By Mariah Secrest
I’d been ordering coffee from the same guy every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon all semester. I’m surprised the requisite question, “What’s your major?” hadn’t come up before, but until then all our conversations had been strictly caffeine-related. One day it came up.
“Philosophy and religion? You’d always have something interesting to talk about.”
“Yeah, I love it.”
“I hear there’s a lot of money in that.”
I smirked, grabbed my espresso, and strayed over to my table with, “Yes, especially with only a B.A.” And that was it; I was off to memorize verb paradigms of a language that no longer exists.
I have a finely-developed sense of what I want out of life, but when people ask the question that my chosen majors beg (i.e., “And what are you going to do with that?”) I hem and haw and intermix phrases like “ideological ramifications” and “cross-cultural preparation” and “training” and “intercultural sensitivity.”
By then usually either I’ve sufficiently confused them and they nod politely, sorry they asked; or else they never really cared in the first place and nod their heads politely because at least they accomplished the exchange of pleasantries and can go on with their day. Either way, polite head-nodding is usually in order. I’ve toyed with abbreviating the description of my life goals into various shortened forms, depending on my particular leanings of the semester. For awhile I tried calling it “international relations.”
But then I was afraid they would ask me what that means. The fact that I didn’t really know seemed like sufficient reason to discard that term. And the fact that what I do know ofthe term is that it somehow involves politics only serves to confirm that there is no way I can apply it to myself.
When the 9-year-old that I babysit asked what I want to do, I told her that I wanted to help people from different countries get along. That seemed acceptable to her. Cool. I couldn’t get away with that from an adult. As my interest and involvement in music and writing has more recently resurged, Im now answering the questions about my impending post-graduation plans with an even more vague Im going to take a few years to focus on the arts.
Really, I want to be a good thinker. But that’s not what people mean when they ask what I plan to do with my major. They mean, “How do you plan to make an income?” Well, I already pay my bills without a degree. For now, I just think how lucky I am to be able to pay my bills and still have the luxury to sit in a classroom every day and discuss the things that really spark my interest, and to sing and write about them in a way that challenges others to think and feel on a deeper level.
I wish instead of the question, “What do you want to do?” we got into the habit of asking, “Who do you want to be?” For that encompasses more than how you make your paycheck.
In all reality, there are a number of directions I could go in. I could work for a student ministry. Or do a traveling workshop for schools sending their young ones abroad–young ones whose little Westernized minds might need a bit of warning before they traipse off expecting the rest of the world to be just like America with accents.
Or maybe music really will work out. Or maybe I’ll be a slightly-more-cosmopolitan-than-average soccer mom. Or maybe I’ll be a missionary in Thailand. Or maybe I’ll work for a magazine. The point is that I will think well in whatever circumstance I find myself in. I will recognize the broader themes of humanity that paint every choice and behavior with a telling hue. I will bring art. I will bring creativity. I will bring music, even if only to my immediate sphere. Maybe I will even make a lot of money. But if I hope to make a difference, if I bring equilibrium to those in distress, if I inspire at all, I must be asking the right question when I wake up in the morning.
The really deciding question is not, then, “What will I do?” But rather, the most empowering question is, “Who will I be?”
Mariah has currently landed herself in Tucson, Arizona, where she’s finishing a philosophy degree. She enjoys writing almost as much as she enjoys making music. Almost. You can visit her on Myspace at www.myspace.com/mariahsecrestmusic.