After the Bubble bursts

Shaunna Burnett: ’07

Life after Lawrence. There are a lot of different ways to go about it, and nobody I know is sure that they’re doing this “after” bit correctly.
As students now, you are living within the same old framework you have been since kindergarten. You know all the rules and all the exceptions to them, and you’re getting by quite nicely. After Lawrence, however, it will be up to you to make your own rules, set your own goals and go about achieving them any which way you can. This is much more confusing than self-help books or out of touch, overly concerned parents would have you believe.
Once you’re about to be set loose, you may find that your feelings resemble that scene in “Shawshank Redemption.” “These walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them. That’s institutionalized.” Come senior year, all of you are scrambling for the comfort of more walls — maybe further education or a secure career — but regardless of plans, a lot of you will just end up scrambling. This is normal. Welcome the adventure and don’t succumb to gnawing feelings of doubt or guilt. Now is when life gets interesting.
If you’re like me, you might find yourself befuddled and disbelieving, on an overnight flight to South Korea. You might teach six classes a day, five days a week for the next 52 weeks of your life, minus the glorious ten days you spend eating your way through as much of Mumbai as you could stomach with another confused Lawrence alum, talking about all the loose ends in your lives. You try not to think about bourgeois privilege as you ask each other, “Am I doing this right?” and, “What do I even want?” and “How do I get it?” Reminiscing, you remember old mutual friends and professors, now hopelessly scattered around the world.
For a moment, life seems bleak, and then you realize you’ve missed the point. Since graduating, you’ve been eating buckets of kimchi, teaching fiendish kids and learning a new alphabet. You’ve been drinking Thums Up, bathing your food in ghee and playing Scrabble in the most vivid place you’ve ever been. Enjoy convincing an odd assortment of people to be your friends, paying off your student loans and filling up your dog-eared journal with scribbles.
Your life is, in fact, richly textured. Back at work in Korea, in between lesson planning and joking that your evil boss is going to sell your liver on the black market, your coworker is pulling himself out of his own 20-something confusion and notes: “You have to ask yourself, ‘What am I here for?’ Well, to be happy, surely?” And you are. You are happy. It’s a pleasant surprise.
Then that first year post-Lawrence ends and you’re scrambling again. That is, I’m scrambling again. Right now I sell delicious coffee at one shop and delicious wine at another. Occasionally I consider the timeline on which I will become a midwife. When my roommate — another Lawrentian — and I have a little time and just enough money, we have good acquaintances over for dinner and with our good food try to convert them into good friends. Then I put my feet up and consider how much more comfortable I would be if only I could afford support hose. That’s a trick to keep in mind in case you’re ever waiting tables, by the way.
But that’s just a list of activities. Really, I am doing what makes me happy and I am doing it the best I can. I think that’s what we all do — med students, journalists, and baristas alike. I recently rediscovered an artifact from an old relationship that somehow escaped the breaking-up inferno. It was a list of things I wanted to do in life, made at the age of 19 on some Chilean Greyhound bus traveling somewhere with some boyfriend. The list included travel, gastronomy, healthcare and teaching. Until rediscovering the list, I hadn’t realized that I’d witlessly achieved three of four. Now I just need to keep up the momentum.
Remember this: You know what you want even if you’ve forgotten it, you’ve just been institutionalized. But if you make a little effort once you’re let loose and you remember to get lost in the textures of the present, you’ll remember it, you’ll get it, and you’ll get happy at the same time.