A Little Bit of Wonder is where I journal about the somewhat roundabout way that I have been working to establish a career and a strong sense of self--I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about "direction" and "identity." I have a Master's Degree in Literature, but I'm no longer working as an English Professor; I'm starting the next step in my life as I work to establish a career as a writer in the non-profit sector.

At my companion blog, Little Wonder's Recommended Reading, you will find reviews for both books and other blogs that I enjoy. The two blogs are inter-linked, so you can access my reviews and reading challenges from the sidebar on the left.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Lessons from The Breakfast Club

The idea of individual identity is a funny thing.

Many of us think we know who we are. We say things like “I would never do that” and “She would never say that.” Or we declare the opposite: “You know, that’s just the sort of thing that he would say.” Many people feel fairly confident about their identity, at least once they’ve gotten past the rocky years of adolescence, or perhaps gone through an extended phase taking random classes and “finding themselves” before they declare a major in college. Eventually, we settle down and pick a partner and a career; we come to think of ourselves and be known by certain titles.

For example, I have been comfortable (even particularly happy, pleased with myself) being “Lauren, a Literature and Film Person, a College Professor and Academic Writer.” I feel confident introducing myself as "Professor Schultz." Maybe I’ve even been so comfortable that I’ve forgotten some of the other ways that I could think about myself and use to identify myself. Perhaps I’ve forgotten the wonderful feeling of stretching out to reach for unexpected possibilities. I’ve put aside “Lauren, the Jewelry Class Teacher” and “Lauren the Watercolor Student.” I haven’t had much time to be an artist or a volunteer while I’ve been in graduate school studying Literature, or first establishing myself as a Composition professor. After all, you have to be FOCUSED to have a Career-with-a-capital-C.

But didn’t I learn anything from The Breakfast Club? At the age of twelve, I found that John Hughes’ classic to be a declaration of what was already swirling around in my mind – the idea that just because someone was pigeonholed as a geek or a shy person by their peers didn’t mean they couldn’t have strange interests or a crazy side to their personality. I longed to be able to do unexpected things, to try on new roles. I desperately wanted people accept and appreciate all aspects of who I was/am, whoever that might be. The Breakfast Club is about, at least in part, stepping out of your assigned role. If you are the class princess, go make out with the punk from the wrong side of the tracks. Stretch out your arms and reach for those unexpected possibilities. It’s an inspiring idea, that you could defy expectations and radically change your life. Be like Keri Russell in Felicity: follow some guy across the country, study art instead of medicine. When you’re in high school and college, even inspiring fantasies sound like good ideas.

But fast-forward fifteen years. I’m not twelve years old any more, or seventeen, or even twenty-one and fresh out of college. I’ve made a few big choices that have been based more on my interests and desires, trying to establish my identity as an artist and an academic, and not necessarily being very practical in all decisions. I’m twenty-seven years old now, though, and I feel as though I probably should have established some kind of career for myself. At the very least, I should probably have figured out how to get more than a part-time job. (My students are jealous of my flexible schedule, but they don’t understand that working as an adjunct professor doesn’t pay the bills. If my husband didn’t have a full-time job, I wouldn’t be snacking on gourmet chocolate-covered pretzels while I blog. Heck, I wouldn’t even be able to afford chicken breast and fresh veggies on my own. I’d be living off Ramen and gaining weight like a college freshman.)

So yes, I feel a little bit like a failure, which is a strange sensation because I’ve always identified myself as an achiever, an academic star. I suppose that could be due to an inflated ego—I won’t deny that I have one of those. But it’s also due to the fact that I’ve always succeeded in an academic setting before—I’ve earned all A’s, been awarded a full scholarship to graduate school, published an article while I was still in school, and gotten a teaching position right out of graduate school. And suddenly I’ve hit a glass ceiling: no full-time jobs for people without Ph.D.s, no room for people in Ph.D. programs who publish articles about Nancy Drew, Harry Potter, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

But if I’m not an academic, who am I? I think I may need to go watch The Breakfast Club again to help me figure out the answer to that question.

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