Sunday, July 14, 2013

Memories of Old Dreams

When I was in high school, I imagined that my life as an adult would be split between New York and Paris. I’d work for a private company with offices in both cities, and I’d jet between them often. (Back then, it was just a company – no need to specify private – as it hadn’t occurred to me yet that I might not work for a company at all but rather government agencies.) I’d wear colorful high heels and black pencil skirts, my hair in a loose chignon. I would lead bilingual board meetings, eat in fancy restaurants while wining and dining clients and drink champagne cocktails with my girlfriends. I would execute big-deal deals often.
Oh, and I would get to fly back and forth to France on the company jet. I would travel in luxury. You know what I’m talking about - just the normal life of a gal with a French degree and a penchant for trans-Atlantic travel. I would often fantasize about this future life as I sat in French class working on my vocabulary and French accent. All of this studying and practicing now will be worth it, I thought, because life will be fabulous as an international businesswoman. Ha!

I’ve found myself thinking about that fancy schmancy lifestyle this week. I’m in Indianapolis for a conference, and as I sat alone at my dinner table the other night, waiting for my food to arrive, looking around at all the other diners enjoying themselves with their dates and friends and families, and feeling pretty lonely (despite being surrounded by hundreds of people with whom I share some professional interest, the lack of real personal connections at conferences makes me feel very lonesome and homesick), I thought to myself how much I dislike traveling for work. Then I thought back to my high school plans and smiled to myself about how different my life is now than how I thought it would be fifteen years ago. Instead of international business deals and pencil skirts, I am attending a conference for an association of public servants, wearing bright and colorful clothes with Chaco sandals and turquoise toe nails, my hair is a curly whirl of frizz thanks to the humidity here and I’m typing this on my antique iBook G4. Pretty far from New York, really far from Paris and a world away from that jet setting life I once wanted. So far, in fact, that my own husband, who I’ve known for almost ten years, didn’t even know about this teenage dream. When we were in Paris a few months ago, I mentioned to Andrew how funny it is to think back on that life I had imagined compared to our lives today in the land of the lawless and eternally casual. Apparently, it was the first time I had mentioned it to him.

By the time I finished college, I knew that I would not be an international businesswoman. It only took one semester in business school to learn that I did not want to work in finance or management or be anywhere near the world of big business and corporations. After a couple of weeks in business school, I begged my advisor to let me transfer back to liberal arts. After I spent a year studying in France, I also knew that French was not my passion. Sure, I loved traveling, spending time in France, eating in France, I even enjoyed speaking French, but the pressure I put on myself to speak perfectly with an extensive vocabulary was too much. My standards for myself (and the standards of French people for foreigners speaking their language) were too high to allow me to find any real joy in pursuing French. I remember feeling devastated by this realization as my year abroad was winding down, but incredibly liberated by it once I returned to Minnesota and declared with certainty that language learning is not my passion. I wanted to experience life in France, but I did not want to dedicate my life to learning and practicing the language. I am too much of a perfectionist for language learning I told myself and set out to find a different life plan.

Without wanting to pursue French rigorously or being willing to enter the world of business, the dream of the international businesswoman died. That sounds dramatic, but the truth is that I didn’t really mind the dream dying because it’s not the life I wanted anymore. I wanted to do something that was meaningful to me and that made a positive impact in my community. I devoured the course catalog going department by department reading each course description looking for the classes that seemed most interesting and exciting. I settled on urban studies and community planning and signed up for as many graduate level planning and public affairs classes as they would let me.

And now, here I am almost fifteen years later sitting in the Indianapolis airport. I wouldn’t rather be in New York or Paris… Ok, maybe I would rather be in Paris. If I was, I know exactly where I would be headed. But, I really would rather be on the river or at the cabin or in the mountains. I’m really looking forward to getting back to my cozy little house in Santa Fe, seeing Andrew and the dog girls and back to the clear (hopefully smoke-free), thin air of the high desert.

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