When I was little, my idea of heaven was playing the board game Life. The best part was choosing my career and my salary, getting married, and buying a house. It was all up to chance; I would choose a card, unable to see what fate lay on the other side. Who would I be? The perky blonde tennis star depicted on the Athlete card? Or the big-haired, black singer standing in front of a disco ball (there were absolutely no stereotypes involved in the game as you can see) as an Entertainer? Would I live in a log cabin? A trailer? Ultimately, though, my choices didn’t matter, because each time I played I could be a different occupation with a different salary. I got to live my life over and over and over.
Last weekend, I played the game for the first time in years, expecting the same sense of excitement at my endless options for employment and housing. Perhaps it’s due to the beginning stages of a grown-up life that I’m currently in, the "what the hell am I doing" stage, but the game was far more stressful than it was fun. I felt, as irrational as I knew my fear to be, that the game was a rude awakening foretelling a future full of failure. I became a doctor when I pulled my career card, but the $20,000 salary that I pulled along with it didn’t do much good to help pay off the $40,000 of debt in which I found myself after “going to college” at the start of the game. It’s fine, I thought, I’ll make ends meet.
Fast forward to the end of the game. I’m $220,000 in debt. I have a kid. I head into retirement with zero cash. So I’m sitting there, on the rug of my parents’ living room, thinking, “oh my god this is my future.” And then I lost the game.
I had a moment of panic. It's just a game, I told myself. And yet it felt a little too close to home, as some days I get a little down about the prospects—I’m an unpaid intern (albeit at a fabulous agency) and after that I don’t really know what I’ll do. It's also scary because while you can play the game as many times as you want, you've really only got one outcome when it comes to the real thing.
I guess I just have to keep remembering that in real life, unlike the board game, the players in their little colored cars have agency. We can, to a certain extent, control our own destinies. We can work hard and make choices rather than blindly spinning an arrow and hoping we land on a good space. While this part is hard, I keep hoping that by continuing to talk to people, by posting, writing, and taking pictures, I’ll somehow come to an answer.
At least I know I won’t be a doctor making $20,000. Well, I might be making $20,000, but I know I won’t be a doctor.