The other week I was that girl – the girl crying at the bar. I was warm off a glass of wine and something had triggered a negative reaction from within. It wasn’t boy drama though. I won’t lie, in my youth I used to be that girl wondering why so-and-so did not seem to fall at my feet on his hands and knees. Sobbing incoherently and drunkenly about an unanswered text message (ignoring the fact the last text I had send said a simple “okay” warranting no response, but alas…..) Rather, it was a quiet discussion, a pleasant one even, that aided my full-on freak out. My two friends and I, one a recent graduate and the other approaching her last semester, began talking about the opportunities that they have ahead, the worries they’re dealing with, and the anxiety that they have. This should have been a conversation of solidarity as our lives tend to mirror each others trajectories in some sense. However, it degenerated to me excusing myself for the fifth time to chain smoke a nasty cigarettes. I scold myself often that cigarettes are my ‘Tiffany’s’ for when I have the mean reds, but I recently joined a gym and right now I’m only capable of baby steps. (My dad suggests I take these baby-steps into adulthood, “Hey Logo,” he chuckles on the phone preemptively excited for a joke or sharing one with himself. “Just take baby steps like in ‘What About Bob’ you know that Bill Murray movie,” more chuckling. “He’s so damn funny, but baby steps, Logo.”) I’d love to be more glamorous and traipse the isles of Tiffany’s when I’m in this mood, but I’m not near one, I don’t have a fancy black dress, and as much as I can try I am not the irreplaceable Audrey Hepburn. Alas, I digress… I left the table encouraging my girlfriends to finish off the bottle of Malbec we had decided to split. “I’m just gonna go smoke real quick. Keep talking,” I tried to casually look tough, a lady James Dean and what not. Inside I was trembling more akin to a small dog approaching a pack of wolves. “Do you want company?” my friend asks, eagerly. I just respond sharply, “No.” Not long after I began crying. At first they were sad, little self-pity tears, but when my roommate came out to check up on me I went from small sniffles to full-on hysterics – whining about how the world felt as if it were crashing down on me, that I had been denied for every ‘big kid’ job I had put in for yet, that I wanted a refund on my degree, that I had nothing going on in May after school but a box office job at a movie theater and I didn’t want to be the loser in my family as my brother is in law school. Luckily, my roommate is all too familiar with this anxiety and didn’t tell me I was being absurd, but rather that many of us were feeling the same way exiting college. I don’t know if that is a comfort or not – there is a side of me that wants to wallow alone in my angst. Having it be so common takes away from the sheer and utter suffering I’m feeling. I will not be dismissed in my suffering! I am unique!
As I woefully admitted, the other week I was that girl. Standing outside, under a neon open sign, crying. “I don’t know what’s going on, but seeing you cry is breaking my little heart,” some strange drunk boy, about 21 and well-intentioned said to me. “I have no direction!” I said in between heaving back in his direction, wiping the snot from my nose with my sleeve. I had felt, at the time, that my cries were for a greater cause. It wasn’t because someone said something less than flattering to me. They weren’t for a boy I was certain was losing interest, I wasn’t having everyone read a text message trying to decipher what the contents therein really meant. I cried, (I suffered!) because there was a whole world that was before me and all I could see were all of the opportunities of failure. I kept repeating to my roommate who was trying to calm me down with hugs and reassurance “I don’t wanna do it. I don’t want to stop school. Don’t make me!” as if my friend were able to reverse time – or as if she were the sole person responsible for me going to school to begin with. This was not a moment of rational thought, but rather pure, unadulterated emotion. (Note: this little outburst would result in the following day of me apologizing profusely and hugging my roommate longer than a socially appropriate amount of time.)
