During Orientation week (which feels simultaneously like yesterday and years ago), we were asked what we hoped to get out of this semester. There was a smattering of responses with everything from, “Becoming comfortable being uncomfortable” to “Breaking free of a small town”. Still, overwhelming, I heard peers say, in one context or another, that they hoped to figure out “What the heck I want to do with my life.”
Over the past several weeks, I have watched many of my peers have exactly those coveted moments of clarity and calling. A friend has found a niche in a surprising location and decided to pursue law school after this semester (a path she had never imagined). Other friends have made a nearly seamless transition into the corporate world, determined to only turn back long enough to grab their diploma before continuing up the corporate ladder. My roommate is in wedding planning heaven.
So yes, it is true that many people come to The Philadelphia Center and, through their internship and other experiences, figure out what really makes their heart beat. I have been able to witness friends dip their toes into their ideal career and the kind we all hope for — places where the world’s needs and their passions and talents meet. I, however, am here not to talk about my moment of clarity, but instead to admit that I am not likely to leave this semester knowing exactly what the heck I want to do with my life. I am here to share with you what I have been reminding myself, on a daily basis, that maybe that’s ok.
My placement is amazing. I intern at a small, grassroots nonprofit that works with Latino immigrants in South Philadelphia. It is primarily community organizing and yet it also has a strong policy advocacy arm. It is exactly the kind of placement that I was hoping to secure before arriving. My supervisor is great, the work culture is both extremely hard-working and extremely fun (Beyoncé dance parties are pretty routine), and I am learning immense amounts about the way that immigration status can bar a person from participation in society and human rights, a topic that I have been deeply interested in. But I don’t know! I don’t know if I can really see myself doing community organizing in the future. I don’t know if it’s ‘my perfect fit’, and even less sure that such a thing exists. I am learning that I think I could be happy doing many different things, as long as I get to be interacting with people and advocating for justice. And if that conclusion feels grey and, well, inconclusive, it is because it kind of is.
We come to Philadelphia for a variety of reasons, but a big reason many of us have come to Philadelphia, is because we really have no idea what the professions we have been studying for years look and feel like. We are full of theories and case studies, but bare of real, gritty, 9-5 experience. You will get the gritty 9-5 here. It may be the kind that makes Mondays feel less like Mondays, or it might be the kind that leaves you feeling that a field that sounded perfect in theory is actually less than a perfect fit in practice. Or, as in my case, your experience may fall somewhere between in that messy, amorphous grey space. I can’t tell you what it will be, but what I can guarantee is that you will learn exponentially more about purpose, vocation, and fit than you can ever will from the vantage point of a desk in a classroom. You may even learn, like me, to be okay with that grey space that you probably wouldn’t have signed up for, but might actually teach you more than that perfect clarity. While I may not have conclusions that I can tie a bow around and present to you, I am realizing that these feelings of clarity come and go. When I have spoken to colleagues in my workplace about these topics, they have admitted with an understanding smile that they too are still growing up and figuring it out. Instead of dejectedly waiting for my neon vocational sign, I am going to revel all the more in the grey space, confident that it is growing and teaching me.