I was recently hired to work in the tasting room of a local winery. My job entails speaking with customers about wine, informing them of the history of the winery, talking about the winemaking process, and handling other aspects of customer service in the tasting room.
Since being hired last week, I’ve delved into the training materials. On the first day of training I was given a large binder stuffed with information to read, study, memorize, interpret, and regurgitate—and it must be done well. This is a task I have no small amount of skill at. My summer job requires me to undergo an overwhelming six days of training before I’m shipped off into the electricity-less backcountry, where I’m expected to provide world-class programs for people who have paid thousands of dollars to come see me provide world class programs about things I’ve just learned with no Wikipedia to back me up.
During training, there was an afternoon where we walked through the production areas of the winery with the Winemaking Coordinator. There were rooms with towering stainless steel tanks reeking of fermenting grapes, rooms with every square foot stacked high with rows of oak barrels with dark purple streaks along the seams, rooms full of complex machinery that performed unknown tasks absolutely essential to the winemaking process. The Winemaking Coordinator filled the entire time with a passionate, informed monologue about the field of winemaking and the particular philosophy of such followed by the winery. He had a wealth of information, and he was more than eager to share with us.
At some point during the tour, he stopped between two short steel tanks near a doorway and turned to us, saying: “It just occurred to me that I haven’t told you anything about myself.”
He was a medical student who was hired to work part-time in the tasting room. The next summer, he worked doing production: harvest, crush, and fermentation. He eventually dropped out of medical school to work full time at the winery as the Assistant Winemaker, then as the Head Winemaker, and eventually as the Winemaking Coordinator (a bit of corporate gobbledygook that I still don’t quite understand).
This story has remained with me and struck me with a series of thoughts: if a med student can become a winemaker, what could become of me? Who will I be? Who can I be?
This is something I’ve always struggled with. I’ve considered many careers and trajectories for myself, with a major factor of my indecisiveness residing in my ability—or tendency, or desire—to mold my own interests into my circumstances quite well. I can find interest in a great number of things. As I scroll through the list of my university’s “areas of study” webpage, I can find myself thinking things like yeah, I have a knack for spatial reasoning and artistic design, perhaps Landscape Studies is the right field for me and I’m really missing out over here in the Psych Department. This is the thinking that has taken me down a garden path of majors, from Political Science to English to Physics to Astrophysics to Math, back to English, and eventually to Psychology.
In all honesty, I don’t even want to be in school. I just want to work—and that’s where the indecision stems from. The lines of work that have continuously resurfaced for me are the ones that I am more concerned with: clinical psychology, academic research psychology, nursing, medicine, education, politics…but the important question is: how do I become these things? What choices must I make? A Ph.D in Psychology, a bachelor’s in Nursing, a Medical Doctorate, a master’s in Education, a law degree, not to mention hours of time, years of experience, and exceptional talent. How can I be firmly confident in my pursuit of a Psychology B.A. when I might decide to be a doctor? I would still need to complete a couple semesters-worth of undergraduate coursework before I could even think about medical school—that is, if I can get into med school, since I’ve failed many courses due to my lack of commitment to coursework in areas that ended up being of little or no interest to me. Even more importantly: do I like the job well enough to succeed?
Without a degree these days, my dreams are just dreams, as far from reality as angels and ghosts, but even with a degree, some dreams are just as far.
Why is this inefficient method the status quo that society has settled upon? What about the line of best fit, or cultural/social Darwinism? I could bring down Dawkins’ memetics theory with four simple words: “the american education system”.
I’m not fond enough of any of these careers to invest the necessary time (read: money) to achieve them, at least, not without knowing for sure. I don’t want to make a bad investment. I wish I had the opportunity to experience these things before I decide, to create a buffer between myself and the Wrong Choice; I want to know for sure that I won’t fail. It’s not a fear that’s been warped into some weird potential reality: I’ve done this, I failed at Political Science and Physics and Math and English. I’ve dedicated myself to things that turned out to be wrong for me, so what good is my judgement?
I know this is such a young fear, and such a privileged fear, but the comfort for me would come in the form a job that I like. Just that. No degree necessary. I just want to do good work and that’s it. If I could guarantee that I could become an ER Nurse in a place that I want to live, or an educator at a school that properly funds me, or that I could find regular work in politics, I would jump in a heartbeat.
Perhaps my fear resides more in whether or not I can succeed in general, at anything. I really do fear that (who doesn’t?), and I think that failure could very well happen (self-imposed). Then again, what good is my judgement.