As my description of my self-designed MBA internship faded into the walls, a pregnant pause filled the room. And as I looked at Professor Pitts-Wiley’s giant and gentle face, I saw a thoughtful grimace appear, and spread across the surface of his vast dome to include his prodigious ears, his salt-and-pepper mustache, and the whites of his heavy, purposeful eyes. And as that moment gave way the Professor leaned his massive torso onto a black-lacquered desk, set his large brown eyes on mine and posed, gravely: Are you on a journey? Or are you wandering?
A journey, he would go on to explain, has purpose, whereas wandering does not.
It’s been four months since my meeting in Professor Pitts-Wiley’s office in April, the same month that I decided that I was going to create my own summer internship as a storyteller. And in that time I feel that I’ve learned a lot about my purpose. From coffee chats with designers to interviews with retirees in New Mexico, I’ve found that my passion lies in what I call “performance ethnography.” I define performance ethnography as the act of extracting stories from my environment, through interviews and observation, and sharing them with others in a compelling way, through film and public speaking.
And yet I have my moments of self-doubt. As I face the coming year I’m struggling with basic questions: do I practice performance by continuing my stand-up comedy or by being the spokesmen for a social movement? Do I practice ethnography through self-funded interviews or within the context of a private company? And even more pressing, as I read an invite for a welcome-back party on campus, how does my MBA education serve my passion?
As I struggle with these questions at the tail end of my summer internship, I think to advice that my sister once gave me: make your decisions from a place of confidence, not fear. And as I visualize my career in performance ethnography in front of me, one thing that is clear is that the most purposeful path leads through a period of practice, of creating content, and of immersing myself in its form.
And so in the following year I will take a leave of absence from MIT Sloan and delve into my craft. And as I find a part time job to finance my creative ambitions and create a community of similarly inspired folks, I feel nervous, but also confident. Confident that I’m one step closer to the moment when I can lean in over that black-lacquer desk, look Professor Pitts-Wiley squarely in the eyes, and reply with all of the conviction in the world: I’m on a journey.