In Elena Ferrante’s “Neapolitan Novels,” the main character, Elena Greco, feels a sentiment throughout her life that many small-town kids know all too well. It is the fear of never getting out, never making it, never leaving behind this little place and these little people who never could contain the big dreams you were hiding in your heart.
Since the first time I learned I was different from the kids of my hometown — that I wanted to do something great — I’ve wanted to leave behind everything I know and go to New York. In my head, New York was always the city of realized dreams. I know most of that idea is cultural construction, but I just can’t seem to overcome the hold New York has on me. Like the Frank Sinatra song, I’ve thought that “if I could make it there, I could make it anywhere.”
But, as is often the story of my life, the dream of New York is much easier than the reality. And as I come closer to the end of college, the dream slips further away.
No matter how much experience I’ve had, nothing has saved me from being constantly rejected by the jobs in New York to which I’ve applied. I am still here, a second-semester senior in March, hoping for at least a phone-call interview, with no clear future in sight except to return to the small town I’ve longed so much to escape.
I am conflicted with several different possibilities, which all appear to me as failures. I can go home and try to write that novel I’ve been planning since I was 6 years old, rolling the dice on whether anyone will take my work. Or I can move to New York anyway, accept a job I hate in a field that bores me, letting ennui sap my soul. Or I can take an unpaid job at a literary agency and try to waitress on the side until I get money doing what I really love — a suggestion my friend scoffed at, claiming it was beneath me and hurting me in the process.
I feel as if there is something wrong with me, especially because everyone around me seems to be moving on. And for the first time in my life, I don’t know what’s going to happen.
One day, another friend told me the most surprising thing. She said that she was slightly sad to have already received a job, because she was “looking forward to struggling after college.” She said that she had grown up with the sitcom “Friends,” watching Rachel waitressing until she made it in fashion and Joey and Chandler living together, supporting each other. It was the thought of having fun, while floundering and enriching yourself at the same time.
She made it sound like struggling when you are young is what you are supposed to do. In fact, that’s what being young is: figuring out from your difficulties who you are and what you can truly achieve. And it hit me that, even though the other Penn seniors appear to be having smooth transitions into adulthood, I don’t have to.
It’s somewhat abnormal to go straight into what you want to do and have an amazing job right after college. According to a study done by Jeffrey Selingo for his book “There Is Life After College,” two-thirds of the 752 young adults he interviewed didn’t have a direct path from college into the career they wanted.
And while it’s wonderful that so many people at Penn are ambitious and successful, it doesn’t mean that those of us who perhaps aren’t as sure or who haven’t had as fortunate circumstances have to guilt ourselves for not producing equal results. Everyone has a different way and a different pace to reach their destination, and no one person is superior to another.
At our age, Meryl Streep, though she was a driven woman, was still debating whether she should be an environmental lawyer or actress when she slept through the law school entrance exam. At our age, Oprah was fired from her first reporting job. It just goes to show that you can still do great things, even if you didn’t get a glowing start.
Sometimes, life is about planning what you want to do and carrying out that plan. And sometimes, life is about letting things roll and finding meaning in those events retrospectively.
The transition from college to adulthood is somewhere in between those two extremes.
AMY CHAN is a College senior from Augusta, Ga., studying classics. Her email address is email@example.com.