- 4th Annual Young Alumni Essay Contest
- 1st Place: “Just one second in the highlands,” Rachel Plassmeyer Bené ’10
- 2nd Place: “Silhouette in the headlights,” Michael Benz ’09
- 2nd Place: “The strongest handshake,” Ben Moeller ’13
- HM: “Navel gazing,” Reggie Henke ’12
- HM: “Settling for your dream job,” Josh Bradley ’12
- HM: “The arc of dreams,” Alyssa Morones ’12
Five years ago, around the time the stopwatch on my career began — culminating in the service anniversary certificate I was just handed — I was an engineering intern with my senior year still ahead of me. One day during lunch, my middle-aged coworkers were discussing what they would study in college if they could go back and do it all again. I chimed in and I said, “I’d study film, I think.” Everyone exasperatedly pointed out that I still _could_ do exactly that; I was still in school after all, not in my 40s and 50s like they all were. But in my 21-year-old mind, I’d already sunk three difficult years into aerospace and I wasn’t about to throw that away for a new major with far-from-guaranteed job prospects. Three months later, I had a job interview with Boeing’s satellite division in Los Angeles. Even though I was only in town for 23 hours — long enough to go to In-N-Out twice — it was _intoxicating_ to be in Los Angeles, the film capital of the world. I said as much to my friend Elisa a week later as we walked out of class (Intro to Film, incidentally — my long-awaited, carefully chosen Fine Art requirement). She half-jokingly said, “Most people move to L.A. and wait tables while they write their screenplay. You can work as an engineer while you write yours!” I laughed at the time, but it flipped a switch in my head. I ended up not getting that Boeing job in Los Angeles, so I took my original job offer back in the Midwest. Within six months, I started writing my first screenplay. Little by little, I chipped away at it during the rare breaks in my busy post-grad schedule, finally finishing after a year and a half. For the record, it was a _terrible_ script. And yet, I had never been more proud of myself.
My mom’s an accountant. Growing up, I didn’t know much about her job; I just knew that whenever she talked about it — and on the rare occasions I saw her office in person — it seemed like the most boring, soul-sucking job one could have. So while my chosen future profession vacillated from professional baseball player (elementary school) to marine biologist (middle school) to whatever-includes-math-and-science (high school), the one constant was that I knew I didn’t want to be an accountant. What no one told me when I was judging the utter banality of my mom’s work, what no one told me when I was picking a major when I was 18, what I didn’t learn until my early 20s is that _most_ office jobs are boring and soul-sucking, not just my mom’s. I may have hated on her accounting profession and sworn off it for myself, but I can now see that my engineering job is no less boring than hers. Accounting wasn’t the problem; adult life was the problem. If she had been an engineer while I was growing up, I almost certainly would’ve reacted the same way, and I might well be an accountant right now (ideally for PricewaterhouseCooper — they’re in charge of counting the Oscar ballots). The simple truth is I sentenced myself to this life when I was 17 because I loved physics and I was really good at calculus. That’s it. I chose what would take up such a large portion of my effort, attention and time for the next 50 years based on that simple criteria before I was even old enough to buy a lottery ticket. And we wonder why 70 percent of Americans hate their jobs. The comfort I have is that I’m actively working to change my situation. Despite missing out on that original job opportunity years ago, I’ve since made the transfer to Los Angeles. I haven’t given up on my engineering job — despite my fantasies during 2 p.m. Thursday meetings — but I spend my evenings and weekends writing screenplays, reading screenplays, going to screenings, attending Q&As with screenwriters and taking sketch writing classes. Particularly in my sketch classes, I’m extremely secretive about my day job; all the other writers, who make ends meet as baristas and waiters and freelance video editors, might judge me if they knew that I have “a _real_ job.” I don’t want them to think that just because I have no _financial_ need to write doesn’t mean I don’t _need_ to write (for my happiness and sanity). It’s like a bizarre, parallel-universe high school reunion, where the guy doing literal rocket science is ashamed of his work and the underemployed people own their low-paying jobs as a sign of legitimacy. After I got my 5-year certificate, I made a silent promise to myself that I won’t be getting a 10-year certificate. By then, I’ll have built up the courage — and the writing portfolio — to take a chance on screenwriting. And if a producer ever takes a chance on _me_ and I have a movie in theaters, please support a fellow Domer and go see it. Sorry in advance if it sucks. After all, I’m just an engineer.
_Josh Bradley’s essay received an honorable mention in this magazine’s 2016 Young Alumni Essay Contest. See all the results here._