I don’t always remember transitions in life being terrifying. Growing up the daughter of a Lutheran minister was much like the upbringing of an Army brat. Preacher’s Kids, or PK’s as were affectionately called, are notorious for one of a few things – either we’re 1. Crazy 2. Way too sheltered or 3. We’re always on the go. In some ways I think that those are all true statements. I’ve moved many times in my life. I always made friends quickly and found my grove. I transferred colleges many times, that’s not a problem. So, why now does this transition of exiting college seem the most frightening? I don’t know, exactly. I have theorized that it is the first individual life decision I have ever made, but that isn’t entirely true. I have made many decisions in my life that had nothing to do with anyone else. However, what is different from this transition than the previous is that this has no time constraints. In the past I’d leave for a different college knowing exactly what I would be doing. Or, we’d move as a family to another city (or country) and I would know that I had to go to school still. There was always a structure and a goal, and now it more or less feels like there is just an abyss and that for the first time since I can remember I will no longer identify myself as a student, and decisions have real consequences.
In attempting to make the threatening transition from college life to ‘real person in the real world’ I began watching TedTalks, reading literature, trying my hand a new hobbies – pretty much anything that would make it feel like I had my shit together when in fact my mind was a hot mess. That is when I stumbled upon a study performed by Helen Ebaugh. This lady conducted a study about transitions and the role exit for a variety of different types of professions and positions (religious members, divorced persons, physicians, you name it). From what she found she developed a four-step model that describes what the role exit process is like for most people which include: 1) first doubts, 2) seeking alternatives, 3) the turning point, and 4) creating the ex-role. I thought, “hell, why not apply these four roles into an analytical look into my own ‘exit’ from college to the big, bad world?”
First doubts, as this theory structure implies, is pretty obvious. This stage suggests that it is when a person begins to question their role. Well, this happened probably somewhere in the summer. At first I had thrust myself into work. I was all consumed in my work. At dinner at my mothers house she had looked over at me shoveling food (free food) in my face and with a concerned look in her eyes and burrowed brows leaned in and said, “Logan, I think you need to have more fun.” If I’m honest I think this was an attempt at a very slow grieving process for what will soon be my breakup with the collegiate lifestyle and academic stimulation. However, this hyper-focus into work didn’t come before me truly believing that academia was slowly killing all of the good within me and conforming me into the ranks of all the intellectuals who think with the same theories. This was anger I understand now, but there are still arguments and thoughts from this bout of anger and fear (oh, I read about fear and anger – wouldn’t you know they’re often one in the same) that I find to be true. As school was approaching it’s last year I began to look back at all the things that I could have done, or could have not done, or could have done better. I wondered if I shouldn’t just quit school and really focus on creative things. And slowly a creeping thought came to me, ‘screw this! the system failed me!’
There is some truth and some huge lies to all of that. The system did not fail me per-say, but I failed how to navigate properly in it and the ‘system’ cant accommodate all of the many different learning styles. This became almost a cause for me. I became enraged with standardized testing, appalled that so much emphasis was spent on things like ISTEP instead of truly teaching students the building steps that they need to become properly functioning and productive members of society. I was even more enraged when I found out that they were cutting out the arts. This was all a very convoluted way of trying to make college, school and learning a villain figure in my head so that when I got that diploma my hands wouldn’t wash red with blood at the end of it all. I guess I was misplacing emotions… or whatever
I came across an interesting TedTalk that warned about the consequences of enforcing linear thinking upon students. Sir Ken Robinson gave this speech and it has been a foundation for my arguments as to the negative consequences of such a practice since. He argued that linear thinking throughout school presupposes an idea in students minds that they are always to be reaching for the next step, the next goal, and that it disables some students from reacting optimally in the present. This linear thinking, I think, does have negative consequences and definitely in the ‘first doubts’ phase I would have argued this until I was blue in the face. Now, however, I can save my breath and live with rose colored cheeks. I think there are delicate balances that can be, and should be, struck to ensure one is a well-rounded individual. In retrospect maybe the linear thinking harmed me – made me unable to see how malleable and individualistic life can be and I could appreciate the future. Maybe a liberal arts education wasn’t sucking the good out of me – hell, it’s given me the knowledge and tools necessary to be able to compose a paper like this and a wide breadth of thought. However, the consequences of linear thoughts are real. Suddenly I feel paralyzed with this linear trajectory of thinking. What now? Graduate school? An entry level job? Travel? And there is a part of me that is trying to rid myself of this trajectory type of thinking so that I can be present in my life. Being present in your own life seems about the most important to me now. To be able to be proactive, to fail, to try. Maybe there is a bit of debris of linear thinking in my head – but it isn’t so one step after the next – it’s more of a long, vague idea of a life I want that I accept can change and alter as life comes at me.
