There are parts of all of us that aren't really hidden from others as much as they just don't come up in normal conversation. They're opinions or anxieties or just realities that root deep down, and if we're lucky we can share them with a close friend or partner and that turns out to be enough. But sometimes my deep down matches your deep down, and we would never know otherwise.
Like, say for instance, maybe to use one tiny, miniscule, completely unrelated example: ever since I stopped teaching 4 years ago, I have been having a mid (quarter?)-life crisis regarding work and career. Each new venture, in whatever industry or role-- prestigious or not, education-related or not, well-paying or not-- has resulted in me feeling like an utter failure, like a fraud, like I'm both wasting my time on things that don't matter while at the same time not being very good at the work in front of me in the first place. I'm instantly defensive when people ask what "I do", especially people who I knew from college or from Teach For America. I have literally lied about it before and made my tech recruiting sound philanthropic and leadership-oriented, knowing that my fabrications would never be uncovered, young con artist that I am.
I grew up in a family where success was valued, where my parents worked hard to send my brothers and I to good schools so we could get into good colleges, so that we could find something we cared about and get really good at it. I was competitive with myself from an early age. My grandpa would come over for dinners and quiz me on my multiplication tables circa third grade, and I would study my flash cards like crazy to impress him. And while the academic part of school came easily enough in the earlier days, I'm not sure if I necessarily ever felt particularly smart as much as I just felt driven. I mean, for goodness sakes, my plan until high school was to go to Stanford and play for their women's basketball team. LOLZ.
If I think of life in terms of when my dreams were the biggest and most brave, it's not the magnitude that has necessarily taken a toll, but rather my own belief in myself and the legitimacy those dreams held. At some point around the TFA days, or the long unemployment shortly thereafter, a voice and a narrative began to emerge that screamed "Failure!" any chance it got, and I suppose the work that lies ahead is one of figuring out what that is.
It's always nice to write from a place of knowing, isn't it? It can be an afterthought of that one really vulnerable thing, complete with some well-timed self-deprecation and perceptive wisdom, offered as a gift to both anyone who reads and who wants it, but also to my future, distant self, someday lost and wandering, brought back by dusted off retro wisdom. The image alone slays me. And while I need that sometimes, the afterthought and the well-packaged perspective, avoiding the messy doesn't help in my lowest-of-low moments, the kind that spiral and bring me and my general vicinity down.
And the first step to talking about it, I think, is to name the elephant in the room, the one that is scary in its enormity. There is nothing unprivileged about a struggle to sit in the uncertainty of career and jobs. This is the plight and the writings of an upper-middle class white woman who got to go to and graduate from college because there were never any questions that she wouldn't. This is privilege, first and foremost. And, this is my story. It's real and good because all of ours are both. But the reality that so many people live without the luxury of choice when it comes to how they will pay the bills is heavy and real, and if it's possible to hold both stories as legitimate, then I'd like to try.
I was talking the other day to Austin while we were sitting in the park, the sun beating down in the warm-breezy way that is San Francisco. I knew that we had the afternoon to ourselves, but having that free time meant that I would have to sit down to my computer to write something, or else my conscious (the part that says "you belong here. sit.") would haunt and poke. But writing hasn't felt good for a while now, and when we were sitting in the park, I was trying to articulate why. It feels hollow, I said, and I know that I should be publicizing more on social media (ugh), but I really don't think that any of it's very good anymore, and quite frankly I'm embarrassed to put it out there. I said that I didn't feel like I was living a life worth writing about, like I've just completely settled and there's not a lot happening. I'm not living a great story with my days anymore, I said, and I'm frustrated. I work, I work out, I read a bit, watch a show, go to sleep and do it all again the next day. All I want is for this feeling inside of me that feels like a failure with every job and every thought of any career, I need that surgically removed. I need a therapist surgeon and I need help.
And then he perked up from his happy place of sunshine and Rufo time and said 'write that.' Write about that feeling you want to be removed. Write about the struggle. Stop dancing around it. Start doing things that may not make everyone feel great. Write like you have stuff to say, because you do. And I said, okay I think I can do that. And he said, well then go do that.
So I guess this is that. Or this is the introduction into that. I want this feeling inside of me, that shows up often and without invitation, that feels so judgy and discontent and mean, to leave and shut up. But it won't unless I decide to climb that mountain. So instead of making grand and panicked plans to compensate-- to go to law school or open a charter school or work for the White House, or cry uncontrollably in my bright pink robe because I'm turning 30 next year and none of those things feel particularly viable (I'll take the last option, thanks!)--I'm going to start writing and sharing and trying something I haven't done before.
Because you know what? Me too, me too, me too.