Congratulations! You’ve successfully finished your internship with a prestigious international NGO, working in the fight to end cybersex trafficking of children. You lived in a bustling Southeast Asian metropolis for almost a year and a half where you made precious friends, experienced mountaintop spiritual highs, and felt perfectly at home. You’ve done what you came here to do and are leaving with an elated sense of contentment. You’re ready for the future! You’ve already done so much so ask yourself…what’s next?
You decide to:
A. Go home at least for the holidays. You want some country cooking, quintessential fall traditions, and time with your family. Introducing bread and cheese back into your diet makes you breakout but what does it matter when you’re with your precious siblings who have to love you unconditionally! Besides, it’s always fun to be the one coming back. You are excluded from normal family chores and get to say you’re jet lagged for a month. You wield your power like a queen and hold court for all the familiar faces you grew up with and genuinely missed.
B. It’s a trap. You know it’s a trap. Your home state is like a cozy boa constrictor that lures you in with corn-based products and familial security. If you don’t have a ticket out of there, you will wake up one day and find yourself married to a Bryan and stuck in Fishers. You don’t have a job that justifies leaving the state but it will work out! You can arrange to live on a friend’s couch somewhere in a coastal region. You figure job-searching is the same anywhere.
The holidays pass and with it all your excitement to be back in America. You did all the things you missed so badly and you’re tired of people saying you need rest in your transition. Transition, schmansition! Can’t they see you’re ambitious and restless for the Next Big Thing?! And it will come. It always has. But you find out that major non-profits are on hiring freezes because 2018 was a bad fiscal year and their tax breaks changed or politics changed or they hire internally or they turned entry positions into volunteer positions (and they’d really love to have you full-time but is it okay if you’re not paid?) or you’re not the hot shot candidate you thought you were. After thirty rejection emails (including those that ghosted you), you need to make a choice.
A. Keep pursuing these jobs. Why else do you have all this experience anyways? You just need one yes, one person to see your value! That’s what employers are looking for, right? Everyone said your undergrad didn’t really matter- just your degree- and your international experience will put you way ahead. Maybe just keep rewriting your resumé with new fonts? Rephrase your persistent follow-up emails? Take a grant writing course in the meantime? You can do this…your post-it note affirmation tells you before losing its stickiness and falling into the trash.
B. Nope. You did your best, Sweet Cheeks. Your dream of being a social justice advocate was garbage and unspecific and that’s on you for repeatedly not showing up to the Career Fairs at your undergrad so you could gorge on nachos while rewatching Felicity instead. You got to experience total personal fulfillment in the Philippines; you can’t expect that twice in life. It’s time to buckle down and make money. You can inquire at the local café where the other employees whisper to you that you’re too nice and should quit and you kind of agree when you see the tyrannical boss scoop plates of salad with her bare hands. Or you can work at a temp agency, exercising the same brain power as a cardboard cut-out, which is what you were essentially hired for. You don’t get to be choosy after months of job hunting.
So it’s been months now. First time passed slowly. You’d text your friends “OMG can’t believe I saw you only last month!!” and kept track of time through iPhoto Memories. Then it passes all at once; looking at your social media hurts so you just…stop. Still being in transition feels like a cruel joke when all you want is to be settled. You have no community because you keep thinking you’ll get to your Next Thing. You get suspicious that people are wondering what you’re doing and judging you for slowly crumbling into a mess. It’s starting to get rough.
A. Get ahead of the narrative. Turn it into a joke- it’s what you do best! As long as your Internet presence seems jovial and like “haha, how did I get here?”, you’re fine! Write your jokes, drink your wine, and take Sad Baths™ as you contemplate all the horrible things no one is saying about you.
B. Forget all of it! It’s been your tried-and-true coping mechanism from all that moving around. Tell yourself that your friendships around the world weren’t all that strong, and come to think of it, you didn’t actually love living abroad at all. Are you telling yourself lies? It literally doesn’t matter! Your revisionist history will help you move on. Constantly be searching for what and who are next!
You were so lucky that over your time abroad (and really since college), nothing too major has happened with your family. But things begin to crop up and it seems that you’re the only person who doesn’t have commitments preventing them from helping. You’re asked to step up. What do you do?