In this model of exit roles seeking doubts is when an individual actively tries to search for other roles that might interest them. I’m a little stuck here. In December I started thinking critically about what I would do next. I took all of winter break researching different programs for graduate studies in various areas of English. I perused LinkedIn for Journalism jobs – I think at some point I had even debated going back to school for an entirely new undergrad major. I knew I hit a low point when I had started filling out an application for the Peace Corps. Now, the Peace Corps. is an honorable institution and I understand that they do many great things for many people, but this was an absurd thing for me to do. Me? In the Peace Corps? I can’t go a day without showering. I abhor not having a minimum of three hours of alone time each day. I dislike physical labor. I don’t know any other language except broken Spanish. And, frankly, I lack that thing inside that says, ‘hey, go out there and help the world! Help starving children.’ I contemplated taking an online BuzzFeed “Are You a Sociopath” test to determine if this lack of drive to go to a third-world country and save starving children was a warning sign into a sick inner world, but after contemplating it I realized that it’s just a desire I don’t have. That’s okay. We can’t all be heroes and I’ll happily let someone else take that spotlight. In some sense, that’s heroic in of itself, right? (At the very least I am not a narcissist.) This phase has been interesting. The seeking alternatives, that is. I went on an application binge last week. I sent my polished resume off to about two dozen different positions all across the United States – ready for any and everything – go where the money goes! I had a hopeful and encouraging email back from one company that requested I send a .pdf format of my resume again as it was lost in their database or something. I obliged. I never heard back. The only other position I heard back from was likewise encouraging, but ultimately dismissive in the end. This resulted in yet another crying fit. This time with chocolate, rain, and a back-to-back watching of “The Graduate” and “Gilmore Girls” the only known television show to actively calm me down when in a fit of neurosis.
I’ve taken many, many career tests. They have all told me the same, depressing news. My talents lay best in communication. I’m fit for roles such as writer (neat-o, but I’d also like to eat) journalist (they still exist?) or counselor (should have got a psych degree!) However, a career test can’t tell you how to go about these things – I have to figure that one out.
I don’t know what this next alternative choice will be, but I know that contemplating it has led to step three.
The Turning Point
The turning point is when a person has made up a definitive mind to leave their current role for another. While I certainly wish that this turning point involved me acquiring some position for post-graduate employment that just isn’t the case. Perhaps the turning point happened the night I lost myself to my emotions the night outside the pub my girlfriends and I were at. I don’t think I knew it then, but I think I was slowly approaching a step in this whole process of ‘figuring it out’.
My turning point wasn’t a sudden enlightenment, no quick epiphany. It just happened gradually, slowing, and likely in a moment of retrospect. I’m tired of feeling this way. This anxiety over the future is emotionally and physically exhausting.
Growing up I had seen my parents reach these moments many times. I would see the slow contemplation over a big life decision and then suddenly the decision would be made and we’d be packing up our rooms again in another move. I was used to decisions finally having to be made and know that it is only a matter of time before the limbo of uncertainty expires.
This turning point, this role into a new position, isn’t quite as tangible because, frankly, I have done about as much as I can and have little control these days over that. This turning point is more one of the spirit – to stop dwelling over the future and things I can not control and focus my energy on things that I can proactively do – “positive thinking” as my mom would call it, offering, yet again, to read one of her many self-help books.
Creating the Ex-Role
I guess this would be where I am at now – creating the ex-role. Defined by Ebaugh herself as “The process of disengagement from a role that is central to one’s self-identity and the reestablishment of an identity in a new role that takes into account one’s ex-role constitutes the process I call exit.”
