how will I know?

16Aug11

Question for my lovely readers: how did you figure out what you wanted to be when you grew up?

I find myself, yet again, in a gloomy puddle about my career. I don’t know what I want to DO with my life. I’m not really sure I ever did. I had some vague notions in secondary school about teaching and journalism, but I never had my sights set on anything specific.

So off I went to college with my vague notions, and proceeded to be quite shit at it. I’m smart enough, but without the constant feedback of teachers invested in my results (and, embarrassingly, the praise for being a good student) I found myself not really caring. The only person I had to do well for was myself… and I didn’t value my own approval highly enough to make the effort.

So I did terribly in my coursework but quite well in my exams, repeated a few times and eventually had a complete meltdown in the run-up to my finals where I stayed in bed for a couple of months trying to pretend it wasn’t actually happening. My then-boyfriend (that poor bloke) could clearly see something was wrong and made an appointment with the counsellor for me. The minute I got onto campus I had a panic attack and had to be physically dragged to his office where I couldn’t speak for crying.

I was persuaded by him and the student advisors to sit my finals anyway and give them by best shot, despite having missed months of coursework and not having a balls notion about most of the subjects. I passed one course but failed the other.

As luck would have it, I had a job offer for after college anyhow. Of course by “luck” I mean I could avoid the whole failed-my-degree thing and just go and do the job instead, which suited me and my denial perfectly thankyouverymuch. After coming clean to my parents about my depression and my exams, they moved me home for a couple of months to have a break. And then I started my job.

And after that job, I was offered another job. And after *that* job, I got another job. People continued to employ me to write, which astounded me. I felt like a fraud for the most part, having people pay me to do something that comes as naturally to me as speech, if not more naturally. But of course, the recession struck (bam!) and that was the end of the writing jobs for me.

I’m a good writer, yes, but a passionate one. My writing comes from my heart, not my head; and so I have trouble motivating myself to write about things that don’t capture my interest and fuel my soul. Sounds awfully romantic, I know, but in reality translates to “makes a shit journalist”. (Not to mention a shit blogger.)

Almost two years and a string of jobs I was (excuse my ego) vastly overskilled for later, I am… lost. I don’t like what I’m doing. I don’t know if I can go back to writing after such a long break. And I’m fucked if I know what else I’d like to do instead.

Along with this lost feeling comes a whole heap of shame, guilt and self-flagellation. There are thousands upon thousands of people who would have killed for the opportunity to attend university and wouldn’t have fucked it up like I did. There are thousands more who’d have had the tenacity to make themselves invaluable enough to hang onto a job during the recession – I count my bevy of extremely talented journalist and writer friends amongst these. And still there are hundreds who’d give anything to have the job I have right now.

But instead, here I sit, unsatisfied, unmotivated, unhappy. Uninspired. And all because I can’t decide what I want to do. I think about this time ten years ago, when I was waiting for my Leaving Cert results. I was pretty much guaranteed to get my course, having exceeded the points I needed in my mocks and every other school exam I’d taken. I was confident in myself and my abilities. It never even crossed my mind that ten years later, I’d be looking back and pining for that self-confident schoolgirl and those easy schooldays.

Of course, it wasn’t all gold stars back then. I remember one teacher giving me a spate of B/As (“but that’s not a real grade, Miss!”) on a series of essays… something wasn’t *quite* there, she would say, and do her best to help me improve. My best friend (who, of course, always got her A) would laugh at my frustration but spur me on to do better next time. It used to infuriate me, not reaching that elusive A. It wounded me that there was something I was doing wrong, but couldn’t seem to fix.

I think in some ways, I might still be searching for that A, everywhere in my life. I want to be top of the class, always. The best girlfriend, the best daughter, the best friend, the best employee. And when I can’t, I blame myself, even though it’s not my fault, or it’s something that can’t be changed. And because it can’t be changed, because I CAN’T even with the best will in the world, reach that A, I feel crap about myself. I’ve never liked doing things I’m not good at. And it’s this need for perfection – not even a need, a basic requirement – that has me feeling so utterly lost. I’m not good enough at anything, or so my head tells me. If I was just brilliant at ONE thing, I’d do that thing, and I’d love it. I know this is not true for everyone, if anyone. But neither do I know how to shake the conviction that unless I’m doing something perfectly, I’m doing it badly.

Typically now, I can’t even remember what my final Leaving Cert grade was in that class. One thing has stuck with me though. The teacher, my favourite to this day, was talking to us about what we thought our careers would be. We all told her our plans, and she told us – the most interesting people I know are those who are in their mid-forties and are still trying to decide what they want to be when they grow up.

