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Plenty of Room

I haven't been back here since I graduated from college, so after dinner with an old friend last night, I rode around the campus and community where I spent several years of my life. I gasped over some major changes to a few of the university buildings, but the community itself was virtually unchanged. "I told you," my friend said, laughing as she pointed out the same local hole in the wall restaurants we frequented for years. "It's like Hotel California. This place never changes."

We went to a liberal arts school and I'm pretty sure we and everyone we knew all assumed that we didn't need "useful" degrees and we would spit on the idea of going to school to make ourselves "marketable" - but now, all of us are in careers completely unrelated to our idealistic degrees. In fact, despite my worry about explaining how I got into the field I'm now in, as soon as I started talking, she nodded understandably and just said, "but you like it. You found something you like. I, on the other hand, worked in the field related to my degree for four years and realized that I hated it." Then she told me about her husband, also with a liberal arts degree from the same school, who also now works in a technical, "useful," and "marketable" field -- by choice, as shocking as that would have been to us all 10 years ago.

For a while I've had this inner struggle going on that could be summed up with this title: What I Do vs. Who I Am. I've resisted getting close to people I work with because I've told myself I don't really identify with them, I'm not really "supposed" to be there, I'm only paying the bills, this identity is only one I use for a paycheck. I've (sub-consciously, I think) resisted staying in touch with people I knew in school out of some sort of attempt to distance myself from having to explain why I'm not (fill in the blank with whatever way an English Language and Literature degree could meet my career expectations and simultaneously create some kind of ideal, whole identity). I'm only now starting to realize, though, that there's really no need for me to separate those identities. I don't actually have to explain or justify, because the biggest secret of all is that we're all ultimately just doing the best we can. That's what I was doing in school when even while choosing that liberal arts degree path, I didn't actually know what I "planned" to do. That's what I'm doing now as I prepare to get certified in an area I always automatically assumed I would avoid at all costs. Who I am really hasn't changed, though. At the core I'm still like Hotel California, too.