Weighing Big Options

By Kathleen McAuliffe, Guest Blogger August 12, 2015

During the five block walk to my office, I pass the office where my mother also worked as a marketing intern in her early twenties. Because my mom passed away before my ninth birthday, this happenstance similarity resonates more strongly with me than most people. This shared experience has provided me a valuable connection to the mother I don’t know very well.

For the first time, I’ve envisioned her not as this distant two-dimensional “mom” figure, but as a 21-year-old half girl/half woman standing on the precipice of adulthood and increasingly, I’ve seen her experience in my own.

I’ve imagined her daydreaming about Northern Ireland and Disneyworld during marathon meetings. I’ve imagined her squirming in her desk at three thirty on a Friday afternoon, ready to rage against her lifeless surroundings. I’ve imagined her mentally debating whether or not to spend an hour's pay on treating herself to lunch.

I’ve imagined her spending some evening commutes staring out of her train window, mind percolating with plans and dreams for a life that- unbeknownst to her- was already halfway gone.


image via getitnyc.com

Long Wifi-less commutes into suburbia, among the weary middle aged professionals complaining about soccer practice and corporate politics, have forced me to dwell on that more often than I’d like. Especially because my internship has started mentioning “full time rotational program” and “career progression,” it’s resparked this existential crisis raging inside of me.

While I should have been daydreaming about a steady salary and Lincoln Park walkup, unfulfilled dreams flooded my mind like an assignment list gone rogue. Finishing a marathon. Surfing along the Pacific. Skiing in the Colorado mountains. Traveling literally everywhere while writing a novel or something. Absorbing the wonders of the world. Becoming an activist.

How could I commit 50 hours per week to one city, one office, one desk for the rest of my life when one blocked artery or badly timed street crossing could end it, arbitrarily and remorselessly, in seconds? My friends have made do with vacation time and weekends, but this nagging internal voice has always asked,” But what if you keep putting it off and never get a chance? Then what?”

While I should have been daydreaming about a steady salary and Lincoln Park walkup, unfulfilled dreams flooded my mind like an assignment list gone rogue.

Certainly when picturing the rest of her life at age 21, my mom had probably budgeted for an extra 20 years or so. And when my two parents dropped me off at sleep-away camp on a typical Sunday afternoon, I didn’t expect that come Friday I’d be back home shopping for my mom’s funeral.

I guess that sudden, traumatic loss has operated in my subconscious, fueling my urgency to fit in everything while I’m still physically able. I run myself into overuse injuries because I need to finish a half marathon right now or else. I backpacked through all of Europe because I can’t guarantee my return. I obsessively search freelance jobs because I need to kickstart my writing career yesterday. And delaying those opportunities by spending 40+ weekly hours staring into a computer screen kind of terrifies me.

Where all of this soul searching leaves me, I’m not entirely sure. Though my mom had an adventurous side, she did have my older brothers working summer jobs as 13-year-olds. That practicality is what drove us both into our marketing internships. But once my senior year begins and I’m (hopefully) weighing job options, I’ll know to ask myself:

If I knew my life was halfway over, what would I do?

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About Kathleen

KATHLEEN_MCAULIFFE_writer_bio.jpgKathleen is a psychology major living in Chicago, her favorite place in the world. Aside from writing, she is obsessed with the news and social media, as well as running and overall fitness. She dreams of living somewhere on a beach once she graduates, but after studying abroad in Europe she wants to explore everywhere.


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