I came to love learning while in college. Something about the discovery of a format that finally treated me as an adult, separating the pursuit of knowledge from authoritative control, freed me to fall in love with intellectual pursuit. Said in another way, I discovered only fairly late in life that I am a big fat nerd.
I remember the overwhelming disappointment that I felt when I came to realize that I couldn’t even begin to tap into the enormous body of human ideas in a mere four years. I was actually saddened by the need to choose just one area within which to specialize. Although I chose science, I continued to pursue subject matter in the humanities and my search for interdisciplinary courses, guided by my tender adolescent conscience, found me often in the department of environmental studies.
I don’t know if this field still exists but at the time it was a fledgling, piecemeal discipline. Much of the subject matter focused on shedding light on the dire nature of the environment problems that modern life had produced: pollution, global warming, waning species diversity, etc. It was a bleak picture indeed.
I found the classes to be frustratingly incomplete. What on earth is the point of spending so much time to understand problems without spending any time on possible solutions? I remember the unspoken pleas from many of my fellow students: please tell me how to become a good steward of the earth without disappointing my parents, who happen to be paying a lot of money for this education!
I mistakenly believed myself to be more sophisticated. I often flaunted my freshly minted cynicism in search of camaraderie with my professors. In hindsight, I was an arrogant butt-head. I saw my scrappy upbringing as a blessing, one that might permit me to shed societal expectations more easily than my classmates. I realized that I couldn’t easily “change the world” but damned if I would be conformed into the bourgeois consumer lifestyle that was condemning all of us to fry in our own petroleum.
Fast forward a decade and a half or so and here I sit, just another middle class, fossil-fuel junkie, tied to her relatively new computer. Strangely, I feel good about my choice to become a full time mom, at least in the short term. From the perspective of footprints, it’s a perfectly virtuous career choice, although I’m sure that I would have scoffed at the idea with full lung strength way back then. Nevertheless, it is highly likely that I will only have one child and I am bold enough to hope that he will eventually grow older and far less needy. I will need to engage myself in the world outside of this apartment once again. There are still real choices to be made and I still believe that I can make them meaningful.
I feel my grown-up self projecting back to those classrooms of yesteryear and pleading to my professors: how on earth do I find something positive to do with myself that still allows me to contribute to my families finances?
What on earth should I do when I grow up?