By this definition this is the role, and the prior one, I’m stuck in. For the past five years I have identified myself as a college student. Before identifying myself as a college student I was a highschool student. Before high school I was an angsty middle-schooler – and so on. My identity has been wrapped up in bettering my intellect and honing my crafts as a writer and thinker. During my duration in college I have always had a goal in mind. In high school I was a student that was working toward college, and in college I was a student working toward earning a degree. Now that these two goals are nearly accomplished I find myself at a lost as to what my next identifying quality will be. What do I know about myself? I know that I like kittens and jamming to loud music in my car. I like pop music. I know that I’m a messy person and no matter how much I scold myself or actively try to change that fact I will inevitably relapse into piles of clutter all throughout my car and room. I know that there is an overwhelming stench in my car from molding meatballs that I can’t identify where is coming from among the heap of dirt and trash. I know that I am a sensitive person prone to fits of great nostalgia. I know that art will always be a great passion of mine. I know these things about myself, but I don’t know, yet, what to do with it all. And for the first time, maybe, I’m slowly learning to become okay with the unknown. I’d be a liar if I said I loved it, but I can learn to accept it. It sometimes feels like now is the time to truly create the self.
When I was beginning to look for colleges to attend an older friend of mine had told me that college is a great time to really learn about yourself and what you want to do in life. Maybe, I realize, that isn’t always true for everyone. Throughout college I felt like I was learning the foundations, gaining knowledge, learning the rules – and now feels like the time in life to adhere to them or break them. There is a fear there, but there is also a liberation. I have actively sought out new ways of thinking. The linear trajectory of thinking no longer applies in life anymore. Now is the time to own the fact that maybe I am just a hot mess, messing things up, failing. Failing to fail is the biggest tragedy in life and one I do not want to live out to the end. I have a support system around me, but I also have myself. It’s scary, but maybe it’s important that I feel a little scared. I think I’d be more concerned if I didn’t care – so while I realize that these steps aren’t complete, they’re close to getting there and I’m slowly, slowly, at a snails pace gaining some peace with the impending freedom that will soon be bestowed upon me to forge my own path in life. Shit man, it’s terrifyingly exciting.
Where I’m really at now
Almost everyday I am taking BuzzFeed quizzes. My roommate and I often compare notes with “Which Gilmore Girl Character Are You?” or “What Do People Secretly Hate About You?” This is not to imply that we are really that concerned with each others results, but more-or-less just our own. We talk at great lengths most nights, sometimes with wine, sometimes with 90s pop punk music blaring, about what do we do next? If I think about it too long I see patterns that are paradoxical to me. We are two people trying to get outside of our own heads by bonding over these quizzes that are an incredibly superficial and scientifically abhorrent means of self-enlightenment – yet we’re taking them to learn about each other, and ourselves. We play adult with music of our youth blaring all around us. That’s the thing about right now in life – it’s like wearing anti-wrinkle cream to cure the fine lines that are starting to appear around the eyes only to have it cause pimples. I tell myself that I will stop going out – and commit to it for a few weeks at a time only to wake up on a weekend day off that I have with a pounding head and stories of how I danced to Hanson’s “MmmBop” I’ll buy a power blazer, and pair it with torn jeans. I suppose one day I’ll look back and think it is all adorable and part of a process, but it feels frustrating to be all too aware of where you’re at and feel as if your efforts always get thwarted by your own damn self.
