The Vengeful Polyglot

The Plan

Posted on: June 17, 2011

I do most of my “serious” thinking while driving. This is probably because there’s nothing I can distract myself with. Commuting from Irvine to LA, and even just driving across the city to see Matteo, I have a lot of time alone in the car with just myself, and I usually wind up zoning out and thinking about all those icky existential things I generally don’t have time for when there’s something else I could be doing. It’s like I make myself a captive audience. Fun!

Lately I’ve been thinking about “the plan.” My plan. After you graduate, this is all anyone will ever ask you about. “Do you have a job? What do you want to do with your life? What’s the plan?” So, I’ve been thinking about my plan, because there’s only so long you can stare back at an inquisitive family member or acquaintance feeling nauseous and saying, “Uh… grad school?” Also, I don’t do well without a plan. For largely control-freak reasons.

Except this is the first time I haven’t had a clear plan. Of course, I can’t have no plan. I’m way too controlling and anal-retentive for that. I know so many of my peers who say “Oh… well, I’ll figure something out. Something will come along,” and I think, no, oh god, no it won’t. Nothing will just magically “happen” for me if I don’t figure it out myself. Now. Probably right now. So I have come up with this vague three-tiered nonsense plan that everyone raises their eyebrows at me over, and honestly, I’m feeling pretty anxious. I don’t “do” no plan. I don’t “do” ambiguity or uncertainty. This is the first time I haven’t had a clear goal, like “high school” after middle school, and “college” after that. I could always picture the future, and even if it came back to bite me in the ass, I could usually picture it optimistically. Now it’s all fog ahead and I’ve got no clue what’s going to come next.

I’m not the type of person who does well with big transitions. I don’t dislike change, but I hate uncertainty. I don’t have faith in many things which I can’t control, and so this feeling of, “who knows?” is really getting to me. People ask me what it is I want to do, or my favorite “interview” question, “What is your passion?” Like they want me to choose just one thing that I’ve decided, yes, this, this one thing, it’s my whole life. I can’t do that. I have contingency plan on top of contingency plan. For such a neurotic person, there are actually a massive amount of things I love and that I care deeply about. I am passionate about the most ridiculous things, like the proper use of the subjunctive. Or cats. Believe it or not, a few of them even have to do with potential career fields!

What I don’t understand is how I could be expected to have just one driving force in my life. I have so many that choosing what I’m going to spend my time on is always an ordeal. Every choice I make is a balanced consideration of possible outcomes and relative pros and cons. For instance, I don’t love computer science, even though that’s what I took my degree in. I do love, say, the arts. I spent a lot of my time being mediocre at writing, dancing, singing, drawing, acting, etc. in high school. I love it, I’m pretty keyed up about it. But that doesn’t necessarily pay, and I’m not lacking in breadth of interest, so the question of what to study was narrowed down not to the 15 or so majors I would have enjoyed but to the 2 or 3 which would also be reliable in case I should have to support myself and/or my family. Writing? I’m not so sure there’s a good “starting salary” for that. In computer science I can expect, I don’t know, 70k. I went with the latter because, if it came to it, I have that sort of guarantee, the kind not based only on talent (which I probably don’t have) but also on my training or my degree (which I do). Maybe no one would hire me as an author (and certainly no one is putting me on Broadway any time soon), but I know I could get a job in CS given my current credentials.

The problem with that, even though I know everyone thinks I’m nuts, is that I don’t want to spend my life well-off but miserable. That’s why computer science, coding, isn’t part of any tier of my stupid plan. I don’t enjoy it. I don’t find it creative, or fulfilling. It’s fun, it’s interesting, but it’s not my passion. I’d much rather do game design, which isn’t explicitly connected to my degree, but which hopefully I can somehow find qualifications for. That’s nerve-wracking in its own right, though. The networking is scary. I would think there would be less sexism or whatever than I’ve experienced in CS, but recently I’ve been shown that that’s not necessarily true. And the biggest problem is that people look at my resume, see my major and say, “You want to be a programmer, right? Why don’t you just be a coder instead?” No one seems to understand. I took my degree to be responsible, so that I could have a fallback. To avoid the deprecation in the value of humanities degrees (which I think is terrible, but which is another story all together). Now, I’m afraid it just makes me look scattered.

For everything I’ve tried to do to be multi-disciplinary, to follow my love of learning to whatever stupid subject I’m interested in on a given day, now I find myself a jack of all trades, but master of none. I have no work experience, no internships, just “academic” qualifications very few companies bother to read. I’m on the verge of trying to break into an entertainment industry which expects experience and qualifications I just don’t have yet, and where, it seems, there isn’t much credit for wishy-washy sounding qualities like “fast learner” or “good work ethic.” I’ve graduated college and realized that everything I’ve put effort into, and all of the good characteristics I’ve tried to foster in myself, either aren’t desired or are seen as actively detrimental. Even being friendly. I was called “gregarious” by an interviewer, only to later realize it had been meant, not as a compliment as I saw it, but rather an insult somehow. In the face of this level of self-doubt and insecurity about my “selling points,” the plan just isn’t coming along all that… concretely. I know what I want. I just don’t know how I get there.

