“Maybe I don’t want a Happy New Year, he said. Maybe I want an intense New Year with a lot of growth experiences & I had to admit I’d never thought of that” –StoryPeople
I wanted the happy new year. I got the intense one.
Not horrible intense. Not tragic intense. Not depression intense. I can’t even say it’s been a bad year. So many people have had so many worse years. I got to move in with my previously long-distance boyfriend. I got to adopt kittens. I am able to pay all my own bills for the first time in my life (as long as we don’t crash another car). And I am very aware that if any of the kids I taught in India could see my modest apartment and broken dishwasher, they would think I must be president of the United States.
Before I moved here, I had been experiencing a rare moment in my life when all the important things happened to be going well at the same time. My relationship was getting serious, I was surrounded by good friends, I was finally able to be a therapist, and I was focused and passionate about my writing. I left that place with a lot of momentum. I left that place ready to forge my own way into the real world. I was ready to start a satisfying career. I was ready to get serious about getting published.
What I got instead were rejections. Job rejections and literary agent rejections by the dozens. Daily. I would literally wake up each morning to at least ten rejections waiting for me in my inbox before I even put in my contacts. And I mean, I get it. It’s not about me. It’s a sucky economy and I’m young and geographically limited and every writer starts out with a buttload of rejections and even Kathryn Stockett and yada yada yada.
What I got instead was a string of bad jobs. I can’t even tell you the number of jobs I have quit in the past year because it’s embarrassing.
What I got instead was a lot of doubt. Doubt about the world: Is it even possible for anyone to support themselves doing anything remotely satisfying? Is anyone happy? Is everyone corrupt? Does the world let anyone keep their dreams? And doubt about myself: Is this my fault? Do I not have what it takes to succeed in this strange world? Do I even want what I thought I wanted? Am I good at those things? Am I helplessly idealistic and naïve?
I read once (perhaps in Stephen King’s book on writing?) that trying to become a published author is like being on the outside of a closed glass box, looking in on all the published authors who are inside. And you want desperately to know how they got inside this box, because you want to get inside too. But if you ask any of them how they got in, they don’t know what to tell you. Because none of them are really sure how they got in. And even if they were, that information wouldn’t be helpful to you anyway. Because no two people can get in the same way.
One year down, and I have not yet found my way into the publishing box or the career box. I am still knocking at the glass box of adult life mouthing to people on the inside, “Where the hell did you find a door on this thing?”
I don’t know if I’ve gained much wisdom about what I want out of life through my crazy job experiences in the past year. Just that I don’t want to work somewhere that makes me hate Mondays, or where people make jokes about not having had their coffee yet, or where anyone has ever said “If it’s not in my planner, it doesn’t happen.” I do want to work somewhere where people leave baked goods in a communal area and where I can leave Valentines in peoples’ mailboxes.
So maybe I have learned a lot.
A couple months ago I swung by the post office on my way home from a job interview to pick up a new book of literary agent listings I had ordered. As I tossed it on the passenger seat and began driving home, I realized something: I was still looking for the exact same things I was looking for a year ago. An agent and a job. But I didn’t feel discouraged by the revelation. I just thought about how maybe years like mine were necessary, because maybe they are what separate the people who don’t want their dreams badly enough from the ones who really, really do.
So I am still one who wants them. My momentum may have dwindled in the face of the real world but it is far from gone. Because I still have high standards for my life that I refuse to lower. I still will not settle for a job that is unethical or that sucks away at my soul or that keeps me secluded in a storage closet when I was made to be around other human beings. I still insist that “fun” is a perfectly reasonable requirement for something I commit to doing five days per week, seeing as I only have 70 or so years left to live. And I will not try to quiet the voice that has always told me that, at the end of it all, I am going to be a writer.
I wish I had some great literary reference to use here (especially after having just declared myself a writer), but what I have is a memory of an After the Final Rose ceremony from a previous season of The Bachelor that I watched on YouTube. The newest Bachelor couple was struggling to stay together, and they were asking advice from the only three successful couples in Bachelor/Bachelorette history (one of those has since broken up). The woman who the Bachelor had chosen asked Ryan (who married Trista, the original Bachelorette, who went to my high school and my college, what what) how he had dealt with watching all of the episodes of Trista dating the other guys before she chose him, and if it made him question things, and this is what Ryan said:
“If someone were to come up to you and say: Listen. I’m going to set you up with the perfect guy, but you’re going to have to go through some hurt, but in the end you’re going to be with the best guy for you. If someone had said that to you before you went on The Bachelor, would you say ‘Done. I’ll go through anything to be with that guy for the rest of my life?’ I’m just gonna say… that you’d say yes.”
Replace “guy” with “career/real-world life” and that’s how I’m choosing to look at this period of time. I believe that things will work out, because I am going to make sure that they work out. I plan to look back on these trials as the difficult but necessary and relatively small period of time before my dreams started coming true.
And I realize that that might be a long time from now. To be honest, I’d been putting off writing a post like this until I could look back on these difficulties as things that had passed. But I understand now that there is not just going to be a day in the next week or month or year when I wake up and suddenly I’ve arrived. It’s a process.
But I am certainly hopeful. Next month I will be starting a new job that seems quite promising—but we all know that I’ve been so, so very wrong about these things before. Good or bad though, like everything, it will at least be a stepping stone on the long, winding path toward where I long to be.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like On Moving.