When I leafed through my undergraduate meanderings looking for suitable material to post, I was reminded of a woman I went to college with. I didn't know her well. We were classroom buddies who occasionally ate lunch together as part of a larger group, but I liked her, though two years after we graduated, she didn't remember me. She has an unusual name, so when I Googled her, I'm confident that I found the right person.
She's living in the town where we went to college. She teaches third grade, and recently bought a house not far from my junior high. It's quite nice: I drove past it yesterday (an unexpected trip to the coast dropped into my lap). A woman was out front watering. The new owner? Her daughter? Roommate? Neighbor? I didn't stop. Twenty-four years is a long time.
I don't think she intended to be a teacher when we were in college. I certainly didn't. Even though I knew I wanted to go to graduate school, I didn't really think about teaching. I wanted to be, I don't know, Simone de Beauvoir or something. I was going to write learned books, not teach freshman comp (actually, I don't teach freshman comp, but the point is that my career path might well have involved a lot of comp, which never crossed my mind back then).
For many reasons, it seems far more plausible to me that I should be teaching elementary school in my home town than that I should be a professor in a very different environment. I am rather stunned by my good fortune, and the hard-headedness of various Younger Selves who made my career possible.
It is not so surprising to various of my friends, even those who have known me longest.
But then, I'm the only one who knows what the journey felt like from the inside. Even my good friends saw far more of the determination than of the self-doubt and sometimes rank terror. The night before I left on my drive cross-country to an ivy-covered grad school, I was convinced that I was ruining my life. Certainly I was correct that I was changing it—not, perhaps, irrevocably, as I probably could have dropped out after a year or two and gone back—but I did drive away, and I did not drop out, and I changed my life.