Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Economics of . . . Being Who You Are

I’m taking Econ 110 this term. It has got the worst reputation as one of the hardest classes at BYU. I put it off for almost four entire years, although not taking it was hardly an option, because I was afraid of having to work hard. Haha. Yeah. That was the reason: I was afraid of failing. But here’s the hard truth I’ve come to: I really like it.

Maybe I’ve said this before, but my whole life consists of searching for ways to make more sense of the world. I thought Econ was math. And science. Numbers. Graphs. Typically, I have a very difficult time with connecting these things to the world I live in. It’s not that I don’t know they connect for some people, or that they connect at all, but that I just don’t see it. So I’ve always stayed in a nice place over in the corner by the art and the literature and the history. I like it over there. Economics is those things I mentioned, vile as they are, but it’s more than that. It’s another way of thinking of the world, of connecting it together. Dipping my toe in this other pool of thought has caught my fancy, and I’m dreaming in economics now.

Simultaneously I’ve been taking French 201, taught by my roommate’s fiancé, one of the coolest guys around. I love French. But it does not come naturally. I have a difficult time with conjugations and grammar, and understanding what I’m hearing because—did you know this—like NONE of the last SYLLABLES of words are pronounced in French. A lot of the words sound identical to an untrained ear. So I can understand Sarah—my roommate and long-time “Pourquoi pas parlons en français ensemble?” partner because I’ve spoken to her enough and because the pace she speaks at is normal (as in she takes infinitesimal breaks between words and breaths between sentences). Anyway, this is not easy for me. (Which is another funny aside: I knew it wouldn’t be easy, I was pretty sure I’d be worse at it than I am, but I really really wanted to learn the language. Like really. Which gives me another perspective on the whole, ‘I fear having to work hard./I fear failure.’ bit. I’ll have to re-think that one.)

Point. Right. My point is 1.) I’ve been thinking in a new way, given this economics class, my mind is being stretched. I really like that. 2.) French is not easy, but I do it anyway. (*See ‘Senior Year of High School’ chapter if this seems like a difficult concept to swallow—What? Jennifer do something that’s hard for her? Pft.)

The reason why these two things go together is because in 1 year (approximately), I graduate. Which means I need to do something useful with my life so I can go off and sculpt the Pietà by the time I’m 25. This is important to me. So, I’ve been thinking about succès—that is, success. I mean, how in heaven’s name does one become successful? And—the clincher—what is success, anyway?


MONEY? What the heck? I mean, honestly—is that…?—yes?—why?—that doesn’t—oh. Right. Money.

Conundrum #1. Nothing I have done up until this point (that is . . . 21 years of age) has been for money. None of it has been with the end goal of money in mind. I do not know success in terms of a dollar value. Maybe you say that’s a good thing. I say . . . we’re in America, folks, and money is kind of how you get around. If I don’t want money to be the measure of my success, well then I’ve got to have enough money to do the things I want to do while I’m not making money so that people will notices me for it. Point: I can’t write the Declaration of Independence if I’m working 40 hours a week, have got a wife (er…husband), and 10 children running around, now can I? No. I’ve got to own Monticello. Also, I’ve got to have slaves (so maybe the 10 children will work out for me). Also, people need to think I’m a genius. Also, I have to be a genius. THEN, maybe, I can write the Declaration of Independence in my spare time and people will be amazed. (Also, Thomas Jefferson was the President for a while, and kind of lived out of his own pocket-book while doing it. Can anyone say, Thank you? Instead of hating the man for . . . . I don’t know, not being perfect, maybe we can be grateful that he gave valuable years of his life to the origination of this country. JUST a thought.) So back to money. I don’t understand money. Maybe you clear your throat and say, “You’re taking an Economics class.” I say: “This makes the problem more pointed, not answerable.”

You look at me again, clear your throat again and I roll my eyes and look down into my Econ book and see the word, “Specialization.” Wow. Econ really does provide answers to life.

