I was always an emotional child. Meaning the simplest things could put me in tears. A dead rabbit on the side of the road. Getting in trouble at school. Getting in trouble at home. Having someone raise their voice at me. Having someone tell me saying something wasn’t appropriate.
I was also anxious and always nervous about doing things wrong. Even as an adult if I get a less than above satisfactory grade or feedback I dwell on it for days if not weeks.
THIS is not a healthy way to deal with the bumps and miscomings of life. Even though I hold myself to an insane standard, that doesn’t mean that I should or that it’s right or even logical.
It’s really unhealthy.
Like screws up your body and makes you exhausted and miserable half the time.
You live in dread and fear and it’s hard to feel like you can be yourself without being criticized, shot down or unloveable.
Granted I also have Post Traumatic Stress from a few childhood incidents, which doesn’t help anything. However, I know my anxious tendencies are not uncommon for my generation and my colleagues.
The problem lies so much in how our culture influences our understanding of how the world works and our place in it. I remember always hearing the narrative that if I worked hard and got good grades and looked perfect and determined, along with praying to god for help, that everything would be okay. My parents raised me in various protestant churches in Teller County Colorado and finally settled at the Methodist Church in Woodland Park when I was in high school. However, with this doctrine of do good and you’ll get your wishes granted. Pray hard enough and it will work out. I found myself feeling like this praying to something wasn’t working for me. Not to belittle anyone’s beliefs, but my self found it hard to want to pray to something I didn’t know if it existed or not and then have it grant my wishes. I didn’t find the comfort there that others did. I did my research on other religions and also found it hard to believe. So I bought into the cult of hard work= great successes.
We’re really in love with this story in the United States. So many of our books and movies and cultural followings surround this idea. So I also bought into it. It has also been called the American Dream, and it’s so far entrenched in our culture that it’s hard to escape the narrative that we’re given our whole lives.
In High School I was informed time and time again that a college degree was a ticket to wealth and well-being. It was a ticket to getting what I wanted. For me that was getting out of loving below the poverty line and into the middle or even upper class (if I worked hard enough) . It meant being able to buy a home, and a car, and pay for my kids to go to summer camp. It meant having a few luxuries, such as trips to Europe and Asia. It meant getting to live a full life. One that I always dreamed of.
I did have one teacher that flat out asked us how much we really thought the American Dream made sense for all of us or for everyone. We all agreed it seemed far-fetched. But we all silently believed we would have our slice of the pie.
Fast forward 8-years and here we are. I’m 25, I have a BA in both Journalism and History. I have my MA in International Journalism and I’m only making a little more than my mother did 10 years ago cleaning hotel rooms or working as an assistant librarian (my mom only has a high school education, which was earned through home-schooling).
I bought into the cult of hard work=success. It also came with almost six-digits in debt that I have to figure out. All of this while the cost of living in the town I’m in has almost doubled in the last 10 years. While the wage I made in high school at an Ihop is not that much less than my current earnings. I work three jobs to get by. I have my own company as one, and do communications for a local teahouse and non-profit. I love the work I do. It’s all in the field I studied in (communications/Journalism) yet it’s not the way I was brought up to believe it would be.
I believed with my MA I could get that dream journalism job of 40k+ a year, not a massive sum, but combined with my Fiance’s income, we would be alright. We could manage.
The money quantifies the struggle, but the emotional reality is what is hardest. To 15 year old me, I’m failing. Even though it’s systemic as much as it is me. When you apply to 150 jobs and only get 3 interviews, it’s pretty crushing. I have done good work, but somehow I am not breaking through to the journalism field, so I’m nestling in PR and Communications. For good organizations this is rewarding. For the future and potential other customers, it brings up ethical concerns.
Perhaps my point is that I wish someone had told me, and all the other people feeling crushed and beat up: “Nothing is promised.” Literally nothing. You might be the smartest person in your school, or city, but unless you sort of luck out, or have support behind you that makes the right connections, it’s very hard to break free into the life you want.
I’m not giving up hope, I’m just reality checking myself in that this existence is very inconsistent and scattered. Sometimes life will lift you up and up and sometimes life will knock your knees out from under you. Adulting is hard, and none of us survive this thing called life.
So, my recommendation is: make good art, create good work, DO work hard on what brings you joy and knowledge. But enjoy all the little magical things that are around you. My family, Fiance and his daughter, along with my cat, are my bread and butter for my soul. Even with my education and all the things I vigilantly try and learn, that stupid fuzzy creature, the love of my life, and his silly, beautiful daughter are the best things about this existence.
And don’t forget, it’s okay to cry, it’s okay to be angry, and it’s okay to take risks to try and find your bliss.