English literature, group communications, plant biology, French, child psychology, American history, costume history, calculus… ok, so I didn’t enjoy the calculus, but I took it. Actually, I didn’t enjoy French either — it’s a darned tricky language.
At last, the university spotted that I was just collecting classes randomly and they sent that letter: I’d had my grace period and it was over. So, I focussed… what do I want to major in? what do I like? what do I want to do with my life? I thought long and hard and… still couldn’t decide. Eventually, I ended up having to find a major that fit the courses I’d already taken, rather than taking courses that fit what I wanted to major in. When I looked at it that way, there were only a handful of majors that fit the incredibly disjointed list of classes I’d taken, and I just picked one out of them that looked most interesting. It was Textiles and Clothing — a degree that was very business-oriented, but with particular focus on the rag trade.
At the time, that suited me down to the ground: I was 19 or 20 and fresh out of high-school, used to free rent and lots of spending money, hanging out at the mall and spending it all on clothes. I loved clothes, so what could be more perfect than to major in clothing?!?!? But by the time I graduated, I’d been a skint student for so long that I’d lost my interest in shopping completely (because shopping with no money is more pain than pleasure) and, consequently, lost a lot of my interest in clothing. Basically, I’d matured. I was no longer a teenager — all about hair and makeup and clothes — and had become an adult and my interests had changed. I had my degree, but I had a lot less interest in it.
As it happened, my choice in subject was irrelevant anyway: the ex and I moved to the UK as a one-year experiment after university (14 years on, I am still here) and found ourselves settling in an area that didn’t have many opportunities for me anyway. I took work where I could and my career has gone in a completely different direction: I’ve been a retail manager, a buyer of brass widgets, a chemical production planner, a coordinator in an IT department, and worked in the finance and planning office on defense projects. Is that a career? More likely, it’s just a series of jobs. Either way, it was never fulfilling, and not what I want to go back to.
So, what to go back to, when the time comes? What indeed. I have a few ideas bouncing around in my head. They are as varied and as unfocussed as when I was at university, ranging from making children’s clothes to silver-smithing to getting a Master’s in Economics, but at least they’ve been compiled with a bit more wisdom and experience than I had then. The trouble is that I’d be starting from scratch with all of them: none of them would draw on any particular experience or skills I’ve used previously. There is nothing I’ve done before that I’d want to carry on with. I would have to start anew, learn a completely new subject, and then launch it as my career.
I honestly don’t know if that’s even possible. But I also know that I can’t go back to what I was doing before and keep my soul intact, so I suppose I have no choice. I’m just going to have to narrow down my varied list of possibilities, pick one to run with, and then somehow — somehow — I’ve got to make my new career happen. We need the money, and I need the sense of identity.