You see, specialization in economics is . . . (I wanted to use the term ‘the bees-knees’ here, but just couldn’t do it) vital. When people specialize in making or providing a particular good, everyone is better off. The people/companies who are best at what they do continue into the 21st century (especially if they also get government subsidies and bail-outs, which is a nice plus to existence) and those who aren’t . . . well…that’s economics. In general, if the apple orchard owners are off making computers and letting all those apples get eaten by worms and birds—not specializing in what they’re best in—then the entire market is worse off for it.

Am I a part of this market?


I sigh. Does this mean I have to specialize?

If you want to be successful.


Conundrum #2: I want to know everything.

Conundrum #3: Learning everything takes a long time. It also takes a lot of—you guessed it—money.

So what you’re saying is, if I want to learn everything, I need to be successful, and if I want to be successful, I need to have money, and if I want to have money, I need to specialize. Then, when I’ve specialized enough, maybe I’ll have money enough, so I will be successful and then I’ll know everything. (Haha. What I mean, of course, is that I can use my money to further my goal of knowing everything.—Another thing that will be hard to do, but hey, I’m willing to work at it.)

Conundrum #4: Because money was never my goal before, neither was specialization. Which means I’ve spent the last 21 years going straight for the ‘I want to know everything goal.’ WHICH MEANS I’ve been spending my time doing things like learning French even though who knows if it will ever do me any good, and becoming an American Studies major which is the exact OPPOSITE of specialization, but is actually what we call a ‘General Education,’ and taking ‘History of France,’ even though that doesn’t even go toward my major, and going on a Study Abroad to London because I thought that’d expand my horizons, and you know watching every movie under the sun, and really enjoying the books I’m currently reading, and writing about who knows what, and starting a movie blog with one of my best friends, and baking (Look me up when I’m 86 because my apple pies and cinnamon rolls will be perfect by then), and otherwise cooking, and having conversations with people, and creating collages on my living room wall. Oh, also, I really enjoy this Economics class I’m taking. AND LET ME TELL YOU SOMETHING: THIS IS NOT SPECIALIZATION.

I could tell you that in all of this I’ve been trying to FIND what I’m best at. But THEN I’d have to tell you that I haven’t found it.

My father said something very profound a month or so ago, he said, “Because, you know, the nature of being good at everything, means you’re not great at anything.”

. . .

So is this my lot in life? I’m to be a well-educated, well-rounded, interesting conversationalist who can make the witty comment now and then, has seen a lot of movies, read a few books, can bake cinnamon rolls with the best of them, cares deeply about the state of American Politics, Economics, History, and Culture (but who knows random things about France’s History and also knows a little bit of French), has been to London, Paris and Rome, but in general isn’t great at anything?


Conundrum #5: I actually like being a well-rounded person. I like that I can talk to anyone apart from a bigot or a hard-core conservative and be genuinely interested in what they have to say, and know enough about what they’re saying to talk with them about it. I like that I’m an American Studies major who really really loves learning French, and who wants to learn Greek, and Italian, and Romanian. I like that I spent four months of my life in London. I love that the only thing I ever had on my bucket-list—to see Versailles—has been crossed off. And now I want to see Caravaggio’s The Conversion of St. Paul and I want to stand near the Parthenon because it’s a building older than Jesus Christ, and I want to know where the library of Alexandria once stood, I want to hear the call to prayer in Cairo, and I want to go to Damascus. And I like that maybe those things will happen. I like that I want to know everything. I like that close to nothing bores me. I like that I’m willing to give anything a listen, a taste, or a thought (apart from drugs, cigarettes, tongue of cow, and squid). And I like that at the end of the day I don’t think I’m worse off for being open-minded.

I was reading in my Econ book, and it talks about human capital: “the accumulation of investments in people.” Education. The more knowledge that’s in my head, the more I’m worth. It’s a signaler. I mean—it signals to people that you can do something. That you can finish something. That you believe in your own worth. That you’re willing to invest in yourself. I’ve been wondering not what I’m willing to invest in myself, but what I’m willing to invest myself in. I wish I had the answer. Maybe 10 months from now when I write in my blog again, it’ll be a post about that very thing. For now, I think what’s on my mind is: what do I want to be great at? And—is what I want enough for success?

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