At the end of the film “The History Boys,” the eight students whose drive to receive scholarships at England’s two prestigious universities — Oxford and Cambridge—has formed the center of the film’s plot reveal to their former teacher and the audience what they’ve done with their lives more than two decades later. With few exceptions, their occupations are completely average and unexceptional: One is a school headmaster, another is a history teacher, another is a magistrate, another is a tax lawyer, another is a builder who tells female clients he attended Oxford (and, as he puts it, gets “fucks galore” as a result), another owns a chain of dry-cleaning stores and “takes drugs at the weekends.” Most of them murmur assent when their former teacher asks them if they are happy, with the exception of the history teacher, Posner, who tells her, “I’m not happy, but I’m not unhappy about it.”
Most of us, I think I can safely say, grew up with some conception of what we wanted to be, gradually revising our expectations as the limits of our bodies, minds, and other means revealed themselves to us. Some of these realizations are more traumatic than others. For example, I’d realized by the time I was eight years that I was never going to quarterback the Dallas Cowboys, play first base for the Boston Red Sox, or tend the goal for the New York Rangers. I don’t recall shedding many tears over this triple epiphany.
But what happens when you get a job that you really want, only to have it snatched away in a sickeningly short span? That was what happened to me this past February, when I was told that I, along with about a dozen of my colleagues at TBD.com, were surplus to requirements. I won’t bore you with the details of what happened in the interim period, but suffice it to say that it’s been three months since that fateful February day, and I find myself spending most of my days in Darkest Maryland, a corporate researcher by day and a sportswriter who covers D.C. United on nights and weekends.
To twist Posner’s statement around, I’m not unhappy, but I’m not happy about it. As often happens when you’re forced to trade in a job you love for one you tolerate, I often catch myself wondering, “How the hell did this happen?” That feeling became more acute one day last week, when I realized that it was the one-year anniversary of my graduation from college (NYU, if you’re curious). And as I survey the constantly changing landscape that is my Facebook news feed, it has occurred to me that the vast majority of my friends and former colleagues have found jobs in the field that they enjoy working in, specifically media, communications, and journalism. And as someone who has recently left that fraternity, albeit not of their own free will, well, you get jealous.
My reasonable side tells me that this is childish and stupid on my part. My new job gives me fewer and more flexible working hours and higher pay, to name a couple benefits. But let’s be honest with each other here: if all we wanted out of life was to work conventional hours and make lots of money, we would have all been bankers. And how would that have worked out, hmmm?
“Give it a year,” I tell myself. “Give it a year, keep writing, and it will work out.” But from where I sit, a year seems simultaneously to be an eternity and a flash. Am I 23 years old, or am I the middle-aged man I feel like on those days when the GW Parkway is crawling and all I want to do is go home, make dinner, and read until bed? You read about all the wonderful things your former colleagues are doing with social media and open newsrooms and you can’t help but wonder, as you scribble on a pad of paper and tap the keys in front of you, if you’re the last horse at the quarter-pole and fading fast. Was graduation one year ago, or 21 years ago? TBD? Was that real? Or was it a vaguely remembered segment of a dream you once had before the alarm clock sounded and you had to go to work?
“Give it a year,” I tell myself. “Give it a year.” Like I haven’t heard that before.
Sam Chamberlain is a native of New Hampshire who moved to Washington to work for TBD.com. He currently works in Maryland and lives in Virginia in the hope of eventually returning to write full-time. Follower him on Twitter: @SChamberlainNYU
If you are interested in contributing to the Quarterlife Crisis series feel free to contact me.