When I was a little kid, I watch Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears religiously. I was obsessed.
I was so obsessed with this TV show that I was convinced I would eventually become a Gummi Bear.
I thought that Gummiberry juice would be something I’d find one day and then, POOF! I’m going to be a Gummi Bear with magical powers or whatever it was that they had that made them so intoxicating.
Guess what happened when I grew up?
I DIDN’T turn into a Gummi Bear. I was crushed.
Thanks to all the TV parents and IRL adults who said you could be anything you wanted to be.
What I lacked Gummiberry juice, I more than made up for with books. I had access to a school library beginning in kindergarten, so I found books that helped me get on with my life.
Between Goosebumps, Spooksville, The Baby-Sitters Club, and Hercule Poirot, I had plenty to keep me busy.
Childhood was stressful, so books became my solace. I’d spend hours reading, losing myself in the lives and adventures of characters I had come to know and love.
Then, I turned nine years old and that’s when reality hit. Not only did I realize that I wasn’t ever going to live some media-perpetuated fantasy of what childhood would look like with a normal, two-parent household, but I realized that I was largely on my own and I needed to figure out what to do with my life.
It was this time that a personal tragedy struck my family, so I decided to dedicate my life to helping others fight injustice as an attorney. Numerous other tragedies between 9 and 17 convinced me that there would be no other path for me than law.
Books, TV shows, magazines, movies, and posters all encouraged positivity, perseverance, patience, practice, and girl power! Hey, it was the 90s. You can do anything you want if you put your mind to it…and a ton of student loan debt to get through law school, that is.
Anyway, I didn’t even get the chance to experience law as a profession. I scored so low on the LSAT that I was going to end up at a third-tier law school with about $150,000 in student loan debt. Hindsight says this was probably for the best because I had just finished college with about $20,000 in student loan debt. I was devastated.
I don’t remember any popular book, TV show, movie, or magazine talk about anything other than “pursue your passion.” Stories would be magically resolved (sometimes, literally). No story ended with, “And then she graduated and worked until 65 to be able to buy a home and pay off $200,000 in student loan debt.”
Because adults don’t tell the truth!
That’s why I tell kids the truth. I make sure that kids who are old enough to start thinking about careers know that the only thing left after school is work.
If this sounds like a grim way of describing life, then I’ve done what I intended to do. Almost everyone uses student loans to pay for college, so they should know what the consequence is before choosing to dig a big hole to buy the collegiate fantasy media promises. College is as fun as TV wants you to believe, but it’s expensive and TV doesn’t show you what life looks like when you have student loan payments to make.
Because few widely-read stories end without resolution, I feel the need to put a bow on this.
Books, TV shows, magazines, and movies didn’t actually ruin my life, even though my little kid dreams were crushed. Eventually, I grew out of magical thinking and embraced reality (or, at least, the perception of reality).
Books gave me a “place” to go when my parents argued. Books taught me how to succeed at school. Books showed me a path to go to college early. Books actually saved my life.
Whenever I’d get caught up with family (financial) drama and lose my way, I could dive into some fictional world and the real world didn’t matter. Or, I could dive into a biography and remember that successful people dealt with tough stuff, too.
Media are simply tools to deliver information, so how about we try to use them for good rather than bad?