Choosing Happiness (and the Right Classes)

by Michael Hock

Choosing Happiness (and the Right Classes)

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

We’re asked that question a lot when we’re too young to understand what it means. Most of us answer with insane combinations like cowboy-dinosaur hunter-astronaut-spy. Which isn’t unachievable, mind you, it just takes a lot of schooling, and the ability to roll the cowboy and dinosaur hunting into one career. It’s not until later in high school and college that we get asked “what do you want to do?” which is a much more terrifying prospect, because at that point if we answer “cowboy-dinosaur hunter-astronaut-spy” too many people tell us that that particular career doesn’t make much money (Although it’s working pretty well for Chris Pratt), and have you considered something computer related?

A lot of why I’m at Mason is tied up in that first question, not so much the second.

I’m currently enrolled at George Mason University getting a Master’s of Fine Arts in Fiction. For those keeping track at home, that’s my third Master’s Degree, which I believe at this point makes me qualified to create a cunning scheme to defeat Doctor Who(If you don’t get that, ask your nearest Doctor Whofan friend). I will have to check on that later, but at this point, I’ve been going to school for about 10 years. And it’s all tied up in that first question, and because I got tripped up by that second.

A few years ago I was working for this Government Contractor, which I would shout-out but they’ve changed a bunch, so just know that every day I went into work, wearing the perfect tie and shirt combo (like everyone, I own two pairs of pants and I make them work with whatever outfit I need to make them work with), making sure staples where stapled in the right places, excel spreadsheets were excelled properly, and I was amazingly mediocre in my job. My boss at the time, who is quite wonderful, sat me down and asked, “What do you want to do, really?” This was not the first time I was asked this question, but I always answered with the proper, “Sensible job” because the answer to what I wanted to be when I grew up wasn’t practical. I wanted to be a writer.

Naturally, I found myself back in school studying to be a teacher.

That’s how I ended up with my first Master’s Degree. I took the classes, made it to the internship, and did quite well in the classes, if I do say so myself. But while I enjoyed aspects of it, I realized that it wasn’t quite what I wanted to do. I still felt that urge in the back of my head, trying to be who I wanted to be when I grew up.

Thus began my quest for my Master’s Degree in English, because I should get the knowledge to teach, just at a different level, right? I never could quite break the confidence to start writing. I had a blog that I kept,, which I will shamelessly plug right here in the hopes that it doesn’t get cut. But I never had confidence in my writing.

Thankfully, the English Department here is nothing short of amazing. Jay Patel, Bill Miller, Suzy Rigdon, Laura Ellen Scott, Art Taylor, Deb Shutika, Lisa Lister… they helped give me the confidence to be who I wanted to be when I grew up. Sometimes it was subtle, sometimes it was reminding me that, above all else, I had the hair to be a great writer, sometimes it was just holding on as I had some wacky scheme I had going on to write something weird. But they encouraged me. And I want to make sure I encourage people the same way.

I’m writing this because right now, a lot of you are wondering what you should do. You can do anything, and I’m sure you’re going to be excellent at it, because quite frankly you wouldn’t be at Mason if you didn’t have the potential to be excellent. But as you’re choosing classes, it takes a few minutes to reflect and remember that above all else, you need to be happy. We all have a path, and I’m just lucky that my path was waiting for me when I finally figured out that I needed to be who I wanted to be when I grew up. Which is why I’m happy to be on my way to getting my MFA in Fiction, and to write more, and to hone my skills. I’m looking forward to working with my peers and figuring out what it is I want to tell the world. I’m looking forward to who I’m going to be when I grew up.