Giving Up vs. Giving In

June 30, 2008 at 1:35 pm (2008)

I don’t believe in myself as I should.  I put on a really good act most of the time, and there are days when my confidence level is high and I’m aware of my self worth, but those days are becoming more and more rare.

My mom used to tell me that I was too humble, which, yeah, I can be, but there are also some things which I know to be true.  For instance, I can try to sing, but even Riley my dog is better than I am when he howls; I love the piano, but I can only play a few bars of the same song; I’m ok at drawing, but not from the imagination.  And I really suck at math.  And I’m actually kind of disappointed by that.  

My mom always used to tell me that I was beautiful; I would roll my eyes, as any teenager does, and say, “yeah, right.”  But as we were talking over the weekend about something equally superficial, she kind of paused in our conversation and said, “you really don’t believe it, do you?”  And I had to admit: no, I really didn’t.  And I’m not just being humble.

I bring this story up because sometimes I wonder the same thing with my writing.  I believe that I’m a writer; I believe that there’s an ability there and some talent, and I have people around me who are encouraging and believe in me as well.  BUT.  What if I’m not good enough?  What if I’m really not good, period?  What if I’ve just managed to fool everyone around me, not to mention myself?

What if, God help me, I’m like one of those people on the American Idol auditions who think they can sing but can’t carry a tune?  And all of these people are being supportive and encouraging because they love you and it’s your dream, but you’re really just making a fool of yourself.

Now, I know I can write, and I’m not looking for any affirmation.  I know that there’s something there…I’m just not sure if that something is enough. 

I’m bringing all of this up because I received my first rejection today. It’s actually not a rejection that I’m too concerned about — I had submitted a short story to a writing competition of a literary magazine; it was one I had written back in college, so I thought I would take a risk and try to get it published.  I’m disappointed, yes, but I definitely didn’t think I could win.  Well, maybe a part of me hoped I could, but the truth is that I know I’ve written better.

I think. 

I hope.

I really, really hope.

See, here’s the part where I start to psych myself out.  I know that in order to be a serious writer, you’re going to get rejections.  And no matter how you try to cover it up and mask it, a rejection is a rejection is a rejection.  And they suck.

So how do I get back on track, stop thinking the absolute worst about myself, and believe in my capabilities again?

It’s a difficult feat to pull off, and it can very well lead to completely giving up — on yourself, on your dreams, on your passion.  In fact, for a split second, I actually wanted to throw my hands up in the air and yell, “That’s it! I give up!”  But I’m at work, I’m really not as upset as I thought I would be, and damnit, I just can’t give up.  It’s like there’s something ingrained in me that makes it an impossibility.

I really, really hate that side of me.

So, aside from patience and determination and independence and all of the other millions of lessons I’m learning, maybe I need to add “believing in yourself, really, truly this time” and “not psyching yourself out” to the mix.

Because I’m just not ready to give up believing in myself as a writer.  Until Simon Cowell tells me otherwise, that is.

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Playing Make-Believe

June 29, 2008 at 10:22 pm (2008)

People in their fifties experience a mid-life crisis, which is characterized, usually, as trying to reclaim their youth.

People in their twenties experience a quarter-life crisis, plagued by the same feelings of insecurity, doubt, apprehension and anxiety.  Some could call it a prelude to the mid-life crisis.  I consider it to be a nice parallel.

While people in their fifties are trying, perhaps subconsciously, to reclaim their youth, I think that twenty-somethings are trying to bypass it, to grow up too quickly and become the adults that we’re told we should be or maybe we’ve always wanted to be.

For me, I’ve always wanted to grow up way too fast.  I call it wanting to be settled; others may call it full-blown adulthood.  I want to be working hard doing something I love; I want to be married and have kids and plan birthday parties and vacations and help them with their homework; I want to own my own house and plant a garden and host dinner parties.  I want to do all of that, but maybe the point of this whole thing is to teach patience, which, when it comes to getting on with my life, I’ve never really had.

These have certainly been the hardest two years I’ve ever experienced — ever since graduation, it’s been a major emotional upheaval for me.  Suddenly, all of my plans, everything I’ve believed, have been questioned.  I’ve had to find out how to completely rediscover and redefine myself.  And I don’t mean the self-discovery of high school or college — there it’s ok, you’re still learning, you’re still in your safety zone.  But once you graduate, you’re fair game. 

Because suddenly, After Graduation, you’re expected to be an adult, without being really prepared.  You’re supposed to follow a life course that’s been ingrained in you since you were a kid: go to school and get an education, graduate and get a degree, get a job, have a family, get a house and a dog, retire, write a book.  Or something to that degree. But things never pan out the way they are supposed to, and so you are stuck kind of wandering around with a vacant look and your shoulders shrugged as you ask: Now what?

Now what do I do once I’ve graduated?

Now what do I do if I can’t get that high-paying, prestigious job?

Now where do I go?

Now what path am I supposed to take to get to where I (supposedly) want to be?

It’s a period of stagnation, likened to holding a map in your hands and pointing and saying “there, there is where I want to go” but not knowing which road is the easiest/fastest/safest/best.  And you never really know until you get in the car and start the trip.

For all intents and purposes, I am an adult: I have a job, I have an apartment, I have a car, and I pay bills for the apartment and the car by having a job; I have an awesome, if not misbehaved, dog and a cat for whom I am entirely responsible (as evidenced by the vet bills); and I have friends with whom I regularly get together and go out to dinner or, yes, even host dinner parties.  

