I have a good friend who used to be fond of comparing life to one of those Choose-Your-Own-Adventures novels. Remember those? You were on some sort of adventure with your friends, exploring outer-space or different countries or simply the creepy old house down the street that you hit your baseball in the window of, and you created the story for yourself by choosing which way to turn, which door to open, or whether to fight the crocodile or turn around and go home.
I’m the kind of person who likes to believe I can choose my own adventure. I like to believe that I’m all powerful, and even when I admit that I’m not quite that, I firmly (and vocally) believe that there are a lot of things I can control. I truly believe in living a purposeful life – one where you are always watching, always ready for a new challenge or opportunity, and always open to the worlds other people can open up to you (whether they are the door to a building on Wall Street or a door inside your own head). I believe that if you want an exceptional life you have to work for it – you have to surround yourself with the kinds of people who share that with you, and you have to immerse yourself in new experiences and constantly be pushing yourself. I think you have to work and love like crazy to get back anything worth having.
When you graduate, you get to thinking it’s going to be the first time you really will get to choose your own adventure. Sure, when you’re a kid you choose some of your own adventures, but a lot of where you’re going is already laid out for you. Finish grade school, middle school, high school. Go to the best college you can get into and afford. There you get a few more choices – your major hopefully and some of the classes you get to take. You begin to decide a little of who you might want to be and what kind of people you might like to associate with, but even then your objective is clear – do well, make some friends, graduate and get a job. But the longer I’ve been out the more I see that “getting to choose” isn’t quite how this adventure works. Maybe in the mid-1990s it was different, I don’t know, but there aren’t a lot of people who are choosing from 5 different and very competitive job offers in 2011.
In light of all this, I’ve cast my job-search net wide. Executive Assistant at a prestigious Advertising firm in Portland? Sure thing! Meeting planner for an automotive consulting company in Massachusetts? Why not? Public Relations Account Exec at a small firm in Chicago? Sounds neat. Client Service position at a marketing firm with an awesome name in Austin, TX? Kate Spade in New York? Procter and Gamble? Yeah! My dream job at my dream company in the city I never expected I’d be living in after the age of 21? Yup, got my fingers crossed. Each day I find new jobs to apply to, and amazingly, I’m excited about all of them. When I close my eyes and think about it I could see myself in all those places, advancing down all those career paths, tremendously satisfied with the course of my life. I suspect that whichever job I get will be “the best thing that ever happened to me.”
It’s funny, the last time I didn’t get a job it was “the best thing that ever happened to me.” It was my junior year in college, and I had planned to go to Rome in the spring semester until a too-good-to-be-true opportunity fell into my lap. It was an event planning internship at a great company where I would have done really interesting things, made great contacts, and brought home a nice paycheck. I applied, waited, and eventually interviewed, osculating back and forth between registering for classes or visas in Italy and completing more application paperwork and corresponding about interviews. In my final interview I was told they were incredibly impressed, and eventually in December (hardly a month before I would be leaving) I was told they had picked a candidate with more experience, but that I was a very close second. It was a failure of sorts, but I moved on by way of a plane ride – one that proved to be nothing short of life-changing. Because I took that plane ride, because I didn’t get that job, I saw all kinds incredible places I never would have seen. I was almost sold for a caravan camels in Morocco. I made new friends and got closer to incredible people I already knew (who would become my best friends). I learned about Roman funerary art. I missed the death (and community catharsis) of a my great-grandmother and a close childhood friend. I began to let go of another childhood friend and consequentially began to find my voice. I saw the fountains at Versailles and learned that I could love again. When I came home for the summer I began my love affair with another boot-shaped land mass, baptizing myself in lakes and generally being guided by a person who somehow knew to ask all the questions of me that I never knew how to ask. Over those 8 months I would have spent working at this nice accounting firm, where I would have worn cornflower blue and gone to the funeral and cried on the wrong shoulder and never been baptized again or realized that I needed to be, I got to find myself instead. It was a glimpse, a sliver, and something that wouldn’t be truly understood until much later, but it was born then. And somehow in the midst of all the chaos I got the job of my dreams which opened my eyes to the kind of grown up I want to be and the kind of career that I want and where I met a man who would later refer me to another agency which I had always loved which would then interview me for a position…
for which I would wait and see. Wait to see if that adventure chooses me.
I guess sometimes you can choose your own adventure, but other times your adventure chooses you.