I spent the better part of my afternoon talking to one of my coworkers about our quarter life crises. Laura just graduated from college and was brutally honest enough to admit that she’s hoping for her dream job to fall into her lap. I tried to pass along all of my hard-knock wisdom I could. For entertainment purposes, here is a dramatization:
About three in the afternoon Laura arrives at the office, ready to be of some assistance to Dave and me. We are both bogged down with stuff and Laura’s humor is refreshing after a long week. Laura works at a steady clip, putting keys away and helping residents. She’s thorough and has an easy rapport with her peers. Dave is in an out of the office, and I find some comfort in that. Spending eight hours a day with a man I’d probably never befriend in everyday life can be a bit too much to bear. I’m at my desk entering data into the personnel system. Files are strewn everywhere, and pink Post-Its litter the remaining surface.
I look up when I realize Laura’s live-in position is nearing the end. I consider what will become of her. Working with such a transient population is hard at times; I can’t help but grow attached to some of the characters that float in and out of the office—Laura is no exception—she’s off-beat and our hometowns are only separated by a short ride on the 99.
“What’s the plan, Laura? Are you going back home when your job ends?” It’s a live-in position, and I’m betting it will be hard for her to move back in with her parents after she’s enjoyed her own apartment for the last year.
“God, no. I’m thinking of sticking around here for a little while.”
“Yeah, it’s hard to go back,” I empathize.
I can tell Laura wants to ask me something, but she hesitates, and after a split second pipes up, “Do you like working as an administrative assistant?”
I can’t tell if she’s being thoughtful and is genuinely interested or is mocking me just a little. I’ve heard her talk to annoying residents in the same tone, and I admire her for it. My attempt at subtle mockery is always thinly veiled, and I know that I’ve earned a reputation as a snob more than once in my life. Somehow with Laura, though, I don’t care. I’m honest, even though one of the director’s doors is open and my boss has grown suddenly quiet. “No. This isn’t forever for me.”
“What do you want to do?”
“I want to be a writer.” I choke on the opportunity to tell her I am a writer. I think it sounds pretentious to call this exercise in trial by error—writing.
“Have you written anything?” It’s the second time this week I’ve had to think of something witty to say in response.
“Yeah. I’ve worked on two novels, I’m working on some short stories, and other stuff.” I leave out this diary, because my boss is still listening in.
It’s my turn to ask the dreaded question, and she knows it’s coming, but can’t think of a good answer. “What do you want to do, Laura?”
“I don’t know! Everyone keeps asking me that and I just don’t know what to say.”
“I’ve so been there,” I assure her, but I don’t want to let her off that easy. “Tell me the first thing that comes to mind when I ask you what you want to be. Don’t think about it. Do you know?”
“I don’t know.” She sounds a little defeated, but she’s only twenty-two at max and that simply won’t do.
“You’ve always known deep down what you want to do, you’re just too afraid to say it out loud to the universe.” I think about my grandfather and how he chided my mother about talking too much. He said instead of talking about doing something, you should just do it. He believed in action over words. (I see the irony in that now.)
“How did you know you wanted to be a writer?”
“I’ve known since I was twelve. But I just started saying it out loud last year.”
I don’t remember how she reacted, but somehow she turns the conversation to expectations, “My mom wants me to translate this book she wrote. She wants us to be a mother-daughter inspirational book-writing duo. I think it’s nice she’s thinking of my future, but that’s just not my thing.”
I tell her briefly about my own parents’ hopes and dreams of me becoming a teacher. We can relate that friends and family who know what they want and go after practical jobs make it so much harder for people to understand us. I tell her that clichés are tacky but true. The grass is always greener on the other side. Don’t judge a book by its cover. I try to reassure her that you can never really know if someone is genuinely happy or if they’re just going through the motions, fooling us all along the way, tricking us into being envious. I don’t know if I’m giving her a pep talk or breaking the bad news. We quiet down when Dave returns, because even though we haven’t said it out loud, we’re talking about big things—the kind of things you can’t talk to some people about without getting a big lump in your throat.
It’s almost time to go and I’m thinking about the days I used to sit in my room wishing that I could be a writer. Did I think that through sheer will power I could transform my life? Suddenly, I remember the most important cliché that I forgot to tell Laura—if wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.