The first born are driven. Being one myself, I’m not convinced it’s in the genes. It may simply be the pressure to set a standard. When I’d fight with my brothers or complain that they got something I wanted, our father would say “You’re older,” as if chronology demanded sacrifice. “You should know better,” he would say. Somehow, even as children we first borns are expected to be responsible.
Even though I was a product of the 60s, but when I graduated college in 1970, I did not following the counter culture path. No candle making or the musician’s life. (That came later when I realized my mistake.) After graduation, I applied for not only a real job, but a real boring job. I went to work for the government. My father had been a civil servant his entire post-war career. So that was my path. I immediately regretted it. That, too, can be the feeling of a first born: the quiet desperation of responsibility. It took a few years and a second responsible job as an analyst at the Environmental Protection Agency to consider an escape. When they placed a two-inch thick environmental impact statement about asbestos on my desk, desperation finally overcame my first born genes. But other responsibilities made leaving “a good job,” as my mother kept calling it, all the more difficult and eventually painful.
I always thought our first born would follow a similar trajectory. She had the first born genes in spades. Kate was always driven. She wanted to be the best. Or at least she always wanted to be thought of as the best. Her self-image, I thought, could only be measured through society’s reflection.
Sure enough, she studied for the LSAT, took it, and did fairly well. But then, something in the DNA wiring short-circuited. She never applied for law school. She also went through the extensive application process for Teach for America. She was offered a position in her first choice of cities. But she declined it.
She had another offer, working for a start-up video production company. She started in January of her senior year. Well, I thought, it was a little off the beaten path, but she was working before she graduated. She was still driven to be responsible.
The start-up didn’t make it and Kate looked for the next responsibility. The best networker I’ve ever seen in someone so young, she went to Los Angeles to find a video production job. Within days, she was freelancing.
But all the responsibility circuits weren’t firing. She received a call from someone she had met while interning on Capitol Hill. Would she come to Colorado to work for the Obama campaign? No pay. No bright lights of L.A. She accepted. Then shortly after she arrived in Colorado, she announced she would be staying there for the winter. She had gotten a job as a cook at the Vail resort. She became an itinerant, idealistic political organizer and a ski bum.
I tried to deal with dashed expectations, not only mine but what I assumed to be hers. No law school. No buttoned up corporate job. No sense of responsibility.
An eerie calm then came over me. If I had to do it over again, would I become a bureaucrat? Would I again have accepted mendacious responsibility so soon?
Truth be told, I would have worked for George McGovern. I would have sought the bright lights of a dimly lit club, the musician’s itinerant life. (I finally did a little later. Though I never got that big record deal, it was a lot of fun.)
Some call what Kate is doing irresponsible. But it really is being responsible to herself.
Kate’s plans changed again. Now, after the election, she has an offer to freelance in L.A. or New York for a few weeks. Or after closing the Evergreen Obama ’08 office, she might head for Vail to work in a ski shop. So many options, so little time.
Better to be idealistic and then carve powder while you can. Traditional responsibility comes too soon and once arrived, hangs around for a long time.