Twice a week, I teach college communication classes. I’ve been doing it since Matthew was a baby, so I could freelance, but still have a steady source of income and work (and distraction from the never-ending needs that a baby usually has). While I don’t love the fight for a campus parking spot, some of the dry material I’m contracted to cover, or the grading of sometimes poorly-written papers, I love that there is information I have that I’m able to share with people who have a real desire and need for that information.
Every semester, I tell my students the story about my first job. I graduated from Penn State with a degree in Speech Communication and a dream of working for an advertising agency in New York City. It was mid-recession, so it took me a few months, but I found my dream job – working as an assistant at a large, high-profile advertising agency in New York.
And I hated it.
I hated the 90-minute commute each way and the trudge through Port Authority with the other miserable people who were getting off the bus. I hated the smelly walk up 8th Avenue, I hated my boss, who gave me work to do without explaining anything about it, and who condescendingly handed me extra cash to “get something for myself” when I went to the company cafeteria to fetch coffee for her meetings. I hated the people I worked with. I hated that I got home after 7:00 p.m. every night and felt the need to go for a run as soon as I did, just to burn off the stress of the day.
I stuck it out for four months, until I was able to get a fellowship that covered the cost graduate school, which bought me an extra year and a half to figure out what the heck I was going to do with my life now that the reality of my dream turned out to be a bit of a nightmare.
As I’m telling my students this story, they tend to look at me, dumbfounded – like, why would our professor, who is supposed to be encouraging us and our dreams, be telling us about her awful first job??
And I always tell them, I’m GLAD I had that awful job. I’m glad I had a job in the city, worked in advertising, did precisely what I thought I wanted to do. Because if I hadn’t, maybe I’d be standing in front of these classes, telling them they should pursue their dreams because I didn’t. I’m glad I can tell them that THIS is the time to be doing what they want to do. From where I stand now, I know that when you have a dream come true and it doesn’t look like a dream anymore, it’s time to find a new dream. From where I stand, I know that if I HADN’T pursued the dream I had, it would be a whole lot tougher to try and do that now. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but I’m saying that going after a fantasy in your 20s, before you have a mortgage, car payments and kids, is a whole lot easier than doing it later, especially if that dream turns out to be something you never really wanted in the first place.
My story has a happy ending, and that’s also something I stress to my students. While I was in graduate school, I took a public relations class, loved it, did an internship and loved that – I’d figured out what I really wanted to do. I spent 10 years working in public relations in jobs I enjoyed, and then when I had my first child, started doing freelance PR and teaching.
It turns out that my dream wasn’t what I thought it was. But I’m glad the detour took me to the dream I’m living now.