Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Secret of Life

As individual as each of us is, as much as we insist on making our own way and living our own lives, we always have preconceptions of what's "normal" based on the opinions of the people around us and the status quo as we were growing up.

College graduation, May 2007.
For me, this moment felt like
a given, but that isn't the
case for everyone.
In my hometown, an affluent beach suburb that prides itself on the quality of its schools and the achievements of its students, going to college isn't a question for most people. There, a college education is perceived by most as a necessity, a stepping stone to adulthood and a life of purpose, whatever that purpose may be. I never questioned that I would go to college, and the fact that neither marriage nor children were part of my plan until, at the very least, a few years after I had finished that bachelor's degree seemed like the most normal thing in the world.

So when I was asked last week what my "secret" is for being 25, unmarried, fairly well-traveled and about to start my graduate work, my first reaction was to blink in surprise, speechless. But I don't have a secret, I thought. Isn't that pretty normal? With the possible exception of the well-traveled part for some, I don't think my situation is all that different, on the surface, from that of a lot of 25-year-olds around the world.

Then I started to put the question into context: I'm not in an urban area anymore - in fact, I'm a three-hour drive from any major city. This part of Arizona, which my parents moved to when I was a sophomore in college, is rural, much of it is far from affluent and many of the schools struggle to get a decent percentage of their students successfully through the state-mandated testing. Some of the kids who grow up here do go on to one of the state's public colleges, but for many of the people who live here, a college degree may as well be the moon. And most people are married and starting families by their early 20s. In my seven months here so far, I haven't met or heard of anyone else my age who isn't married.

The man who asked my "secret" for living my life as I have has two young daughters, whom he wants to see get their degrees and explore the world; he and his wife are planning a family vacation overseas when they're a little older. In this area, as in a lot of the U.S., making a trip like that is a big deal and I was touched by this man's concern for his daughters' future and his desire to show them that a life that is "the norm" for this area isn't their only option.

After my initial surprise at his question, I started to think about what pushed me to study and travel as much as I could. Yes, some of my motivation for getting my degree was because it was expected, but I was genuinely interested in the subjects I chose to study and I enjoyed spending time on them, years of sleep deprivation aside. Studying abroad was something I felt compelled to do, if time and money allowed, and I don't regret a moment of it, despite the fact that it made my last year of college extremely hectic. When I started my bachelor's degree, I didn't think much about grad school, but as my interests have developed, it's become clear that the path I hope to follow into the future will be more accessible with a Masters degree - and I'm lucky enough to be able to work toward that new goal while indulging my love of travel. So it seems that having a passion for something - or several things - and the drive to pursue it is my "secret."

While the ideas of normality that each of us grow up with will never entirely fade, they don't define our lives unless we let them. (And one sure way to blow any idea of "normal" out of the water is to travel and see how different life is for people around the world.) I think Caecus got it right when he said, "Each man is the architect of his own fate." I believe that, and, though the path I'm following may be influenced by other people and may change direction, I will always be the one making the decision to change course or continue straight ahead - no one else can decide my life's direction for me. What's your secret to living the life you want?


zablon said...

i love the way you have summed up the last paragraph,showing how you are independent and at the same time interdepent

Jessalyn Pinneo said...

Thank you! I think it's important to understand the impact other people have on our lives, while still recognizing that our decisions are ultimately our own.