⭐️ what happens to a dream deferred?
Christmas must have come early this year, because Mei, Eve, Lili and PJ all posted yesterday.
Mei's post in particular touched a chord. Like her, the last time I aspired to something in earnest was back in high school, when applying for colleges. I dreamt of going to prestigious schools in the Northeast and studying Spanish, psychology, music. I like to think I worked hard: I got good grades, played an instrument well, led a student organization, and worked on my essays months in advance. That's where our paths diverge, because none of the schools I applied to accepted me. In some ways I'm still dealing with the fallout of that disappointment.
In college while most of my friends worked hard to get jobs in Big Tech, I didn't even bother applying. I didn't want to work for a big tech company, I said, since I wouldn't enjoy working at one. While that may have been true, the main reason I didn't apply was because I was afraid. After all, if you had handed me an offer to work for Amazon or Microsoft back then I'd have tripped over myself getting a pen. I guess I thought it would be easier to not try at all than to face the pain of rejection again. Never mind that giving up like that is worse than getting rejected.1
I've watched the chasm between me and my peers widen every year. After high school I stayed behind as most of my classmates moved across the country to study in the Ivy League. In college they left to work at Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, and Google. The gap was already big when I had my toxic little job; now that I don't work it feels insurmountable. They are climbing the corporate ladder, getting married, and buying houses. I can't even get unemployment benefits.
I know falling behind my peers doesn't make me a failure. And I know I shouldn't compare myself with others like that, especially when I probably wouldn't even be happy in their shoes. I'm trying not to let my last job define me, and I'm certainly not the only person that feels lost and without direction. But I'm always bothered by my inability to imagine a plausible scenario in which I could have done less with everything I had going for me — a good education, financial stability, bright peers, and potential (whatever that meant).
I don't know where things went wrong. For a time I chalked it up to bad luck, perhaps to protect my ego, but I've come up short too many times now for it to be mere coincidence. I don't know if I lacked the talent or simply didn't work hard enough. I suspect it's the latter, even though I know I can work hard — as a student I'm typically beyond reproach — but my work ethic is fickle. It only serves my true desires, which are hard to come by these days. It's not like I didn't want things the last few years — internships, time abroad, a well-paying job — and I even got some of them, but I know I only wanted them because I was supposed to want them.
(Aside: I don't know what it means to work hard anymore. When I was in school I routinely stayed up all night to study for exams or finish projects. My mother used to tell me she'd tie her hair up to the ceiling lamp to keep from nodding off while studying. Do I still need to push myself like that to say I did my best?)
A big reason last year's breakup hit me so hard was because being with my then-partner was the only real dream I had left to cling onto. For years I'd been ignoring my gut's warnings just to keep up with the rat race. When I met her I was living at home with my parents, working a dead-end job, with no real aspirations other than to survive the workweek. Imagining a future with her was pretty much the only thing I looked forward to. Now when I close my eyes and imagine my ideal future I don't see anything.
I know I can't get back the childhood dreams I let go. Those ships have long since sailed. The only thing I can do now is nurture new dreams. But how?
Sylvia Plath once wrote, "I love my rejection slips. They show me I try." I wish for that kind of attitude.↩