To Be of Use

Tracey - Wellesley, Massachusetts
Entered on May 8, 2008
Age Group: 18 - 30

My sisters complain that my parents still buy me things; they think I’m too old for it and I agree. But my response, which is only half kidding, is to say I’ve earned their pity. It’s not easy. They have to look at you and just sort of sigh because you’re on your own path and they can only hope, as you do, that it leads somewhere.

Lately, like my sisters, I have started to wonder about this path I’m on, if I should have taken a different job right out of school, one that might actually cover my cost of living or provide health insurance. (I think my poor father has budgeted the cost of my health insurance into his retirement plan.) I wonder about that, about what it means to be 25 and still somewhat dependent on my parents. I even wonder if my parents still claim me as a dependent on their taxes. Can they? Do they? I used to sign my taxes every year, but too many years I’ve been away somewhere and otherwise unavailable. Now, my mother just signs my name whether I’m here or not. She says she’d show them to me if I asked, but I don’t. Some things, like taxes, are better left alone.

But back to the path. I’m sure I’m on a path, at least I think I am, I’m just not quite sure where it goes. Unlike people who pay their dues at a less-than-ideal job, I can’t reassure myself that it’s all part of the plan, that I’m just a few rungs on the ladder away from my dream job. It used to be when looking for jobs or talking to someone about what I wanted to be, that I’d say, “I just want to be of use.” And not in the kind of way that answering phones is useful because someone has to do it, but in the kind where you actually contribute to something.

I forgot that I used to say that.

That is, until yesterday, when I was chatting with my cousin. “What should I do with myself?” I asked him. I’ve been at home now for more months than I’d like to admit. After a year spent working for a nonprofit magazine in South Africa, life has quickly gone from exploring new places and working with people who inspire me to my old, baby blue bedroom in the suburbs. “What should you do? With what?” he asked. “With my life,” I answered, “I’m taking a poll.” And then it just came out, my old motto. “I just want to be of use.”

And then it hit me—the days spent in front of my computer looking for a life, days strung together into weeks, then months—I was thinking only about myself. Most people would consider that kind of time a gift; I look back on it now and feel like I’ve squandered it. Sure, thinking and planning for the future is important. But so is living in the moment and contributing to something larger than yourself. I’m still searching for the right job, for the right life, for the right path, but now I’m also looking for other ways to be of use everyday, in and out of my professional life.