Tuesday, February 5, 2013

But Who Cares? No Big Deal. I Want More.

Lately, it feels like all of my friends are better at being adults than I am.

I know, I know: "You can't compare yourself to other people! Everyone's journey is different!" Blah, blah, et cetera. A little comparison is good, though, right? That's what keeps us competitive, inspired, motivated. Or, um, that's what does it for me, at least.

In theory.

My friends, they're in grad school. Or they're done with grad school. Two of my friends are lawyers already, & I have at least one friend graduating law school each year for the next half a decade. Really. My friends have masters degrees, are on their way to PhDs. My friends are in rabbinical school, becoming respected men (& women!) of the cloth. My friends are on their second & third post-collegiate jobs, working their way up the ranks in fields like urban planning & non-profit management & actual journalism. My cousin decided she wanted to live in London, so she asked her company for a transfer, & they complied, so now she lives in London & works for a Fortune 500 company. Did I mention that she's two years younger than me?

And I'm rooting for everyone. Hard. I send them texts during finals & cards when they graduate; I edit their grad school applications & their theses & their résumés; I send them links to jobs I think would be a good fit & introduce them to people I know who can help them move forward. I do it because I believe in these people, & I love them all so much, & I look forward to someday saying, "I knew them when." They inspire me & they encourage me & they blow me away.

But - and yes, maybe this will sound selfish at first, but bear with me - what about me?

Don't misunderstand: I love my job & the people I work with. My position was created with me in mind, because I'd earned it, fought for it, waited patiently until it was my turn. I do something I like, something I'm very good at, & my colleagues both respect me and like me. I wake up (almost) every morning happy to do my job. Who can ask for more than that?

I can, it seems.

There was a time in my life when I believed with all my heart that I'd do big things. I believed I would be a writer, a real one, someone whose words made an impact. I believed that millions of people would read what I had to say, would tell me how good I was at saying it. I believed my writing was my calling, that I would use it to become known. Maybe not famous, but known, you know? Someone whose words were worth reading. I believed I would become a journalist, like I trained for, or maybe a magazine writer, like I hoped for. I even dared to believe that someday, I'd find it within myself to come up with the storyline to an actual book - & that I'd actually write it, & that someone would actually publish it, & that you'd actually buy it. Some day.

Some days, I still believe my time will come, that I'll feel ready to go after something more. Some days, there's hope for dreams long dormant - like last year, when an essay I wrote was published in a book. A real book, & my picture is even on the cover! Recently, a coworker told me she's using it as an educational tool for Jewish professionals; another coworker asked me to sign his copy, & I hugged him so he wouldn't see me tearing up. And there was hope just last month, when I was published in the New York Times. I wrote a short piece about my grandmother & submitted it to the paper's annual "The Lives They Loved" feature, confident I could - I would - be selected for publication. And I was! When I found my name in there, found my grandmother's photo & story, I cried - for her, for me, for passions partly pursued & dreams only half-realized. Because somehow, instead of feeding the fire of motivation, these accomplishments have just reminded me that I'm moving more slowly than I'd like. That I may get lucky sometimes, but I'm not making any real effort to advance myself.

So what's the problem? I have some theories. Theories like maybe I'm too lazy, & maybe that laziness trumps any talent or skill or potential I might have. Maybe I've become complacent, content with a life mostly well-lived, if not lived big. Maybe I've just settled so comfortably into the day to day that I can't figure out how to muster the energy for anything less mundane.

Sometimes, I try. Last week, for example, motivated by my friends' many achievements & disappointed by my lack of them, I was briefly inspired to look into a creative writing certificate program at a crappy local college. I thought maybe I'd go back to school, if only for a few classes, to learn how to be better at something I've always wanted to do. To add something moderately impressive to the resume I'm not even working on building because I already have a job I like. To do something for myself, just so I don't feel like my potential is dead, my future solidly set at just 28. I even emailed the school to get the conversation started! But that certificate program turned out to be more than $900 a credit, with 12 credits needed for completion, & who can afford to spend $3,000 just to keep her ego from atrophying? Not this girl.

Yes, there was a time in my life when I believed with all my heart that I'd do big things, but somewhere in the course of growing up, I forgot to make it happen. How do we lose those parts of ourselves along the way? And more importantly, how do we reclaim them?


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This month, I'm participating in a writing group that Kristen of Aw, Shucks invited me to. Each day, we receive a writing prompt to follow, or not. I'm not doing all of the daily prompts, but I'm doing the ones that appeal to me. This prompt was "Support: Write about a time you've been on the sidelines cheering for somebody else, literally or figuratively." I guess I got a little bit off-topic with it...

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