So at least if I’m not successful, I still have a crack at being interesting.

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11 Responses to “how will I know?”

  1. 1 Michelle

    I’m almost convinced we’re the same person. I’m in the middle of the depression/fail college cycle for the second time. I always give up on the that I’m not brilliant at, even if I’m reasonably good, it’s not enough, it has to be perfect or I can’t make myself do it.

    • Well, at least we know we’re not alone in our craziness 🙂 I find, with me, if there’s even a hint that I might fail at something (failure = non-perfection), I immediately start sabotaging myself. In college, it was “I’m not sure what to write about for this essay, so I just won’t write it and then avoid the lecture forever.” Clever, huh?

  2. You know, this sounds a little like burnout. When is the last time you had a vacation? What are you doing outside of your job that, uh, (I hate these phrases) “feeds the spirit”?

    • Um, I went on holiday with my mother in June to shoot my Aunt’s wedding. Though I came back more stressed than I was when I left because we really couldn’t afford to go, and I had just started a new job and they barely gave me the time off. Before that? Another family wedding in Italy in 2009. But my guilt & shame tell me that unemployment is one big holiday and I’ve had plenty of that the past couple of years, so why should I need a break?

      I *know* I do need a break, but I can’t really justify it to myself when all I’ve been doing is normal person things that normal people do, and the difference is I just can’t quite cope with them as well as others do.

      Spirit-feeding, I have been doing some of that. Taking photos mostly, which I love. I went to yoga once and haven’t been back since (keep being “too busy” which is a crock of shit, I know). But outside of work there’s also a lot of, well, work — house cleaning, DIY, fretting about money, and worrying about work.

      Even saying all this, I feel like a whiny blob of uselessness. All these things are just LIFE, right? Everyone has to do them, the chores and the jobs they don’t like. What makes me such a special snowflake that I get to not do things just cos I don’t like them? And then I get angry at myself. I’ll stop now before I have a whole other blog post written!

      • Warning: War and Peace size comment ahead:

        Um, I went on holiday with my mother in June to shoot my Aunt’s wedding. Though I came back more stressed than I was when I left because we really couldn’t afford to go, and I had just started a new job and they barely gave me the time off. Before that? Another family wedding in Italy in 2009. But my guilt & shame tell me that unemployment is one big holiday and I’ve had plenty of that the past couple of years, so why should I need a break?

        Well, I don’t think it counts as a break unless you actually feel refreshed. It doesn’t really sound like that’s the case, though.

        I *know* I do need a break, but I can’t really justify it to myself when all I’ve been doing is normal person things that normal people do, and the difference is I just can’t quite cope with them as well as others do.

        Oh, man…do I know THAT feeling. Bryce always says to me: stop comparing your insides (inevitably messy because, unfortunately, I am human) and other people’s outsides.

        But outside of work there’s also a lot of, well, work — house cleaning, DIY, fretting about money, and worrying about work.

        Even saying all this, I feel like a whiny blob of uselessness.

        Wow. You are REALLY hard on yourself. “Whiny blob of uselessness”? That’s a really mean thing to say…I have a hard time imagining you saying that to someone else. Don’t you think you should treat yourself at least as well as a random stranger on the street? I’m switchable, and in one of my two relationships I’m the D-type person. I don’t *allow* my girl to say bad things about herself. I mean, her inner child is listening! Okay, okay…but in all seriousness, I tell her, I won’t let people say bad things about you in my earshot without challenging them, and that includes you. I suspect all this berating yourself doesn’t actually get you closer to your goals, but I’m sure it makes you feel bad, which can’t help.

        My other suspicion is this: you’re doing more than you actually realize. I used to feel EXACTLY like this before I started writing down each and every thing I have to do. I took a page of paper and wrote each project, large and small, at the top, and listed all of the steps necessary to complete it below. Then, taking only the things I could actually do right now (for instance, I can’t renew my driver’s license until I pay a parking ticket, so “pay parking ticket” would be on the list but “visit registry office to renew license” would not.

        When I did this, my to-do list ran to…FIVE PAGES! (cue horror movie soundtrack).

        Three things came out of this:

        1. I wondered why I EVER believed I could hold all that in my head. I wasn’t disorganized: I simply had far more to do than any human could be expected to hold in their head.

        2. I started saying NO to more things. My default setting was YES, but I was saying yes without any knowledge of my actual workload. This led to me being behind and failing a lot and feeling bad about it because I thought I SHOULD be able to do it all. Whenever I don’t write my workload down, I always think it is smaller than it really is.

