What should I do with my life?” my older daughter, a college junior, asked me. Well, not exactly. She wanted help with a cover letter for a summer internship but, really, she was asking which direction to go — passion or practicality, risk or predictability? These are the big life questions she is facing as her entry into the working world looms closer and closer.
The internship she’s considering is a practical training program that would take her away from everything she’s immersed herself in at school. A declared double major in film and theater, my girl is preparing for sharing shabby homes with too many people and waiting tables between gigs, understanding that success in these fields comes only to a few — not everyone gets to hold up an Oscar or Tony Award. But she’s having second thoughts about pursuing this path and the lifestyle and sacrifices it may entail.
Her two-and-a-half years on campus have been a headlong rush into these areas — first working on student run shows and film projects, advancing to department productions and getting her choice of assignments. Hours and hours each week are devoted to scenery, lights, music and rehearsals, pushing other pursuits off her schedule.
I’ve been very supportive of this in many ways including showing up for performances and willingly giving up vacation time with her so she can be on campus early for run-throughs and production meetings.
Suddenly she’s talking business internships and training programs and grad school for law, career paths that seemingly provide stability and long-term potential but are far away from a stage or film shoot.
I tell her to go for it — take a shot, pursue your dream, do the thing you love the most. Give it a couple of years and see what happens. Now is the time to sleep in ratty apartments and drive a beat up car, eating pizza or pasta too many times each week.
But I’m not sure this is the right advice. As much as I want her to take a chance and follow her passion, I can’t be sure she will have the same opportunities if she defers taking the conventional course. Things are different from my youth when I, and many friends, took a few years after college to work in different fields and figure out a direction to go. Often it was grad school that signaled a commitment to a profession. Today, through, even when applying to college, everyone asks what you’re going to do. The pressure is on to pick a path and pursue it relentlessly as early and unwaveringly as possible.
As a parent, I know I’m supposed to be the voice of reason and responsibility, helping her make good choices and weigh options. When she’s doing that really well for herself, maybe the right thing is push her a little off the straight and narrow and encourage her to at least think about going for the long shot and not living the rest of her life with a nagging regret.
Besides, if she doesn’t try, how can she ever thank me in the acceptance speech for her Academy Award?