I’m feeling older.
For much of my post-college life I’ve felt more or less the same age—my body hasn’t changed dramatically, I still hang out with people I’ve been friends with for ten to fifteen years, and I do a lot of the same activities I was doing when I was twenty-three. It’s said that your twenties are for exploration and discovering who you are and what you want in life, and I’ve been exploring and discovering in different forms for over half a decade.
As I begin my second and final year of graduate school, though, it is occurring to me that “I’ve got time—I’m still young” doesn’t carry the same heft that it once did. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, it feels like I am entering a period of consequences.
Any number of things could have sparked this realization. It’s getting harder and harder to deny that my hair is thinning (but dammit if I won’t try) and most of my grad school cohort is younger than me. I also recently purchased a Victorinox six-inch Chef’s Knife and Induction Aluminum Non-Stick Frying Pan, which for someone who has been loath to acquire material goods is more or less a direct acknowledgement that the situation has changed.
Whatever the reason behind my realization, the fact remains that, nine months from now, I will leave the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance with a Master of Public Administration degree, tens of thousands of dollars of debt, and a decision to make on what to do next.
And I’m okay with that. My years of self-exploration and discovery have served their purpose. When I graduated college, I had absolutely no clue what I wanted to do. When I moved to Korea I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I started to get some ideas. Washington, D.C. helped me to refine those ideas further, and I’ve continued on that path in Seattle and at the Evans School. Each experience has helped me learn more about what I want to do and where I want to go.
That’s not to say, however, that I have it all figured out. I know that I want to help form public policy, but I’m undecided on the path I want to take getting there. I take exception to the notion that, by thirty, my future should be mapped out. Certain realities will have to be faced—I’m looking at you, unsubsidized Stafford loans—but how I manage those realities is entirely up in the air. Maybe I’ll get a job two weeks after graduation. Maybe I’ll enter an income-based repayment program and go overseas for awhile. Maybe I’ll descend to the Vale of Shadows and rescue Harambe from the Demogorgon (I assume the rewards I would receive from a grateful public would be enough to cover my debts). All these options and more are still on the table.
In a Calvin and Hobbes strip, Calvin’s dad, musing about the nature of becoming an adult, comments that he assumed that once he grew up, he would automatically know what to do in any given scenario. “I don’t think I’d have been in such a hurry to reach adulthood,” he says, “if I’d known the whole thing was going to be ad-libbed.”
Calvin’s dad makes a good point. Self-exploration and discovery don’t stop at the end of the twenties or upon graduation or after getting married or ever. I don’t know what my future holds, but I have a better idea now than I did five years ago. For now, that’s enough.
After working in Washington, D.C., for two years, Andrew Orlebeke (’10) is in graduate school in Seattle, Washington, studying public policy. In addition to public service, he has a passion for traveling and an abiding love of sports.