Don’t Delay Your Dreams; They May Not Stick Around


By Fritz Parker

It’s that time of year again. The ‘jobs/internships’ tab on MOJO is slowly filling. Questions like “is there any way Middlebury would give me funding for this?” and “Do they really mean econ majors only?” are once again popping into our heads as we scroll. The emails from home are growing increasingly passive-aggressive. Internship season is upon us.

If you’re a junior like me, you’re probably feeling a little extra tug of anxiety as you contemplate possible options for next summer, wary of your one final opportunity to pad the résumé in anticipation of entering the real world. If you’re a senior, that anticipation might have boiled over into full-blown panic as you face the imminent reality of life after Middlebury. For all of us, the next several months feel like a personal crossroads, a chance to make or break our prospects for future success.

I think we’re right, but in a totally different way than you might expect.

For me and others that I’ve spoken to, this crossroads seems to have presented a pair of distinct options: pursue a traditional career – in law, journalism, consulting, whatever it is – or do something pro-social and thus risk what seems like a lifetime of underemployment and romanticized futility. Most I have heard from seem set on taking the first route, putting their liberal-arts idealism on the backburner – at least in the short term – in order to gain skills or simply to ‘keep their options open.’ I think that, for many of us, that choice would be a mistake.

I don’t mean to imply that seeking a career in the business world is bad, nor that strategies of effective altruism and top-down social change are necessarily untenable. What these paths often miss, however, is the undeniable power of occupation: the fact that what you do on a daily basis changes you.

As much as you might think something like “I only want to be an investment banker for a few years, then I’ll quit and teach high school math” (as a friend of mine told me a few weeks ago), you might consider the relative dearth of banker-turned-teachers in assessing the possibility of that ever happening. More likely, I would wager, is that there are hordes of bankers out there who once made themselves that same promise. Again, that does not mean that none of us should pursue careers in finance or any similar field; the world needs people to manage money just as much as it does people to teach math, and anyone who truly wants to pursue such a career should go for it. For the rest of us who aren’t totally sure what we want, though, it means that we should be realistic about the significance of the choices that we make over the next few months, and where those choices are likely to lead.

The reason I decided to write this (and the reason that I, a 21-year-old college student, feel licensed to dish out what looks like career advice) is that I don’t think this message is in any way specific to jobs or the professional world. I need only to reflect on how much I have changed in less than three years at Middlebury to see the power of occupation in action: it’s as if I have been constantly and subconsciously internalizing little snippets of the culture here. These changes have built over time and, at least it seems to me, will remain with me long after I leave Middlebury. In short, I have become a different person because of what I do here.

As this pertains to internships and the job search, I think we should all be intentional about what we choose to do, and about the impact of five or ten years spent teaching in an underfunded school district – or doing market research for a private equity firm or any other career option that you might be considering – on the people we are going to become and the decisions that we are going to make down the line. At the end of the day, delaying the opportunity to do what we feel called to do – pushing it back until we have  achieved some nebulous standard of wealth, success or power – really means reducing the likelihood of ever doing it.

If you’re like me and internship season makes you feel a bit self-conscious about your lack of marketable skills, realize that the thoughtful idealism that you have cultivated since arriving at Middlebury might be just the angle you have been looking for. You will likely never be more idealistic than you are right now. Embrace it. Take advantage of the perspective that your education has given you and try to position yourself to become the sort of person that you really feel, deep down, that you should be.