College graduate: The demise of my dream

  • Article by: KIRSTEN HART
  • Updated: December 19, 2012 - 8:04 PM

All through high school and college, I planned to be a big-time editor. I look back at my plans now and shake my head.

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With increased discussion circulating around basement-dwelling, career-stunted college graduates, I feel compelled to describe a less-known product of the liberal arts system: me.

I represent a demographic -- female college graduates who have come to a sobering realization: Sometimes the compromise is too great to "have it all."

I recently went out with my family to celebrate my little brother's birthday. He just turned 22 and is admitted to a top-20 law school. I look at him and feel pride. I have always admired both my brothers. Not many people can say that their siblings are full-on intellectual powerhouses. But with two soon-to-be lawyers fresh from the U of M's law school, I can.

In contrast, I stand at a crossroads. For the first time, I have no idea what I'm doing. All through high school and college, I planned to be a big-time editor. I look back at my plans now and shake my head. My ambition was so real I could cry.

It wasn't lack of skill or determination that led to the demise of my dream. It was the realization that I would eventually have to compromise too much to make it a reality.

More important than holding a job title that reflects my full potential is my commitment to leading a balanced life. If I were to chase my dreams to the ends of the Earth, I would not be effectively present in my personal relationships. I would not be able to raise a family without relying on others to fill in the gaps of my absence. And if I were to rearrange my career in a way that would accommodate those things, I would give up all hope of being considered for a senior editing position.

(For those eye-rollers out there, I'm not speaking out of turn. Former State Department worker Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote an apt and much noted article in the Atlantic on the illusion that women can "have it all" after leaving her dream job to spend more time with her family.)

After editing for a small publishing company in college, I now teach grammar and usage for the ACT preparation course at a Sylvan Learning Center. I listen to grammar podcasts in my car. I edit newspapers. The point is that my dream to be the biggest, most important-est, Sandra-Bullock-in-"The Proposal"-est editor is gone. But my passion for the written word is not.

I realized later, after I delved deeper into my motivations for giving up on editing, that I was conflicted about why I wanted to edit in the first place. I wanted a high-powered career because I knew I was intelligent and it felt as though I would be wasting my potential if I didn't do something with it.

I felt like I owed it to women everywhere to have an impressive title and income. I wanted everyone to think, "Of course Kirsten went on to do important things!"

As a teacher, I do important things. Just not the same ones.

I am not living in my parents' house because I was unable to find a job after college. I am living here because I came to the same realization that many young women do while starting careers: that at some point, the sacrifice will become too great to continue. Or, at some point, the sacrifice will become too great not to.

Today's generation of young, female college graduates are utilizing the foresight granted to us by our mothers and other women in our support systems. We have seen the struggle to achieve balance. We have seen the compromises made in order to achieve. We were told that we could accomplish anything; we were told that we could do it all. But we were lied to.

Society, in its backhanded way, is still forcing women to choose, by piling on too many expectations with too little flexibility for success. In my case, this led to the end of a long-held dream. But for many women, the heartbreak will come later, with the feeling of failure brought on by the inability to juggle life's demands with grace.

So, yes, there are many college graduates returning home with no job prospects. But there are also many college graduates like me: young women returning home to rethink what defines success, and what it means to "have it all."

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Kirsten Hart lives in Chanhassen.

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