Like the Donny and Marie song, A Little Bit Country, a Little Bit Rock and Roll, my son is a little bit science nerd, a little bit hip hop. A little bit engineer, a little bit artist. So it came as no surprise this fall during the college application process that he struggled in deciding on a major. I am incredibly grateful for the varied academic options available to prospective college students. Yet I often wonder if all of the choices make it difficult to, well…, choose. And how does someone decide at the age of seventeen what they want to do for the rest of their lives?
My own college application process was the polar opposite of my children’s experience. I vaguely remember even meeting my guidance counselor. My applications and essays were completed at my kitchen table alone with barely a passing glance from parents. They trusted my ability to successfully and independently navigate the process. And I did. I chose a major, a few solid schools, applied, was accepted into good programs, finished in four years, marketing degree in hand. I congratulated myself—I had my life all figured out. After my graduation, I was intent on following my carefully chosen career path, yet I worked as proofreader, advertising copywriter, pre school teacher, elementary substitute, grad student, publicist, lecturer and writing teacher, not one of which had anything to do with my degree. I guess the good news is that though you may start off in one direction, life’s path often twists and turns and hopefully leads you exactly where you need to be.
On a recent walk with girlfriends I complained bitterly about a to do list the length of the Old Testament. I bemoaned the fact that if I check off everything on my list, I will lose an entire precious workday. My girlfriends made a novel suggestion: Instead of trying to juggle many jobs, take the day and do just one— be a Mother, that incredibly broad job description that in itself encompasses several jobs taking care of everyone and everything. And as a mother, my girlfriend therapy continued, spend the day making the appointments, running the errands, tending to the home and when that job is completed, go back to being a writer.
There are the days when I wish I had just one job. Where my sole purpose was to get up in the morning and write. Or my one and only role was to get up in the morning and care for my children. Or I needed to only focus my attention on nurturing my marriage. But instead I’m a little bit mommy and partner and a little bit writer. An Undeclared Major.
There are many mothers I admire from afar. So laser focused on kids and home, you can see everything they touch sparkling from the attention. And there are the women I know who are so driven and focused on career, you just know they could change the world by the sheer force of their creative energy. I alternate between wanting to do one thing really well and being happy and wanting to do many things just well enough and being fulfilled.
I want to do teach a college writing course. I want to be a lecturer, travelling the country speaking at schools and conferences. I want to rescue dogs, get my PhD, be a professional blogger, foster parent, a midwife, study anthropology and linguistics, volunteer. And even though I can barely run a 5k, I religiously watch the New York City marathon, and think, One day…. And it is equally important to me to be a loving partner, a good friend, a dutiful daughter, and a supportive sister. I may not be sure about what I want to be but I am certain that exploring the many different parts of myself answers more questions than it raises. It is impossible to choose between the joys of laughing in the kitchen with my kids, embarking on a new adventure with my husband and the satisfaction I feel when a germ of an idea evolves into a story I can be proud of. In so many ways, each experience adds richness to the others.
Maria Shriver once said in an interview years ago, “You can have it all, just not at the same time.”
I took the day to be a mother and even added a few more days to complete my list. It was a much needed effort that served my family well, yet it was a temporary reprieve from what I knew awaited—Reality. Deadlines loomed, emails piled up in my inbox, joint decisions needed to be made. And though I may not get the balance quite right, I longed to return to my other jobs and the tightrope act that has become my life. At age seventeen or forty eight, an undeclared major looks the same. With so many choices, you don’t need to be in a rush to decide.