I guess this is my best guess. First, I’ll apply to all of the companies I really, really love, like Blizzard. The long shots. Since I don’t expect to get my “dream job” right off the bat, though, this is mostly a shot in the dark in case someone decides to seriously give me the benefit of the doubt. Basically, these are the jobs that, if I got them, I would be willing to put off grad school for. Otherwise, I really don’t think I’ll be happy without at least a Master’s, so I’ll be applying to games-related programs at a few grad schools (USC being relatively realistic, hopefully, and MIT and Carnegie being reach never-gonna-happen schools). If that doesn’t work, well… Plan C, I guess. Apply everywhere for jobs, even places I don’t like nearly as much, in an attempt to gain experience and apply to those dream jobs again. It’s far from a unified vision, but it’s the best I’ve come up with.

Since every step is contingent on someone saying “yes” to me, though, and I have no idea when or if that’ll happen, it’s a pretty vague plan for me. I don’t like not being able to say, “Look, I have x, y, and z, and therefore, I’m qualified for a, b, and c. I met the marks, now I get to do what I want.” There are no standardized test scores that get you jobs automatically. This is a whole other ball game.

This is the road I really wind up going down on long car rides. Especially, I think, when the music on the radio or my iPod sucks — that just adds insult to injury. I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life. It seems I don’t get to just plan it out anymore. There are too many “ifs.” I just don’t feel like I really have any marketable skills, save coding which I don’t think I’m stellar at and which I don’t really like to boot. It’s not so simple as saying, “Look I’m following my dreams!” I have too many, and most aren’t realistic. There are choices you make during these years that mean you just have to give up on some.

Game design is the dream it seems most likely that I can achieve given monetary constraints and my current background. I’m still happy to be heading on this path, but it doesn’t mean I’ve closed no doors by opening this one. Being on Broadway in musicals is never going to happen; I don’t have those skills, no matter how much I’d enjoy it. I’ll probably never have the guts to write a novel, much less become prolific enough to earn a living at writing. Maybe I’ll teach later, which was always something I strongly felt to be important, but the situation in our schools is lamentable and enraging, and I doubt I’d be able to make any real difference under these circumstances, even disregarding the poor compensation. I’ll never be a true polyglot because my vocal chords just probably can’t learn new sounds naturally anymore. My cozy used book store with the comfy armchairs? Probably won’t happen.  Being a translator (for books, not people)? Unlikely, given I only really speak English.

I’ve always had many dreams. I just came down to choosing the most practical ones. This hasn’t made me too happy as a person, generally. All of this weighing and hemming and hawing really takes the fun out of this part of life. Maybe I’m too focused on being responsible. Saying that doesn’t mean I could stop considering all of the consequences for every little thing, even though it’s not enjoyable. That’s why, to the best of my ability, I am saying, “Screw the degree, I want to make games.” Even if I don’t know if I can do it. Even if I fail a lot. I won’t get disheartened. For as anxious and conservative as I can be, I’m also stubborn and hardworking. What I really want to try to do now is be happy. I think this is probably the hardest goal I’ve ever set for myself, given my neurotic, controlling, insecure nature. I want to try, while not abdicating my values and expectations for myself, to actually enjoy life. I haven’t been, so I thought I’d give it a shot. In the end, even though computer science is much more “secure” and reliable, I just wouldn’t be happy pursuing that life. Games, though, games make me happy, even if they make for a crappy-looking plan.

I know it probably doesn’t make sense. Nothing much makes sense to me at this point anyway. The plan. What I’m going to do with myself in 10 years. These are things I’d love to know. I just don’t. I’m going to have to try letting go of some of my anxiety over this stuff, and just try my best. Even if these past 4 years have done nothing but contradict it, I’ve always been raised to believe I can do anything so long as I try my best (and can read, yes, mom, I remember). Clearly, hard work can’t solve everything. But if I try half as hard to be happy as I try at making everyone else happy with me, maybe I’ll wind up with a somewhat pleasant, if less affluent, life.

It’s worth a shot. I’m still not sure about the plan though. Maybe I need a few more car rides to torture myself with, and it’ll come out looking better. Blarg. I’ll be more optimistic in the morning; this stuff always creeps in and gets you at night.

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1 Response to "The Plan"

How can you get paid for this? I love your blog. You are a writer. And you can go work at Blizzard–you are going to make the coolest games. You have some time. You are not going to destroy your life if you take some time to ponder.

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Blog by a programmer cum linguist cum writer cum total geek. One who pretentiously uses "cum" in place of any other logical connectives. Direct questions to the Ask Lauren page!

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