        A lot of the organizational system I adopted comes from a book called “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. I don’t think you have to use his system, but in order to get an accurate sense of all the things you have to do and when you have to do them you need some system, and his is a pretty good one.

      • Well, I don’t think it counts as a break unless you actually feel refreshed. It doesn’t really sound like that’s the case, though.

        I was not refreshed after my holiday. I took photos and ran around doing things for people, and I was with my family who are so very, very different to me; and I had a fight with my mother and I kept hurting myself (accidentally) and I really didn’t relax a lot. But it was a holiday in a gorgeous sunny place so of course I feel guilty for not having enjoyed it as much as I could have.

        Wow. You are REALLY hard on yourself. “Whiny blob of uselessness”? That’s a really mean thing to say…I have a hard time imagining you saying that to someone else.

        I am really hard on myself, yeah. I do say things like that to the boy sometimes, and he says “you’re not” and that doesn’t really help, because, you know. I don’t believe that I’m not. I’m also a pleaser, which means everybody else in the entire world gets looked after better than I look after myself. If I have nobody to look after, I’ll fucking find something to do for SOMEONE. So first, I do all the housey stuff to please Sir (he’ll kill me for that now that he knows) and anyone else who might come over, then I do the job stuff to please my boss, and my parents if I’m honest, and then I find more things to do that I feel like I should be doing. That’s ‘should be doing’ and not ‘want to do’.

        And no, all the berating doesn’t help one bit, in fact it holds me back from achieving anything. I can see that so clearly, but I still stop myself from reaching for goals because (a) I’ve never actually spent enough time thinking about myself and what I want to identify what those goals ARE (beyond “happiness”) and (b) on some level I feel that reaching for my goals is a bit selfish and I should just be happy with the way things are.

        The thing I find the MOST frustrating is that I can see all of this, and I understand why I’m doing it, and I know it doesn’t make sense… but I have no clue how to stop feeling that way. I guess it starts with a break. The one that Sir has been trying to get me to take for oh, a year or so.

  3. I find it very hard to stop thinking those thoughts as well, even when people I know and trust tell me they are not true.

    I’m not sure I have a very good answer here except to say that maybe this is where obedience comes in.

    Bryce and I have gotten to the point where he requires me to do certain things that he believes will be good for me. Sometimes I think the things he asks me to do won’t be effective, either because I don’t understand how they could work or because I believe I am “stuck” being a certain way and feel hopeless about changing it.

    I’ve decided to put aside whether I believe them or not and just be obedient. After all, my judgment got me thus far but no further. Maybe his will take me someplace I need to go.

    • That’s an excellent point, Lily. I do believe that I am a better person in his eyes than I believe myself to be, and I also know that his impression of me is more realistic than mine. So perhaps more guidance from him, and more trust in him, might help me to clear this murky place I’m in right now.

  4. 9 hick

    Hi there

    I’ve been a follower of your excellent blog for a long time but was never brave enough to comment until now.

    I hope that this doesn’t come across as condescending but I am also currently in career limbo land but I tried this and it helped clarify things for me:

    I sat alone in em… a shed (can be anywhere quiet and peaceful) and asked myself what jobs could I see myself being good at if money and qualifications were not an issue. I thought of three jobs, and tried to figure out a possible way to get around the obstacles. Two of the jobs required further education and a loan. The other required some personal sacrifices but I eventually made a descision Two years later I am back to looking for a job in my field but I know what direction I’m going in and am feeling optimistic and even excited.

    What I’m trying to get at is that upon reflection you might find that other external factors might be influencing you more than you realise. (The expectations and opinions of others – even those with your best interests at heart, past negative experiences overshadowing confidence in your abilities…)
    You might have a dorothy moment and realise that you’ve always known deep down what you want to do, or you might find that what you really want to do may not be feasabile at the moment, or maybe you’ll still be unsure. Hopefully , it might make things a little clearer for you.

    Whatever happens, I would urge you to continue writing whether you wish to pursue it professionally or not. More blogging please. and rest assured that you are interesting.

    • Thanks so much for commenting 🙂

      It’s not condescending at all, and I know for sure that external factors have shaped what I’ve been doing so far, namely money. But I’m trying my best to put all that aside (as much as I can knowing the rent still needs to be paid) and focus on what it is I really want to do.

      I know some of the options, and I’ve surprised myself because they’re all creative in nature and I’ve *never* thought of myself as a creative person. But perhaps an entire change of direction is exactly what I need! I promise I’ll keep blogging! 😛


  1. 1 Inspiration « michellaneous

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