Working Toward What You Want
Two summers ago found me sitting in a laundromat in Nashville, doing my laundry late at night only a few days after my boyfriend and I had moved into our first house together; we didn’t have a washer and dryer yet (and honestly we still don’t). I wrote in my journal while waiting for my clothes to dry, waxing a little poetic about doing laundry with strangers on a hot muggy August night. But my laundromat ramblings soon turn to laments about my inability to find a job. I had just applied for a job in Denver and anxiety was bubbling up inside of me before I even had an interview.
What if I get the job and we have to move? I wrote. What will happen to the house? How will we get out of our lease? I don’t want to make my boyfriend move again so soon. My mind was already 20 steps ahead of me, like it always is. And it was thinking the worst, like it always does.
I didn’t get that job in Denver. I did interview for it, but it was an awkward Skype interview that left me knowing right away that was not a place I would be happy. But later that summer I interviewed with a church for a position as a part-time youth minister. They offered me the job only to have the new pastor call me a few weeks later to tell me that he decided to hire someone else. Elation turned to absolute despair. It was not that being a youth minister was ever my dream job, but it was a start; it was a way to not have to ask my dad to help me pay my portion of the rent, a way to not have to rely on my boyfriend to buy our groceries every week. It was a way not to have to continue working the part-time job I was working at a preschool.
For nearly a month I crawled inside of myself. My confidence had been shot. They didn’t want me. I wasn’t good enough. I would often cry during nap time at the preschool. The room was just dark enough that my fellow teacher wouldn’t notice me. I cried at the frustration of losing out on a job that would have paid me more money, and I cried at the frustration of being a preschool teacher after having spent so much time, energy and money on a degree that was proving pointless.
Throughout all of this, I felt really alone. I felt like no one else I knew was facing the same problem. Everyone seemed to be finding jobs. Everyone seemed to know what they were doing and where they were going.
For the first time in my life, I felt pointless. I had always been working toward something. I had always been striving to finish something. Books. Papers. School. Everything always had a tangible ending. But this did not. Joblessness has no clear end in sight. It’s a game of luck and chance. You are at the mercy of first impressions and well-written cover letters.
I felt ashamed because society kept telling me that I needed to have a job where I was putting my degree to use. I felt ashamed to tell anyone that I was working in a preschool, because I was afraid of their judgment. I was afraid of the response, “Well, a religion degree is useless in this world.” I was tired of justifying my degree by saying, “No, my degree qualifies me to work for many nonprofits,” and then listening to people reply, “Well I don’t see you working at one.” I’d had that conversations more times than I could count, and it was it was wearing me down.
When I finally did get a job later that year, it was out of sheer luck. A mutual friend introduced me to a meeting planner who needed an assistant. I had a little background in event planning, so she hired me. She lived in Washington, DC, and I still lived in Nashville. I worked for her remotely and traveled when needed. The pay was good, and I could quit the preschool. I had an actual real full-time job! But somehow, I still did not feel fulfilled. I worked from home, and it was a lonely experience. Even though I often rode my bike up the street to our neighborhood coffee shop, and even though my boyfriend also worked from home, I still felt restless, lonely, and like I wasn’t successful.
I have this terrible problem of comparing myself to others, of looking around to see what someone else is doing and wishing that I had gotten some of their luck, talent and creativity. It seems especially easy to do this in the age of Facebook and Instagram. Suddenly all of these people my age or younger who appear successful are right in my face, making me wonder why I am not doing something more with my life.
This refrain echoed within me while I worked for the meeting planner, spending days at home creating spreadsheets and preparing catering orders. Would I ever feel fulfilled and happy?
In hindsight it’s easy to see that I benefited from my months of struggle and longing. I pushed myself to go further and start planning for things that I never would have done had I not faced these challenges. That year pushed me to keep applying for more jobs, to keep updating my resume and writing new cover letters until I finally got a job I wanted. Or at least a job that gave me more fulfillment.
I’m still working toward my dream job. I’m still working toward a lot of things, actually. I’m still working on not comparing myself to others. At 27, I fit the mold perfectly for the 20-something longing for fulfillment in life, longing to do something great with her life and be more than she is right now. Some people complain about people like me, how we are never satisfied to be who we are. But I don’t see that as a bad thing. Sure, some days I wish that knot of anxiety in the pit of my stomach would go away, but that knot also pushes me forward to pursue what I want.
My first year out of grad school was one of the hardest years of my life in terms of figuring out who I am. I no longer had the label of scholar to define me. It was up to me to figure out what I was and how I would be known in the world. I wasn’t prepared. I’m still struggling. This upcoming August, I will still probably be in that laundromat wondering what’s coming next. But I am not the same woman who sat there on August 15, 2014 when I wrote that journal entry. That first year out of school taught me that life is not just a set of requirements that you meet and pass; it’s both an ongoing struggle and an ongoing adventure. And it is okay to work toward what you want.
[Photo by Juliette Kibodeaux.]