I had lunch with a friend on Saturday, and after catching up with each other on some details from the last few months it seemed clear to me that his life was following a similar pattern that most of my friends have found themselves in.
He had an idea of what he wanted, but ran into some trouble actually acquiring what it was that he had set out to do. A totally novel concept, right? In this specific situation he was trying to get a teaching assistantship to help pay for tuition to grad school, but after several interviews and several weeks, he was shit out of luck. Without a position at the university he wouldn’t be able to attend school in the fall. Needless to say, for a few weeks he was out of his mind panicked. “I couldn’t do another year of pumping gas at Wawa. I would go crazy.”
Fortunately, for my friend, he doesn’t have to spend another year sitting in a box outside and wait for people to ask for regular or premium. And as happy as I am for him to keep moving forward on his path I couldn’t stop the jealous demons from rising in the pit of my stomach as I drove home. It was one more person I knew who had something in their life, something going for them, where they had a reason to wake up every day and feel proud. My friends all have something. Each of them have grad school or they have entry-level positions. They are either saving up money or have a place of their own.
Those people are intelligent and hard working so as much as I applaud their successes and help to commiserate with their woes I can’t help but also hate them because it feels like I have nothing. Back at the restaurant I told my friend that I knew exactly how he felt. I knew what is like to be rejected time after time. I told him, “I just hate that my life is always being decided by other people. I know who I am, and I know what I am capable of but I can’t do anything about it. It’s up to other people.”
My friend held a similar sentiment but he was now on the other side of the fight. Someone had made a decision that benefited him and I was still waiting for my chance. I confessed my frustration to my dad a few days later and he said, “What else is new? Life is all about other people making decisions, and how those decisions will impact you.” “Yeah,” I said and unable to hold back a pitiful whine I continued, “But it’s so unfair.”
My dad smirked to signify that this was a given fact. “It’s like driving a car. Your safety in a car is only one part you driving, but mostly it is the trust that no one is going to smash into you. You have to put your life in the hands of everyone else on the road.” A silence fell over the car as we continued driving, and as usual I knew that my dad was right. And naturally it pissed me off.
A few weeks before this conversation, and before my lunch, I started looking into Masters programs. Today, it’s been exactly a year since I graduated college and my original plan was to give myself that much time before entertaining the thought of going back to school. What’s surprising isn’t that I’m considering grad school, but it is the fact that I’m beginning to think of pursuing an MFA in creative writing. The idea of studying literature and creative writing always enticed me, but seemed impractical or more precisely, unreachable.
So far all I had done was initial research, which my father knew when he asked, “Have you given any more thought to grad school?” The truth was that I had, but I was scared. As much as I want my own something I’m afraid that people’s decisions will keep me from it. When it comes to my writing I carry a deep insecurity, which is what I told him. “I don’t know if I’m good enough.”
“You might not be. But again, that is not your decision to make. Other people will decide how they feel about your application. If you get in, that’s great. If you don’t, then at least you tried.” Dad was two for two. Life is about choices, and not all of the choices get to be your own. Sometimes you’re at the mercy of other people, and it’s not always fair or easy but it’s life. I think the important thing to remember in the midst of this reality is to know what makes you who you are.
You have to know yourself, your strength and weaknesses, and be your own advocate. In the face of rejection it becomes easy to believe that you’re worth nothing. That’s when it becomes most important to say to yourself, “I know who I am, and I know what I am capable of. People will make their own decisions, but I decide how I feel about myself.”