how did I get here?

yearbook1

With my name spelled wrong and everything.

This is me, in high school. I was voted Most Likely to Succeed. I’m not mentioning that to brag — the opposite, really. It’s more that I sometimes ask myself, how did I get here, from there? Wasn’t I supposed to end up doing something, I don’t know, important?

Honestly, I started out on the wrong foot: the only thing I ever wanted to be when I grew up was an astronaut. This, despite a fear of heights, speed, fire and airless places, also no aptitude for science and an utter lack of the physical skills needed for astronaut-ing, made that particular goal a pipe dream. So when I graduated from high school, despite a resounding endorsement from my peers, I had no particular idea what I was going to succeed at. I’d been on Debate Team, and I was pretty good at it too, so my yearbook is filled with a lot of “good luck in law school” comments. I have not, however, ever in my life entertained the idea of attending law school. Too dry. Too dull. (Though, I will say that when I was in about third grade I told my mother I didn’t want to be President someday, I wanted to be a Supreme Court judge. Presidents only get to keep their job for 8 years at most. Supreme Court judges get hired for life. This future union member already knew the value of job security.)

During orientation in my first week at Cornell, I wandered into the open house for the Department of Theatre, Film and Dance. Four years later I graduated with a background in costumes and directing. Three months later I quit graduate school before I’d even started, and for the next five years or so I worked at mostly meaningless jobs that didn’t quite pay the bills.

Sooner or later I decided I needed, you know, a career, or something. And in 1998, believe it or not, Library Science was a good field to study if you wanted a job. When I graduated with my Master’s from UB, there were recruiters at the school every semester. I had three job offers to pick from. I chose Amherst Museum. And that’s where I spent the next decade as a solo librarian. I had a great time organizing my library, processing the archives, getting involved in regional professional organizations like WNYLRC, where I spent some time on the Board. It was a terrific experience. I’d be lying, though, if I told you I was following my heart’s desire. Being a librarian mostly appealed to the OCD part of me that liked organizing things. That still likes organizing things. But I saw people who had passion for librarianship. I wasn’t one of them. So when I stopped being a librarian, I missed my colleagues, but not the rest.

So I never did get around to deciding what I wanted to be when I grew up. Now, to be frank, Dave and I both try our best to work as little as possible. 🙂 I have a job but it’s not anything worth mentioning; it’s just a job, not a career. I’m not really anything, professionally, and probably never will be. I’m just a little surprised that doesn’t bother me more.

You know, it’s twenty-five years since that picture was in my yearbook, and I look at it now and think, if I’d done a few things differently, maybe I would have fulfilled that promise and done something “important”. There were few times I believe, objectively, that I made the wrong choice. I should have picked a different major in college, or a different graduate school for theatre, or a different library to work in. Those were turning points for me. And it clarifies things for me to see that now, definitely. But in the age-old tradition of everyone who’s lucky enough to be happy, it doesn’t mean I’d go back and change anything now, if I could. Because whatever I did, right or wrong, I ended up somewhere I want to be. I didn’t succeed the way I thought I was going to, or the way my high school classmates apparently expected I would, but I wouldn’t trade my life for the world, wrong turns, failures, and all.

2 thoughts on “how did I get here?

  1. Success is all a matter of your perspective. It’s a process vs. a product, and it continues to evolve through your life. Toni, your journey, both professional and personal, is one excellent definition of success, in my book. That’s my opinion and I’m stickin’ to it! 😉

  2. Well, I appreciate that. Sometimes that’s what I hear in my own head, too. Sometimes I hear arguments the other way. It’s all a question of picking the right voice in your head to listen to!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *