Oberlin Blogs

Graduation anxiety

January 21, 2010

Will Mason ’10

I am not generally prone to fits of anxiety or stress. I don't freak out during finals, I've never pulled an all-nighter (which I maintain are more the product of anxiety and obsessiveness than of poor time management), and I'm generally even-keeled. But the past semester found me riddled with worry, lying wide-awake in bed every night (an all-nighter of a different sort) wondering what to do with my life. Allow me to extend an invitation to you, dear reader, into my narcissistic and hitherto private world of stress.

As much as I've tried to postpone it (hello, Double Degree program), I'll be graduating next December and I am very worried about what I'm going to do to scrape by. I'll have my BA in Politics and a BMus in music performance, and between the two of those there are a number of job opportunities of interest. I am at least fortunate enough to be able to identify what my career interests are: teaching, preferably at the college level; policy research, especially relevant to third-world development; being a performing musician. But finding jobs is difficult, and relocating to a new city is daunting. I gravitate towards a synthesis of teacher/performer, which is hardly uncommon. I find the idea of getting a PhD in music theory, music performance (a DMA to be specific), or musicology very intriguing, but applications are competitive, professorships are few and far between (and even more competitive than grad school applications), and I feel that I am coming to this academic ambition too late to be able to offer myself as a very competitive applicant.

A foray this past semester into a different field that I thought would be of interest at the graduate level proved really disappointing. I'd built it up to be something it wasn't, and as soon as I spent a day actually looking through academic writings in the subject it became clear that I was looking in the wrong place. This raised new concerns: just because I had an enjoyable time with Oberlin's core music theory curriculum doesn't mean I'd enjoy doing comprehensive independent research at the graduate level. And would I really be able to balance graduate research with a gratifying performance career? Certainly music theory presents an interesting opportunity to balance the two, since analysis would inform my (meager) compositions. But it's still something to think about. Perhaps the answer is to spend some time working solely as a performer before applying to graduate school? My parents both spent years of their 20s working all manner of odd jobs, though they're quick to say that they would have rather done something else. It seems common for college grads to wander a while before settling down someplace with a job. What better way to wander than in a beat-up minivan with a couple of rock musicians?

Ultimately I am profoundly lucky to even be having this conundrum, given the many opportunities I've enjoyed that others are not able to. What gives me solace and lets me finally crawl to sleep at 5 am is the knowledge that I have been very lucky to experience what I've experienced so far, and the simple fact that I am enjoying myself immensely right now. I am invested in a number of interesting projects which I find fulfilling and challenging, and they show no signs of ebbing. I am no fatalist--much the opposite--but there is some small peace to be found in realizing that things have, through chance and happenstance as well as through personal initiative, worked out pretty well so far. All anyone can hope for is that it will continue.

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