published Sunday, May 1st, 2011

Harpe: Hey future, can I get a wake-up call

Yesterday, while looking at a calendar, I was shocked to realize that it was almost May.

It’s been almost a year now since I graduated from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., and my life feels anything but settled.

Yes, I am beyond grateful to be busy. I am in graduate student at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. I have a substantial job. I work at a computer store in Hamilton Place, and I have the potential for a solid career as a teacher.

Still I have begun to realize that the focus of my life remains all about my future. At 23, it feels like I should be a few chapters deeper into my life story.

As children, we are bombarded with messages urging us to prepare for the future. We are taught that we have to go to school to shape our future careers, and, more generally, to figure out what we want to do with our lives.

In high school, I felt constant pressure to get into the right college. I remember reading books about what to look for in a college, and which college would be the perfect fit for me.

I remember reading about that intuitive feeling you are supposed to get when you step onto the campus of the college that’s right for you. The writers of these guides made it seem like some magic formula.

There was also endless SAT prep — tutors, resume workshops and teachers dictating that you have to follow this or that format or the college would not even look at you.

Even college visits eventually began to blur together — the same red-brick buildings, and the same tour guides in flip-flops and blazers.

So many of my peers, at 17 and 18, were sure that they were going to be doctors, lawyers and engineers, and they were seeking out the best program. Their single-mindedness, and the seriousness of their parents, seem laughable, especially now. Very few people I know have stuck with a career that they had to decide on at age 18.

We were all motivated by anxiety about the future, and the need to be prepared for our adult lives. I chose my college, the University of the South, because I liked it. I thought a liberal arts school would allow me to explore and to find out what I wanted to do with my life.

Well, college is college, and with it comes its own set of pressures for the future. Thoughts of money, career and success were constantly in the background.

College was supposed to map my future, present me with some sort of key. But now that I am away from college I’m left asking: What exactly is my future? Is there a milestone I must meet? Is it career that defines my destiny? Is it money or family?

Sometimes I wonder if the future will jump out at me one day and announce: “Here I am.” And if that does happen, then what will I have left to accomplish?

Perhaps we are all too caught up in the future. Looking back, I am surprised at all the stress I put myself through. I was so preoccupied with doing the right thing to ensure my future that I forgot to enjoy the moments I had.

As the late John Lennon said, “Life happens when you are busy making other plans.”

Email Corin Harpe at corinharpe@gmail.com.

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