Monday, July 25, 2011

The Question

I’ve discovered -- through four years of dedicated undergraduate work -- that answering the same question over and over again is actually not so fun.

In my first year of college all the freshmen engaged in this.  We were desperate to make friends.  I developed a set of standard answers and grew accustomed to the standard responses:  “Wow, you have a really unusual name.  No, I mean it’s really pretty!” [Thanks….?]  “You’re from Montana?  Wow, that is so cool.” [I know.] “How did you end up in Michigan?”  “You’re a twin? Wow, that’s awesome…does she go here?”

When I studied abroad it was the same phenomenon.  Now, as a senior back at my home institution, once again I cannot escape it.  Only this time, the phenomenon limits itself to just one question.  Sometimes it comes in sneaky disguises, but it always strips down to the same thing.

What are you doing after college?

This question tends to inspire involuntary physical responses among students, ranging from the subtle and entirely concealable eye twitch to the completely unexplainable full-body muscle spasm. 

After recovering from this physiological distress, students have a variety of ways to answer the question.

ONE: You can tell the truth, over and over and over again, but let’s face it, that gets old fast.

Yeah, you know, I really want a job that combines writing with international affairs. Possibly something in journalism – I’m going to move to Washington DC and pursue careers in that field. I’ve always loved DC, but naturally I’m not closed off to other options.  I know someone who works at CNN in Atlanta…


TWO: Admit the real truth: I have no plan.

Yeah, ummmmm……..

You will take in the questioner’s understanding gaze, feel the soft and slightly patronizing pat on your shoulder [I have a real job, you ninny] and the inevitable, “That’s ok. You don’t need to know. You’ll figure something out, and it will be something you love.”

You’ll nod gravely, yet wisely. Out loud you’ll say, “I know. God and I have it worked out. I’m not worried.” Mentally, you’ll say (somewhat hysterically), “YES I need to know! Because what if I don’t figure something out, and if I do it definitely won’t be something I love – how can flipping burgers at McDonald’s be something I love? Who loves that?!”

Instead of engaging in this agonizing mental/verbal repartee, you could always resort to the third option:


THREE: Make up a cool story.

Yeah, actually I’ve accepted a position working with homeless cats. We’re going to slowly rehabilitate them to live in homes, through a combination of TLC, R&R, and overpriced vet bills.  It’s really rewarding work, I just know I’m making a difference in someone’s life!

Ok, maybe you make up a not-so-cool story.

The potential risk with this method is that your listener will chuckle good-naturedly – “Good one!” – and then ask, “No, really, what are you doing after college?” 

And that leaves you right back where you started.  Only slightly more frustrated.

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