A. Go do it all. Go to your great-grandfather’s funeral and write his obituary despite never understanding all the family context and complexities. Go to Los Angeles to help your aunt and uncle move out of their apartment as your aunt recovers from an intensive medical procedure and is rushed back to the hospital the day after you arrive. Pack up each mug and trinket; pack her wound for her as she’s on bedrest. Clean up the carpet when her neurotic dog explodes on both ends due to the stress. Go home and make Thanksgiving dinner for 15 people. Go to the South to be with a distant cousin as his family is in a full-blown crisis. Homeschool the kids, wrap their Christmas presents, distract them from the pain their parents are dealing with with excessive holiday cheer. Go to Florida and help your grandfather after a major stroke. Fly back with your great-grandmother as her own mental and physical state begins to wane. Fly back to Florida again to help your aunt now move into her new home as she can’t, on bedrest pregnant. Keep saying yes. At least you’re distracted and miraculously, every single need you have is being met. You still can’t make any plans for yourself but by saying yes to others, decisions are being made for you.
B. You’re sorry. You’re so sorry but you just can’t. You say it’s because you’re still establishing yourself and trying to prioritize moving forward but secretly you’re terrified you can’t handle it. You can’t handle yourself, how can you handle other people’s problems? You also wonder deep-down if anyone you know would ever show up for you in a crisis…like the one you’ve been living in, in slow motion, for months.
You have no immediate community, no career prospects, and whoops, no hope. People begin to bring up your old dreams to you. “Didn’t you take the LSAT? Whatever happened to that?”. “What about something with adoption? What about something with human rights? Didn’t you want to do something systemic?”. On a whim, you look up that dumb score you never thought twice about because you took it when you were a 20 year old idiot and forgot about it the minute you decided to go to Romania years ago. Huh, it’s not that bad. Why did you tell yourself it was so low? You Google a bit. It’s more than admissible with your GPA. Huh.
A. Okay, besh, Google law school deadlines. Choose one practical choice and one school that pops up first after searching “affordable out-of state-law school”. See that they are imminently approaching. See that most people spend weeks on their applications. Do yours in the course of 16 hours. Order your transcripts. Begrudgingly give your undergrad $4 for said transcript. Ask your old supervisor from the NGO for a recommendation. Be delighted when he says yes in ten minutes flat despite a 12-hour time difference. Write a moving essay you realize you’re been preparing the second you left the Philippines. Truly believe everything you say. Write what you want out of your career; say that you are good enough. Be terrified of it. Submit it.
B. WHY??? NOOOoooOOOO!!! IT RUINS THE NARRATIVE YOU’VE WRITTEN ABOUT YOURSELF FOR YEARS! That law school is for a certain kind of abrasive, elitist monster (despite all the wonderful, inspirational lawyers you know in real life), and that you’re too stupid (despite your academic record), and that… that…. THOSE EXCUSES SHOULD BE ENOUGH! Mask your fear in practicality. Keep your fledging pity job that you hate because news flash- you still have school debt you need to get rid of first.
Oops, you got into law school. It’s no Yale or Harvard but you’ll still get your Elle Woods moment in the sun. Now that it’s real, you have to start answering questions. What are you studying? How will you pay for it? Where will you live? Why law at all?
A. Each time someone asks you a question, vary it slightly. Try it on like a different style of shoes. Interested in family law? Sure, why not. International human rights? Looks snazzy. You want to practice law? You want to go into federal work? You want to practice in Indiana? Why can’t you answer these questions? So tell yourself all these half-truths that may add up to something resembling ambition.
B. Why are you doing this???!! Why law school at all!??! You didn’t choose this!!??? We said no law school!! A force is making these decisions in your life, like some kind of sentient Choose-Your-Own-Adventure game!! You’re being swept away with the tide and one day it’s going to stop and you’re going to have to take stock of the decisions you made when you were out of control. You’re going to have regret and consequences and debt and a law degree (?) and very confusing blog post that borders on meta. When does it end, Maggie?!!!
As always, you decide what’s next. And please let me know when you do.