Entering my senior year at Boston College with the “real world” lurking just around the corner, I will soon have to make some difficult decisions about my plans for the future. I feel like I am experiencing a new coming-of-age, one similar to my mid-teenage growth from adolescence into adulthood, a “second puberty” if you will.
I’m getting old and everything is changing, but I know that when I grow even older I will look back on this time period (and read this column) and scoff at my 21-year-old self.
Beyond the physical disturbances going on right now, I have also come to recognize some internal dissonance that I will need to balance for the rest of my adult life. A part of growing up is realizing that we must push ourselves to achieve our goals, while also accepting ourselves and finding satisfaction when we fail.
Over the past few months, I have seen countless Facebook posts of people sharing news about their summer internships and new job offers for next year. You probably know what I’m talking about.
Of course, I am happy for people and wish them the best, and if I were in a similar place, I would be proud to share good news with my friends. Still, I can’t help but compare myself and my achievements to those of my peers. I know that this is my problem and I should not resent people for living their lives. But as someone who applied for 40 summer internships and jobs and didn’t land a single one, my gut response to these kinds of social media posts is a middle finger to my laptop screen.
My feelings toward the success of others definitely reflect something problematic within me. It is my own fear that I am failing, that I am not doing enough to achieve my professional goals.
Perhaps this is because I have, as I’m sure others have as well, set my goals uncomfortably high. As children, we are encouraged to dream big. Ask any child what they want to be when they grow up and they will respond with astronaut, Broadway star, or princess. When I was in third grade, I believed I would rule the world one day. Since then, my goals have changed a bit and the thought of a world dictator sickens me.
As a freshman at BC, I started on the pre-med track, planning to enter the medical field later in life. This goal was halted after I failed out of General Chemistry. Now my goals have changed once again. Instead of being a world leader or a doctor, I just want to be happy.
Having ambition is not on its own problematic. For me, trouble only arises when I fail to achieve my goals, or when I feel like I have fallen off the path toward reaching them (not getting that internship/job), and I believe I am a failure. These internal inadequacies turn into sadness and resentment toward people who are finding success.
To get beyond this I have to be able to accept myself and my limitations, while also finding satisfaction in what I am doing.
It can be difficult to balance these two: being ambitious and also being content with the place you are. But when you stop stressing and just relax, things can sort of fall into place.
This past summer, I took a chance. I wasted tons of time and stressed myself out during the school year applying for different positions that I never heard back about. I decided instead to drive across the country to Seattle with my boyfriend, and hopefully figure out what I would do once we got there. I ended up having a summer of intense personal growth, simply because I stopped pressuring myself.
I quickly applied for a job doing street canvassing for the American Civil Liberties Union, standing on street corners asking passersby for donations, an opportunity I never would have seen had I been selected for any of the silly internships to which I applied. I may never have been able to meet the people I met, nor would I have made a difference in as many lives. My work wasn’t exactly glamorous, and on many occasions I was screamed at, or worse, ignored. Ultimately, though, I helped raise awareness of the injustices in our country.
It wasn’t fancy, and I still haven’t worn the Ann Taylor pantsuit I bought last year in preparation for my summer internship that never happened, but I am so happy with how my summer turned out.
Maybe this column is my version of bragging on Facebook. I am proud of the progress I have made, and my personal growth into adulthood.
I think we all need to take more chances. Find ways to balance your ambition with your limitations. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself to achieve stupid things. And make sure you’re being honest with yourself about what you can achieve while still being happy and having time to take care of yourself.
Maybe I’m overly optimistic for someone who has to worry about finding an actual full-time job at the end of this school year. But maybe things will turn out fine. And no matter what, I’m going to put my happiness first.
Featured Image by Zoe Fanning / Heights Editor