In early April, I had an interview for a sales associate position at Anthropologie, a bohemian-esque women’s clothing store, on Newbury Street. I was dressed in all my Anthropologie clothes that hopefully wouldn’t provoke any quick assumptions about my personality—a white, button-up blouse; my nicest pair of jeans; leather booties; and a small, gold necklace. I waited about fifteen minutes before sitting down with one of the store’s managers, which gave me plenty of time to start getting nervous. Once we finally did sit, I was bombarded by the only statement I should have been prepared to respond to: “So, tell me about yourself.”
“Like, career-wise?” I said. Stupid.
“Anything. Just tell me about you.”
And then I started down the usual path of conversation that I always seem to find myself wandering with friends, family, and store managers, beginning with this explanation: My name is Audrey. I’m twenty years old. I transferred to Emerson College in Boston from a liberal arts college in Upstate New York after my first year to peruse a BFA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing. Do I want to write a book? It’s definitely on my bucket list. I live about a twenty-minute walk away (from Newbury Street) and have a year of work experience at the third-busiest Starbucks in the city. I’m looking for a part-time job so I can earn some money on top of a part-time, summer internship, and of course I’m looking to work in the fall during the school year, too (that’s what you have to tell everyone if you want the job).
Despite having repeated these details about myself to so many people so many times, I knew almost immediately that this was not what my patient interviewer wanted to hear. At the same time, I didn’t know what to tell her. I don’t consider myself an exciting person yet. I haven’t ever lived in Paris or Rome studying fashion or architecture. I don’t make jewelry or pottery inspired by a service trip to coastal Africa or South America. I haven’t been recognized at award ceremonies or received any athletic achievement medals. I don’t spend my Friday nights at bougie city clubs trying to network with business people in high places. I still don’t know how to evenly cook a boneless chicken breast on my crooked, thousand-year-old stove. I don’t even know what I want to be when I grow up.
When I tell people about my decision to pursue a college degree in Writing, Literature, and Publishing, which I only do when asked, I start to feel a little bit like a turtle receding into its shell. It’s the same feeling I get when I order something way less healthy than my friends at a restaurant, or when my aunts ask about my nonexistent love life. Now that I’m entering the second semester of my senior year in college, what seemed certain four years ago seems much less certain now. Even an Uber driver once said to me, “At least you have publishing experience to fall back on when the writing doesn’t work out,” after I told him the title of my major. It’s not like I want to write the Next Great American Novel; I just want to tell stories like the ones my dad used to tell my sister and me before bed. I want to write stories that readers will hold close to their hearts. I want them to talk about my writing the way my grandma talks about her favorite novel, Gone with the Wind, in a voice so soft you’d think she was spilling secrets. And while I work on that, maybe I’ll edit a few articles or blog posts to earn a living.
As much as I want to defend my choices and say for certain that I will get a good job in writing or publishing, I can’t blame the skeptics. I’m skeptical of myself. Who isn’t? Part of me wonders if I should have gone with nursing or education or something that could guarantee a job right out of college. Maybe I will end up studying something different in the future, but the task of writing a book has always taken priority, and I will do everything I can to reach that goal, even if it means graduating from art school. Now I’ve learned my lesson. When people ask what I want to do after school, instead of saying, “write a book,” I say, “I want to be an editor,” which usually grants me a little more authority. But life is unpredictable and all I can do is grab hold of whatever opportunities come my way.
The more I read and write, the more I realize that it’s going to take more than a few classes and peer critiques to prepare me for writing the first draft of my first novel. What I need is patience, persistence, a better understanding of the publishing industry, and a better understanding of myself (though writing will certainly help to move this part along). I am incredibly grateful, however, for the writing classes I have been fortunate enough to attend to help me improve my skills in a craft I have always enjoyed. My dad likes to tell me that storytelling is in my Irish blood; I think storytelling is in a lot of people’s blood, but not everyone gets around to sharing those stories with anyone but themselves and their diaries. No matter what my future career may be, I hope I can escape both the visible and invisible binds that hold so many back from sharing their interpretations of the world and everything that makes it unique.
I didn’t get the job at Anthropologie, but two weeks later, I was hired as an intern at Cambridge Editors, and two weeks after that, I was hired as a sales associate at an “athleisure” boutique that’s only a ten-minute walk from my apartment. Both places are small and comfortable and everything I could have hoped for after a year of making lattés for the busy personnel at MGH and leisurely tourists of the Liberty and Wyndham hotels. This new Boston life has been filled with good luck, but also with a lot of hard work—not just my own hard work, but my parents’, as well, and everyone I am lucky enough to have in my life. I feel thankful every day to be where I am—thankful for the trendy coffee shops, the happy tourists, the 10% off I get by using my Emerson ID card at select stores, nights when the people upstairs go to sleep early, fresh-squeezed lemonade carts in the Boston Common, the two-hour train ride home, warmer weather, and what few scattered accomplishments that give me the confidence I need to keep going—despite this heavy weight of undergraduate uncertainty and quick surge into the scary, exciting world of adulthood.