I’ve never had a dream job. I enjoy many things: books, travel, science, people—but my interests never conspired with a direction, never manifested themselves as an aspiration or career goal. My brothers were the opposite. Quinn wanted to be a Red Sox player and Ben wanted to be a rock star. Sure, as time passed, they adjusted their ambitions according to their capabilities, but their efforts still maintained a focus: Quinn is captain of the baseball team and can give you the height and weight of every professional athlete since the Nixon administration. Ben probably knows the chemical formula of the elixir they use to keep Keith Richards alive.

This past summer, I lived and worked in Hollywood, California. Most people go west to follow their dreams, but I went searching for one. Bowdoin’s curriculum does you a favor by exposing you to different disciplines and areas of study, but I wasn’t doing myself any favors by using “well-roundedness” as an excuse to procrastinate choosing what I wanted to do when I got older. Put to no good use, a liberal arts degree is a certificate in indecision.

I didn’t decide to go to Hollywood by spinning a globe and sticking my finger on a random place (although in the Hollywood version of my life, that’s what would have happened). The less dramatic truth was that I was sitting on my sofa last winter break, trying to find something to do over the summer, and all I could think was: I want to make stories and I want to work with others. I thought, “hey, isn’t that what they do on TV? Would I maybe enjoy working in entertainment? Can all the hours I spent watching The Office finally be justified as a meaningful use of my time?”

I decided to try interning at a production company that create spromotional and behind-the-scenes content for films and TV shows. I didn’t think I’d get it. When I interviewed, I was painfully aware of how unprepared I was for this: I didn’t have film experience, I’d never taken a screenwriting class, and I accidentally admitted that my favorite movie was Pirates of the Caribbean. Later that day, I emailed my interviewer later with the amendment: “Forget what I said earlier, it’s The Shawshank Redemption. I repeat, forget what I said earlier.”

At the end of the summer, my boss told me I got the job because I seemed smart and had a good attitude. But months before that, when he offered me the internship, I thought they’d made a mistake. I’ve never doubted my decision to go to a liberal arts school, but my lack of industry-specific skills made me feel unqualified. However, what made me more anxious was the idea of being uninformed about movies and entertainment. My younger brother could walk into ESPN right now and feel at home because he’s been a sports fan all his life. I, on the other hand, landed in LAX without having seen The Godfather, without knowing the name Kubrick and without knowing what a “freeway” was. 

I’d be lying if I said that none of that mattered. I did feel embarrassed from time to time, especially when my eager intern co-worker went on about the screenplay he was writing (I’d never formatted a script before) or discussed which lenses he had for his DSLR camera (my iPhone only has one lens option, thank you). This internship was certainly one of the most humbling of my life, with each day offering up a new series of questions I needed answering, ranging anywhere from “How do I make a multiclip in FinalCut?” to “What’s a funnier joke I can use for this part in the script?” 

Some awkwardness and adjustment is asmall price to pay for trying something new.
I also learned that it’s better to ask how to format a script than how to write a story. I may have doubted my liberal arts background and my well-roundness when I was trying to point myself in a direction. But when I finally chose a path to follow, I realized how prepared I was to meet the challenges that actually mattered, and that I could learn all the minor things along the way.

Uncertainty for the future is common at Bowdoin. But it doesn’t have to be a source of anxiety. Ask yourself what you like and what you want, and motivate yourself to be curious instead of nervous. Apply yourself in a direction. Don’t let the things you know how to do define what you do, but let things you want to do define what you choose to learn. Did I discover my dream job? I stopped trying to answer that a while ago. Better to ask, am I enjoying myself? Am I learning?