Diploma-induced Dichotomy

I officially have in my possession a piece of paper that cost me somewhere in the five figure range. Acquiring it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done (and no, it wasn’t a result of a booze-blurred bidding war on e-Bay). Paper in hand, I don’t regret any of what I went through to get it. Am I crazy? No, but I am a graduate.

As with any student at the end of their university education, I’m faced with many difficult decisions, all of which lead to the ultimate question: what now? For those of us lucky enough not to have enormous student loans to tackle, and who can forego the post-university migration to Asia to teach English in hope of paying them off, we have the luxury of choice.

Choice, although liberating, can be frightening, especially when it takes the form of the follow-your-dream-or-play-it-safe dichotomy.

This dichotomy rears its ugly head when the path you followed throughout your education ends and you find yourself at an intersection. Which way do you go? Do you risk heading in the direction that might lead to the utopian community you’ve heard about called Dreamland? Do you choose that route even though you’re not sure how to get there? Not only has no one you know ever made it, but there is no way of knowing ahead of time the perils and triumphs that may lie in wait. While the old path, the one you followed as a student, may have been challenging and seemingly impossible at times, at the very least, the direction was clear and you knew that with persistence and perseverance you would be rewarded for your efforts in the end.

If you do decide to attempt to find Dreamland, people will inevitably say you’re wasting your time heading in the wrong direction, a direction they are convinced can only lead to a dead-end. Those same people are the ones to tout the virtues of the opposite direction, the one leading to Practicalville. It’s far safer. The road is straight and flat, making it easy to navigate. It’s user friendly, little-to-no effort is required. Certainly, no risk. Everyone keeps emphasizing that the residents have good dental plans and get two weeks paid vacation each year. Once a decision has been made, there may be lingering doubts about whether it was, in fact, the right one. Did I take a wrong turn back there? Should I have gone left at the Petro Canada Station? Maybe left would have been better? More scenic? Less bumpy? Even if you bravely choose the direction you thought led to Dreamland, you quickly realize it too leads to Practicalville, and that there is no paved and marked route to Dreamland. Everyone who made forged their own way.

Your original journey along the scholarly path left you with grand ideas and plans, yet as you head along the eight-lane superhighway that is life, you wonder if that little moped built out of bits and pieces of university idealism and accumulated knowledge will be able to maintain its speed and stay on course, even with its Premium Dream Fuel. At the first rest stop, you take a drink of water and debate whether or not you should trade it in for a more practical vehicle. Isn’t that what everyone else is traveling in? It has dawned on you that the little moped that was perfect for cruising around the campus might not be well suited to carry you through the “real world”. You sit on a picnic table overlooking the highway while eating a box of Smarties from the vending machine. You watch all the people drive by in their no-nonsense practical sedans and minivans, all running on Daily Drudgery Crude instead of Premium Dream Fuel. They all look the same, polluting the air with their playing-it-safe petroleum products.

In the sea of non-descript metal you see faces full of sadness and anger, but mostly blank faces seemingly going through the motions. You realize that the superhighway is only designed as a means of shuffling the masses back and forth. Day after day, the same stretch of asphalt. Always moving, but never actually going anywhere, at least not anywhere new or adventurous. You look at your candy-coloured Vespa parked next to the table. It doesn’t look like anything else you’ve ever seen. And that’s okay. It may not keep up with all the cars, but you don’t mind having to go slowly along the shoulder. While it may not be as efficient as the fast lane, your pace allows you to take in the scenery. You get so caught up enjoying the ride; you don’t even notice the exits for Practicalville. You’re not quite sure where you’re going, but are confident you’ll get there in time.

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