I’m sick of hearing the question: “What’s next?”
I guess you should expect it after graduating University. You come out of a four year program with some hoity-toity piece of paper telling the world you know your shit. Then suddenly people want to know what you’re doing with your life like it’s some first world crisis splashed all over the front page news. You just spent four years of your life sitting in a classroom instead of working, getting money sapped out of you by Student Loan mosquitos instead of saving up for grown man things like cars and houses. Your friends who didn’t choose to waste away in a lecture hall are already moving up in their chosen careers, buying condos, creating spawn, etc.
Stop me if I’m sounding bitter. Because I’m not bitter. Not one bit. And this is not sarcasm, incase your silent-reading brain determined it as so.
People are curious by nature. So when you graduate from some esteemed post-secondary institution, they are curious as to what your next move is now that you have some knowledge in whatever field. A lot of the time they want to know how your degree is relevant to what your end-goal career is. Or they want to know what kinds of jobs people can acquire with certain degrees. Whatever the reason they have when they ask you, it’s still annoying to answer. Because if I were to tell them my honest answer of: “I really don’t know. I’d rather ride the rollercoaster of life right now and see where the ride takes me,” then I would get polite nods with judgmental glances. Yes, I may have a few ideas of where I want to go, whether it be my Master’s or another graduate program, but if another door opens for me that I like, I just might walk through it.
University is just a stepping stone. Not many people nowadays will jump right out of University into their dream job.
But I guess the main reason I’m writing this blog post is to emphasize that I do not regret anything, and am in no way bitter about my choices. But when I feel the need to defend my choice of degree, that’s when things get rough.
About a month ago, I had called a cab to take me home from the University theatre. The ride started out as per usual, with the cab driver asking me how my night was and if I go to the University. But then things started to spiral out of control. I explained to him that yes, I did attend the University and I was currently working towards the end of my degree in Theatre. He proceeded to ask me all sorts of questions: Can you justify your choice of getting a theatre degree? How is theatre relevant to society? How will your degree help you get a job in your field? Oh, you’re okay with NOT getting a job in your field? So you just spent four years and boat loads of money to go and work in a box office the rest of your life? You want to teach theatre? So you want to teach others how to not get a job in their field too? Don’t you think we should nix arts education at Uvic and put the money towards something more useful, like engineering? Science? Something we can actually use? Maybe cut government funding to arts in general and put it into better things?
In the most – erm, – polite way I could muster, I responded with my defense. One I had weaved from many other similar conversations with different people. The conversation most theatre students have at least once in their life. Probably way more than once. The conversation that demands you to justify your choice of profession. Why teachers, doctors, and athletes don’t get called out on this question, may be obvious to some. But for me, I think we can question anyone’s choices. Why the arts get shit on far more is beyond me.
You see, my answer was layered. When really, it shouldn’t have been.
I have multiple reasons for choosing theatre. I love the community I find in theatre. I’ve made friends I never would have met through theatre in Victoria. I go for the artistic atmosphere, the collaboration, the visual feasts, the amazing people, the beautiful art, the poetic words. Four years of studying theatre has taught me that art is integral to culture and society. When cultures have been most successful, they have gained so much and more from their arts.
My four years at the Phoenix has taught me a long list of transferable skills I can apply to any job: communication, team work, time management, leadership, initiative, written and verbal skills, the list goes on.
But honestly, my answer should have simply been this:
My theatre degree has taught me how to be a better human being.
Our Chair of the theatre department, Warwick Dobson, reminded my graduating class of this a few weeks ago. And that is the truth of any arts degree.
While my friends who chose to skip post-secondary education and work straight out of high school have respected jobs, homes, cars, or children, I have invaluable experiences.
I’ve learned the art of empathy, how to work with people I love and hate, how to build a team and lead it, how to create something from the heart, how to utilize my body and mind to produce amazing work, how to lead a life of joy and satisfaction, how to connect with people on different levels, how to be present in the moment, how there are many ways to view life, how to overcome challenges, how resilient I can be when pushed to the limit, how appreciated I am, how creativity works, how strong I can be, how to be confident in myself and my work, how to trust people, how to appreciate who I am and what I have, how to appreciate others in my life, how to live my life the way I want to and have fun doing it.
I’m not content with the daily grind of work and human existence. I don’t want to work a 9-to-5 job, only to come home through rush hour traffic to make dinner and go to bed just to get up the next day and do it all over again. I want to live my life the way I want to. I want to travel, explore, inspire, create, connect. My experiences have allowed me to open my eyes and see life for what it should be. To experience it as I choose to, not as I have to.
These things are worth more than any degree.