Author – Carmen Dibaya
A few months ago, I completed my undergraduate studies. The happiest day of my life! I was finally done with sleepless night of studying and excruciating hours spent in the lab trying to make sense of an experiment and writing up lab reports that never seem to end. I could finally put away my text books, even if just for a short while. So as I sat in the auditorium, amidst hundreds of graduates, waiting for my name to be called and to finally hold my degree, I recall the four years leading up to that moment. I must admit that the journey had not been easy, aside from the thousands of work hours I had to put in, the hardest part I believe was living up to the expectations of my family and community members. You see, its one thing to go to school and strive to do your best, to get and maintain a good GPA and get involved in the right organizations, attend the right conferences and network with the right people, all in attempts to build up a strong resume. However, it’s another thing when you try to live up to other people’s expectations; the drive you have for yourself becomes a burden. This burden is a direct result of having other people map out the details of your future without consulting you.
When I tried to explain this concept to my American classmates, they seemed lost and unable to comprehend why anyone other than me would be so invested in what I do with my future. However, when venting to my African friends, they seem a little too familiar with the educational approach of the African family. You see, they understood where I was coming from, they knew a little too well about the frustration of having to limit yourself to the traditional professions that are considered safe and respectable by our parents’ standards, profession such as medicine, engineering, law and banking. This is one of the reasons why you rarely meet an African student majoring in any of the artistic fields such as painting, music, design, dance and theater. Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with the traditional professions, it’s a guaranteed job and financial security. From this sense I completely understand the African parent’s thought process; however the down part about such an approach is that it limits one’s creative abilities and locks a person’s potentiality in a box with little space to reach their full self-actualization.
So we quickly formed a bond over our “African family predicament” we opened up to each other about our dreams and deepest desires, we told each other things that we hadn’t mustered the courage to tell our families…at least not yet. For some of us this friendship became a source of comfort and for others it became the much needed dosage of self-assurance needed to branch out into fields like politics, design, advocacy and service work. We became each other’s advisors, counselors and support buddies. Although we would often laugh and cry about our problems, at the end of the day we were there to hold each other’s hand as one by one we reviled to our families that we no longer wanted to pursue nursing, medicine, but wanted to follow our passion for fashion, advocacy, by attending a fashion school, the Peace Corps, in order to polish our craft.
As we “came out of the closet” to our loved ones, we were often met with confusing stares followed by harsh words of disappointment and grief. Thus, it was crucial to have a group of supporting friends, to have people with whom you could truly be yourself, people who understood and supported your dreams. Having such a core of friends proved to be far more important, especially when the going got tough, branching out to another career field in your last year of College is not the easiest thing to do.
So sitting in that auditorium on graduation day, with no secured job, no guaranteed internship, or graduate school admission for the fall term, I didn’t feel like a failure, nor disappointed in myself for not having everything figured out. In the contrary I felt a sense of wholeness, it was more of a self realization that it was okay not to have everything figured out, that the most important thing was expressing myself in a career path that I felt most comfortable. This was a personal choice that would allow me to stay true to myself without having to live up to anyone’s expectations.
In this journey, I have realized that often times we are expected to be perfect, to make the right decisions and have everything figured out, as if we were born with the formula for success and happiness. All I know is what I have learned from my personal experience, which is this, life is a struggle…in fact, life is a pain in the ass, but the important thing is that in the midst of all that hardship, you have to always remain faithful and true to yourself. Always express yourself; no matter what people may say or do to you, there are many paths to chose from, which is right, only you can know.