Monday, March 23, 2009

On Getting Over Ourselves.....

Clearly it's a Carolyn love-fest! This letter/chat topic is old (from 2003) but too good, and too important, I think, to pass up. I sort of want to scorn this person for being so crazed, but I can't, because s/he is nothing more than an exaggerated version of myself. I'm not "disgusted" with my life, nor am I "berating" myself, but still...the shoe fits, kind of. Graduation is in 4 weeks and suddenly we're all sort of panicking about what comes next. What if I don't achieve all the things I thought I would? What if I fail everyone by living a perfectly pleasant, decent, mediocre life, belying my Illinois Wesleyan/University of Michigan/Welzenbach/English honor society heritage of excellence???? Oh the horrors!

Carolyn's advice makes me feel like it's ok to sit and take a breath and look around, be thankful, happy, and content--even if it means I (we all) stop trying so hard for five minutes. Ahhhh.

Somewhere in Northern Virginia: Hi Carolyn! I'm an avid reader of your column, but I've always been afraid to submit a question--until now--and only because I'm at such a total loss. Over the past six months, I've been feeling completely and utterly disgusted about my life. Essentially, I have always been very driven and ambitious, usually just to appear "together" and perfect. I'm almost 24. I've held a lot of glamour jobs, but I've yet to find something I'm truly passionate about. I keep berating myself for not having achieved enough. For instance, I promised myself I'd write my first novel by 21. Haven't done it. I think about this constantly and beat myself up over it. I have a job at a well-respected media outlet, which people always think is awesome, but I feel stuck in a rut and I'm not making the most of the experience. I've lost all motivation, and I feel totally confused. My friends are off applying to grad schools and getting promotions, and I feel stagnant. Moreover, lately I have been taking this out on my boyfriend: I've been trying to run his life (researching grad school options for him, etc.) instead of focusing on mine, which I feel is a total mess. I was always proud of myself up until recently, and I have no clue how to emerge from this. Sorry for the long post, but I do hope you can get to it today online. Thanks so much.

Carolyn Hax: Afraid I'll bite you? Just don't be completely self-absorbed, and I won't.

Actually, you're cutting the self-absorbed thing a little close with your quest for the -est (smartest, brightest, richest, successfulest), but we'll call it appearance absorption and give it a pass, since you're only hurting yourself. In fact, I think your disgust should be redirected toward that--your need to flog yourself for absolutely no reason. Repeat, absolutely no reason.

You are not even 24. Some people don't find their passions till they're 60. Some people never find them, and eke out pretty decent lives for themselves. They work hard, at whatever, as long as it's toward the greater good, and they pay their taxes, and they're nice to the people who love them, and they take pleasure in whatever small things they take pleasure in.

So my advice is to relax, work hard at whatever you work at, and love the people who love you, and seek out some pleasure in life.

And if you can't put yourself into that mold because you think you're too good for it, then I will bite you.

I'm not surprised that many of us find our way INTO these positions....17-20 years of pushing, pushing, pushing at school, sports, drama, part-time jobs, full-time jobs, etc. can lead us to believe that if we're not always striving to be faster, better, fastest, best, that we're somehow selling ourselves short and failing everyone who ever believed in us. But if we don't find a way OUT of this thinking, we're only punishing ourselves. A roof over the head? Food on the table? Loving relationships? A sunny day? A cat wending its way between your feet? A good book? Your health, that of your family? It's easy to forget how valuable these things are. Life is good. Life goes on. Thank God.

1 comment:

thesamsanator said...

Interestingly, this weekend, I asked Tim if he ever felt like he was missing out because he graduated from college, got a job, met me, and now we're planning our lives together. He said he was around a lot of English majors that did the "English major thing," taking years off to find themselves. He said, "My uncle told me once: graduate college, get a summer job, take a few weeks off, but don't take years to find yourself, because you'll find yourself at 27 with no job, no family, nothing." I saw so many of my friends go on to grad school or other glamorous things, glamorous in relation to my steady teaching job in a small town, anyway. Many people were really surprised when they initially learned I was getting my secondary ed certification. Then, once they got over their shock, they thought it was a back-up plan. No one could conceive of the fact that I actually wanted to teach, because I was always pushing myself to be the best at everything. (Apparently, teachers aren't supposed to do that.)

Recently, thinking almost entirely about settling down and starting the next part of my life, I started to feel like a failure, until I talked to Tim about it and realized that it really all depends on how you define success. To me, success has become more about raising a family than about the high-powered job and the travel and all the glamor that comes with that lifestyle. But that's just me.