And still, I feel like a little girl playing make believe. 

I’m trying to rectify this by doing the things I’ve always wanted to do now instead of waiting until later.  Sometimes I wonder if I was maybe putting these things off because I figured I could always do them later.  For example, tomorrow I’ll be going to the gym for my first martial arts class (which I’ve wanted to do ever since I first saw the Karate Kid).  The instructor of one of my fitness classes (please, I know it’s blasphemy, we’ve gotten past that) told me that she has her black belt because she took those classes with her kids.  And immediately the self-conscious part of me thought, “that’s a great thing to do with kids…if only I had kids I could do this stuff with.”  Which, hiding behind the idea of children is totally WRONG, I know, but I’ll admit the thought passed through my mind.

Because what is holding me back from doing these things now, on my own?  It’s the perfect time for me; I’m not attached to anything, so I have nothing to prevent me from making these changes and taking those chances. 

When I was a teenager, I was in such a rush to be a twenty-something — to go to college and get a job.  Now that I actually am a twenty-something, I’m in such a rush to be a thirty-something — to have a family and be settled.

It’s almost ironic: I always thought I was growing up too fast, which is maybe why I’ve always clung to my childhood so tightly; but now I feel like things are happening too slowly.  So how do you create that balance?  What I really need to learn, and what is such a painful process, is to take this time for myself, to learn patience, to live day by day and appreciate the time I have now. 

I need to get in the car, pick a direction, and step on the gas.  Very lightly, though.  There’s no point in speeding if I want to enjoy the ride.

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The Graduated Freshman

June 25, 2008 at 11:04 am (2008)

I’m learning much more than I ever thought I would by working in the Registrar’s office of a local university. Dealing with some of these students and phone calls puts everything into perspective and prompts reflection and one question: Really?

Was I really that arrogant?

Was I really that sheltered?

Did I really think that the real world was roses and rainbows?

Did I really have no concept of professionalism?

I like to think the answer to these questions is no, but I was young and immature and, quite frankly, I probably was too idealistic. In fact, I still am. But I also have more experience and maturity and an understanding that these lessons are far more valuable than any college class. And I don’t need a paper to prove that.

I received a call from a pretty pissed off student this morning saying that she had received her diploma, and although her degree was listed, her major was not. I explained that our school only puts the degree because the diploma is, essentially and for all purposes, an award certificate for the student. Not my decision, I just have to adhere to it.

But, the student then tried to protest, what if I want to send my diploma to a prospective employer? They won’t know what major my degree is in.

Really?

No, I mean, really?

So, you’re telling me that instead of sending in a resume upon which you should put your degree and major, you’re going to send in your diploma? Or that an employer is actually going to take the time to request a piece of paper that is really meant to be your very own award certificate? Really? Ok, so maybe you want to send proof of your degree along with your resume. Are you really going to attach a copy of a certificate that could very easily be fabricted on any word document or online generator? Or, better yet, should you elect to laminate said diploma, are you going to cart it around with you, frame and all? Maybe you can make copies and put them on a business card and hand them out that way.

When you were applying to your university, admissions could care less about that piece of paper you had. What they wanted to see was your transcripts, which, by the way, verifies your graduation. The same is with employers — if an employer should, by chance, ask to verify your degree, they would a) call the school for degree verification or b) ask for a copy of your transcripts, which would have your major of study listed as well as the degree you earned (and your grades — better luck next time).

Except for a few instances where a diploma is actually requested by a potential employer, you will never need that piece of paper except to tack up in your office or to keep in a memory box. It’s a great momento — something to hold onto, to be proud of. But in the real world, employers want experience and working evidence. And if they need more verification, they’ll ask for it.

It’s hard when you first graduate, I’ll be the first one to shout that from any rooftop or mountain. It’s easy to think that by putting in four years of hard work, adhering to deadlines, staying awake in 8am classes, and studying hard for mid-terms and finals, you will come out holding a piece of paper in your hand that would show the world that you’re ready for them and that they should eagerly be anticipating you. You’re proud of that piece of paper and you want to show it off. And rightly so, you should; you earned it. What you fail to remember, however, is that there are 50,000 + other graduates who have a similar degree, possiby even the same qualifications, vying for the same job position with the same employer.

And I can guarantee that not all of them are attaching their diploma to their resume. Especially when you’re sending out a half a dozen resumes a day.

I can see how tempting it is when you first graduate from college. You want to show the world the knowledge you’ve attained for the $30,000 in student loans you’ve accrued. I never realized until now how much of a headstart I had by working through my college breaks. For three years I spent 3-4 months out of the year with a company who treated me not just as their summer and winter help, but as a part of their staff, and I was expected to act like one. I learned how to conduct myself professionally and gained the experience of being in an office setting. When I graduated from college, I was prepared. At least, more prepared than some. And when it was time to leave that job a year after graduation and pursue another opportunity, I let my resume and interview speak for itself.

Maybe I am doing it wrong. After all, I’m still looking for a job, sending out resumes…But that fact isn’t going to make me do anything different. What it comes down to is that all of these pieces of paper look the same. If a company wants you, it won’t be just because of your degree — it will be because of what you can offer them. And if they ask to see your diploma, great — you’ll have it in your memory box, ready if needed.

Until then, continue to be proud of it. And polish your resume.

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