December 2nd, 2003

What Do You Want To Be?

I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. At different times it was a fireman, a policeman, an actor, a writer, a teacher – I don’t even really remember anything specific. Once I got to high school Junior-year math, I was determined I was going to be a high school math teacher. Then came Senior Math and I changed my mind. Teaching still appealed to me, but Pre-Calc had sucked the desire towards math right out of me. I also took Physics that year – another grand mistake I’ll regret forever. Everyone else in the whole class except for 4 of us guys took Speech. I sat in Physics with Whasun Oh, the tiniest, most difficult to understand Korean woman I have ever met, not understanding a single thing we talked about the whole year. It was so over my head, that I couldn’t even understand how over my head it was. The only reason I passed the class is that Miss Oh was easily talked into helping us on tests – she gave us formulas and out-right answers. In turn, we ran her ragged and sang an off-key version of “Happy Birthday” on videotape for her father in Korea. I’m sure that really boosted his opinion of his daughter’s career path…

I headed into college planning to become an English teacher. I loved to write and thought it would be a good mix of the teaching desire I got from math and something I was actually not as lousy in. One of my English teachers in college made a lifelong impression on me: Miss Wilfong. I had always skated by in high school – I was smart enough that I could pass tests just by sitting through classes. I should have been valedictorian or salutatorian or KingKongatorian or whatever the highest one was, but I never applied myself. With even a minimal amount of work I could have achieved straight A’s. I found I had to work a little harder in college, but not much…except in Miss Wilfong’s classes. She flat out told me I was being lazy and that she expected more of me. For some reason, I responded and gave her more. My best term papers were written for Miss Wilfong. When I got to Literary Criticism with her, I felt terrible. I didn’t get it. It was over my head, much Pre-Calc had been. I understood what symbolism was, but I sure as heck couldn’t pick it out on my own. Even when it was pointed out and explained to me, I had trouble agreeing with it and accepting it. I wanted to give her so much better of an effort, but I just couldn’t grasp it. I think she sensed my frustration and she backed off a little, but I still knew I was disappointing her. I took 7-8 classes with her, and that’s the one I remember with dread. The one she probably remembers with dread is the day in American Lit when we were studying Emily Dickinson and I stuck my hand up and said, “Miss Wilfong, did you know that a majority of Emily Dickinson’s most famous poems can be sung to the tune of the Gilligan’s Island theme song?” Immediately there were 30+ heads bowed over their books, searching for words to hum to the tune. But it got worse – for the rest of my career in college, I made it my goal to find someone in that class and prep them with same question. I think it was about the third semester that I went back to my prep-ee for a report and he said, “I didn’t have a chance to say it. When we started studying Emily Dickinson, she said it herself.” That’s one of my all-time best memories.

I stayed on-track to teach English until I got to my observation. I grew up in a private school. The only place that was open during my Spring Break was a public school… it was a rude awakening and turned me off of teaching.

I turned to speech. I loved being in plays and being in front of people. But I also had one of the most frustrating semesters ever, girlfriend-wise, and I turned in a lot of D performances in my speech classes, which meant I would have to take them all over again.

I decided to take stock of what I had the most credits towards. It turned out to be “General Studies.” It’s known as a “pre-professional” degree, because you can go on to law school or medical school with it as your base degree. Or, you can do what I did and use it to learn a little about a lot of things.

I went on from there to be a student activities coordinator, a webmaster, and then a computer tech. And that’s where I am now, except on my fourth different stab at it.

I like my job. Really, I do. I’ve always liked computers, and it seems like a good fit for me. Some days I’m struck with how unworthwhile it is, I’ll have to admit. I’ve always respected teachers – there’s a job that’s worthwhile: turning out the next Einstein or Reagan or Steinbeck, instilling dreams, fomenting hope. Me? I make sure you can get to your PowerPoint presentation that’s stored on your network drive. I explain to you why that particular website won’t work. I tell you that your floppy disk has gone bad and your files are unrecoverable. Sure, I’m needed, but a trained monkey could do my job, I’ve always said. It’s just a job. It’s not a dream. It’s not even dream-inspiring. It’s something that needs to be done, like serving food and cleaning toilets. Without people like me, the world would grind to a halt.

No little kid’s going to answer “Computer tech!” when you ask him what he wants to be when he grows up – unless he’s under the misconception that all a computer tech does all day is play network games. It’s not a career that people aspire to, not even me. Look back a few entries and you’ll see my dream. But even that – what’s the point?

I know, I know – how nihilistic and bleak can a guy be? Turns out – quite a bit. I still haven’t figured out what I want to be when I grow up. But I’m slowly whittling down the things I don’t want to be, so I guess that’s something.

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