First off, take a breath. At 23, I know you feel like living at home and working that job in a field that you didn’t even major in feels like you’re a huge (and I mean huge) failure, but you’re doing just fine. Even if you’re in between jobs, like me, you can still breathe a small sigh of relief because you have your whole life ahead of you.
I am no stranger to the feeling of inadequacy and many of my friends feel the same exact way, but why? From an unbiased standpoint, I am doing pretty well for myself: I graduated from college and afterward maintained two internships/apprenticeships within my field of study, and although they eventually ended, I worked non-stop in a variety of jobs that paid for my bills and broadened my skillset – so why do I constantly feel like such a disappointment? I’ve come to learn a lot about myself in these last few years, so I’d like to share what I’ve discovered with you in hopes that you can find a little bit of comfort in my story.
A bit of pertinent background for you: I went to college for a BA in Acting/Directing and throughout all four years, I felt that I had always fallen short of a breakthrough. I was consistently comparing myself against all of the other students – boy or girl, freshman or senior – which was extremely unhealthy for me for a variety of reasons. By pitting myself against my classmates in this nonexistent competition, I robbed myself of the ability to move forward. Because I had hyperfocused my attention on succeeding, every time I was miserable I would attribute it to not studying hard enough or not trying my best, instead of keeping an open mind to the idea that maybe acting wasn’t the best career for me. Alternatively, the obsession I had with succeeding bled over into the directing portion of the track and I produced some of my best work, not to mention I felt the most fulfilled I had ever felt during my collegiate career – but I couldn’t focus on that because I was so fixated on this idea that I was going to be this almighty successful actor no matter what. Through that, I deprived myself of experimenting with different career paths.
This brings me to life after graduation.
After I graduated, I had received an offer to join a four-month-long apprenticeship for an educational touring show. This was incredible news! An amazing opportunity, proof that I had potential, and an awesome product of my hard work! Yet, I was so involved with what everybody else was doing that I wasn’t even capable of getting excited about it. I thought that being away from those people (who I loved dearly, don’t misunderstand) would help me be more comfortable with myself and my process. Granted, it did a little bit, but I knew that it was going to be a long road before I could truly believe in myself again.
So, I delved into work. I had a part-time jewelry retail job and I worked there until I went to my apprenticeship, then afterward I returned to that same job and took up a second part-time clothing retail job to try and pay off my suffocatingly high student debt. Each day that passed by was a nightmare. I would wake up and immediately the thoughts would start like a barrage of knives coming from the inside of my mind:
“Why are you in this shitty job? Everybody else is working in their field. You are pathetic, working in retail. You are going to be stuck here forever and you’re going to die alone and unhappy working this dead-end job. You worthless sack of shit.“
Yeah, it was pretty violent, but I’m grateful it wasn’t far worse. (I feel I should clarify: there is nothing wrong with retail jobs, and if my career path was business or marketing or something related to retail, I would have been much more comfortable there, but it isn’t, so I wasn’t.) I hadn’t been able to go to auditions or send out resumes or even entertain the thought of theatre because my loans were so atrocious that I needed every paid hour that I could possibly squeeze out of my two jobs. After a few months with those negative thoughts on loop from dawn to dusk, I had worked myself into a deep depression, and I decided to take my aunt up on an offer she had extended to me to work at her office building as a receptionist (another job not related to my chosen career, but bills don’t stop needing to get paid and retail was sucking my life force far too quickly). This is when things really took a turn. After about two months of working there, I realized that I still wasn’t happy. I was feeling really, really low and I decided to seek professional help.
Talk therapy was my saving grace. Having someone to speak to about my life and how I felt about everything was very helpful to me. She helped me organize my emotions out of the jumbled and scary mess it was, which allowed me to take a step back and clearly see what I wanted my next step to be. Because of this clarity, I decided to take a different step in my career: I applied for and got accepted into an MFA Creative Writing and Publishing program.
I think, for the first time in a very long time, I finally feel like I’m on the right track.
The content of this story isn’t for everyone. Obviously, not everyone goes to college or finds comfort in education and you have to be open-minded about Psychotherapy if you want it to work; these are just the events that I experienced on my personal journey.
What does apply to everyone, though, are the unfair comparisons and nasty self-deprecative verbal assaults that we often don’t even realize we are hurling at ourselves. We’ve heard it all before, Social Media is not a true reflection of someone’s life, and people only post what they want you to see. We hear it so often that I think we forget how true it is. On the other hand, though, why should we feel jealous of or put down by other people’s success, when what they do has nothing to do with you? If my friend in New York is booking gigs and getting film opportunities, that’s because of her unique set of circumstances and skills that got her to that point. I don’t want to move to New York, so why compare myself to her? This FOMO that we feel for things that don’t pertain to our lives is so strong that we actually make ourselves depressed thinking that we are falling behind. WE ARE NOT FALLING BEHIND. We are simply making our way through our own respective timelines at the pace that we are meant to be moving. This article is not an excuse to be lackadaisical with our careers, but rather, a beacon of hope for anybody trapped in a dark place because of this terrible game of “Who’s Doing Better?” that we all love to hate to play.