Redefining Failure and Moving Forward
Today, I actually woke up early. Instead of lounging in bed and scrolling through Facebook posts, I got up, took the time to make a breakfast smoothie, hopped on my bicycle and went to a café to work. With a latte in hand, I set out to take the next steps forward: Applying for “real” jobs and looking at post-grad programs.
It’s been six months since I graduated from university and if I’m perfectly candid, it’s been a rough ride. People keep telling me that it’s okay to not know what you’re doing at this stage in life. “You’re so young, take time to figure it out!”
I have been told some variation of that statement hundreds of times since April. As reassuring as it is to hear, I haven’t felt content with what I’m doing since I was in school. I miss writing every day. I miss being challenged, studying, learning new things and that fly-by-the-seat-of-my pants adrenaline rush I get anytime I’m working under a strict deadline. Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying working at a winery right now, but it’s not a forever job. In fact, I doubt I can keep doing it even until Christmastime.
The most difficult part about these past six months has been the confidence I’ve lost. When I look back at what I was doing a year or two ago, I was fearless. I applied to internship after internship. Even when I got turned away, it never dissuaded me from continuing to move forward. Failure wasn’t something I feared; it just motivated me to try harder.
But something changed after I graduated; I fell into this kind of slump. I’d go into interviews and I’d blank. I’d leave in tears feeling like I was worthless and shouldn’t even bother trying anymore. I got frustrated and I let the smallest of setbacks deter me. I gave up easily. My doctor thought I must be depressed or that the pressure of finding a job and becoming an independent adult was causing me extreme anxiety. And you know what? She was probably right.
There is no other way to put it—this stage of life, this first year, is tough. We are told going into our university programs that there are a plethora of jobs and that these four years will be our shining yellow brick road to success.
But it doesn’t always seem that way. It’s almost impossible to not become discouraged at some point. I had an interview a few months ago for a reporter position during which the editor asked me to list five men’s clothing boutiques that manufacture their apparel locally in the west end of Toronto. Needless to say, I couldn’t give him five correct answers and left the interview feeling completely incompetent. But when I look back now, the job wasn’t for me. I’m not a self-described “Torontophile”; that job was better suiting for someone who knew the best café to get a London Fog in every Toronto neighborhood (maybe that’s why I prefer living in a town of 15,000 people—there are only two cafés to choose from.)
The path of academia is presented to us the same way that fairy tales are: you go to school, you get your dream job and you live happily ever after. A year ago, I couldn’t wait to graduate. Graduation meant freedom. I could do anything, go anywhere, live anywhere. Yet here I am, underemployed and living in a town of 15,000 people.
I never wanted to be one of those bitter graduates who regrets their degree and rains on the parades of the young, optimistic freshmen. When I look at a lot of my friends who are graduating this year, it’s difficult to see how excited they are about getting out of school and into the real world, to hear about the graduation trips they’re planning, how passionate they are about their placements. After all, that was me a year ago, so what has happened?
We’re often not prepared for setbacks and bumps in the road, but it doesn’t mean that our dream jobs are not attainable. I’m just starting to realize that they may not happen as quickly as I thought, the same way that Prince Charming doesn’t just show up on your doorstep one day. Last week I had a friend from Toronto visit me and hearing what she was up to was a breath of fresh air. Currently, she has two part-time writing gigs as well as a serving job to pay her rent. It doesn’t sound like a lot of fun and she doesn’t have a lot of spare time, but she’s happy, she’s hopeful and she’s taking steps in the right direction.
“It’s not going to be like this forever,” she told me as we sat on my couch, sipping Rosé.
Very few of us university grads will get our dream jobs fresh out of undergrad. We have to prove ourselves, work our way up, fall down and get back up again however many times it takes, but it won’t be like this forever. Today I applied for ten jobs and sent emails inquiring about several different post-grad programs. I’m realizing I probably won’t get my dream job tomorrow, but I might get an interview for something that’s a step in that direction. Then I’ll go home, do some yoga and take the extra time to make myself something special for dinner.