I think my timeline in life has always been a bit skewed. I blame Disney for this because I don’t like to think that there was ever anything inherently misguided about myself – and Disney is a great scapegoat. My oldest friend, Kylie, and I would play Barbies (albeit against her will as she hated to play Barbies) often between the ages of 5-8. Every time our Barbies would, of course, have to fall in love with the Ken doll. I, having a strange sense of time, always made my Barbies meet Ken at 16 and at 17 they would have to have a formal wedding. This wedding was elaborate – they were usually in some tropical locale and had all the other barbies in attendance. By 18 they would have two children and a very proper domestic life. Looking back I have a hard time understand why I thought t seventeen was an appropriate time to get married. I think I thought this because I was under the impression that was how old Pocahontas and Ariel were from the movies I had loved, but one can not be certain for sure where this idea of a number came into my mind. The ironic thing of this all is, that despite having these absurdly rigid ideas of ages as to when things happen (often being very young) I’m a late bloomer. I was around thirteen when I finally told my mom to get the Barbies out of my room and into the attic – four years before I had once thought I was to be married by. I did not have a clear idea as to what I wanted to be doing with my life when I was 18 and my first stint in school. This resulted in me taking time off before coming back at 20. These were things that I had often condemned myself for, but returning to the idea of linear and trajectory thinking there is no one set path. Had I not taken that time off I would not have had a retail job that made me appreciate the value of an education. I wouldn’t have had endless winter days to curl up with a collection of essays by David Sedaris and laugh, cry in despair with Anna Karenina, or contemplate the meaning of love with Alain de Botton. I think now I realize that I was so hard on myself for being the one to have to take time off for it seemed like a step in the wrong direction, but in the reality of my life it was a necessary move. It helped me grow and cultivate as an individual and helped put my life and passions into perspective. That’s the funny thing about things – they often feel like a waste of time, but sometimes you just need to “waste” some time. Sometimes the quiets moments in life are as valuable and educational as the busy moments. I’m often plagued with this feeling of overwhelming urgency – that time is passing and I’m not seizing all the opportunities in life. We’re always told that life is so short, but life is also very long. Short in comparison to what? As if we know a longer existence than our own lives? I now let myself take the time I need to enjoy the simple beauties like coffee in the morning while I watch strangers from above my second story apartment leave for work. I find a pleasure in the idleness of red lights in traffic to catch glimpses of people in their cars talking, arguing, crying, picking their nose, or mindlessly waiting. I don’t want to rush past these parts of life in an attempt to be where I think I am to be. I’m just here now.
A year ago I had become very good friends with a fellow writer who happens to be a bit older than I am. When she asked me what I do I explained to her, defeated, that I was an old student and I should be graduated by now, I think the first thing I truly remember her saying to me (down to the way I was standing, the way she was standing, the tone in her voice, small details) was that she said “I don’t think there is one trajectory way of life. I “fucked” (she said with air quotes) a lot of shit up before and I’m here and fine.” The sentiment of this was, of course, nothing new as my father and mother had tried to ingrain it into me numerous times before – but they’re parents and sometimes it is easy to dismiss the advice given to you by the people closest to you. Something about hearing these things from someone outside of your world, someone you look up to matter.
I do not resent my education anymore. It has not sucked all the good out from me.
The first time I broke up with a boy that really hurt my feelings I vented a lot to my friend Catherine. I told her that he did this, he did that, he made me feel this, he made me feel that. Being a good friend Catherine nodded accordingly. It was a few months later that I found myself truly missing him. Thinking back fondly. This is a dangerous thing to do, I’ve been told. That the past can have a rose colored lens to it and that it is easy to forget the negative. That is wise warnings for an optimist, but I am not. I’m a pessimist by nature, so to look back and see the good where I had not before is just another angle in which I didn’t, or couldn’t, see something. I think of that saying about poetry that it is the “spontaneous overflow of emotion recollected in tranquility.” Well, life often imitates art, does it not? It was a few months later I realized I was angry because my heart had been broken and I had to give up something that I had felt strongly for. Those are my feelings toward education. Did I bitch last month about how stupid it was that I, and English major, had to take a sailing course? Of course I did. Did I whine about the arbitrary nature of Science classes? Ya bet. Would I take it back? Hell no. I love that I got to do that. I love it because it expanded my mind and has given me a voice that is my own now and a foundation of knowledge to filter the world through. If anything, I’m not resentful that I was in school, ever. A liberal arts degree has given me a lot. I’m sad, heartbroken even, that it has to end.
But as my dad said on the phone the other night “So now, Logo, you’re not in the School of English or whatever… you’re entering the school of life.” Maybe the most embarrassing part of growing older is when you realize the wisdom in phrases you hear over and over and over again. All this time you hear cliches and think, “yeah, whatever” and then one day you hear it and think to yourself “Whoever thought of that is wise beyond all wise-men and should henceforth be regarded as holy man.” The cliché, or old saying that really strikes me now? “Life is not measure by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away.” I used to hate that quote, and lately I’ve been thinking about it and think to myself, holy hell, life isn’t about what we can quantify with accomplishments and crap – but about living. And I intend to do it.