Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Fork in the Road

Once in a vision
I came on some woods
And stood at a fork in the road
My choices were clear
Yet I froze with the fear
Of not knowing which way to go
One road was simple
Acceptance of life
The other road offered sweet peace
When I made my decision
My vision became my release.-Dan Fogelberg

Why am I quoting a singer whose best-known hit has probably been played in every elevator and dentist's waiting room in the nation? Well, in fairness to Mr. Fogelberg, I like this quote and when I was younger, pondered it when his tapes were playing in the family car. I remember, for instance, never really knowing which road he meant for us to think that he chose.

I ponder this line again because I am at something of a fork in the road in my own life. I have an exciting--though somewhat open-ended--opportunity to live in France for about eight months of the 2006-2007 year. On the other hand, I can get a job in D.C. in areas that I have long thought myself to be interested in (policy, political advocacy, or public interest). Back when I was merely applying for the job in France, I had it in the back of my mind that I was doing so simply to keep all my options open. The fact that the position didn't seem to promise the beginning of a career (teaching job) and didn't pay very well (though the work hours are hardly demanding) made me nervous. At the same time, gaining a stronger command of the French language and returning to a country I love excited me.

Now, as I think more seriously on the choice, and get admittedly excited about the opportunity to go to France--and simultaneously nervous that I am idealizing this opportunity--I think back to the fork in the road metaphor. For me, this "fork" brings out a conflict of impulses that I have had for awhile now: on the one hand, I get frustrated over the way in which my generation is expected to have everything planned out. From day one at my high school, many students were participating in activities and striving to get grades that wiput them in an ideal college so to get to an ideal graduate school, so to get an ideal job. There's no room in this mentality for what is called (melodramatically, maybe) soul-searching. I long for the era that my parents' generation came of age in, one that I have mythologized as more laid-back than our's. If I go to Europe, I'll be living at least some semblance of what I imagine this era to be.

The other impulse reminds me of how much of an investment college is, how much I want to work to change certain things about the United States (rather than just become a temporary expat), and reminds me that many of my peers are getting their careers started in law school or with impressive jobs. I wonder if only decadent people can afford to take off to France after four years of college.

Maybe I am just as bad as the societies that idealized the "noble savage," when I say that I want to return to a simpler life. Still, I think that there is something to be said for the perhaps trite idea that money and power are not everything and in fact, can make for a complicated, stressful existence. Yes, some level of comfort is ideal, which is why I am for such things as universal health care, but the way the United States values the act of striking it rich (or more recently, being born rich), does not account for the way this devalues other important aspects of life. Such aspects include having a good balance between work and leisure, eating well, getting outdoors (rather than just to the gym), and keeping oneself entertained without the latest entertainment technology gadget. France, to some extent, still allows for this lifestyle. (Granted, they have their own problems there).

Anyway, those are my current thoughts on this difficult but definitely exciting decision.

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