Early on in first year, I told myself that I couldn’t trust anyone who claimed aloud that they enjoyed their high school experience. This rule, which was mostly an arbitrary means of categorizing the people I met, was absurd, but was also a principle I abided by closely. I, notably, did not enjoy high school. Many people don’t. For some reason I thought Jennifer Lawrence famously said in an interview that she didn’t like high school. While trying to fact-check this statement, I found that she actually dropped out of middle school so I truly have no idea why I’ve thought this for so long.
I’ve since retracted this opinion, which I now realize was mostly made out of jealousy. A close friend of mine told me last week that she is one of the few who did enjoy high school, and I didn’t resent her at all. Some may call this maturity or personal growth, and they’re probably right. My ability to let go of these negative emotions, or at least know exactly where they stem from, is probably the only thing I’ve accomplished over this past year, or perhaps throughout the last four.
Naturally, I left high school with a series of goals to vindicate what I’ve obviously outlined as an experience that left me with a sour taste in my mouth, which I can easily attribute to a long-decanted potion consisting of Catholic guilt, undiagnosed mental illness, and self-imposed loneliness. Although I never formalized this list on paper, the objectives are distinct, and I wanted to complete each of them before I graduated.
First, I wanted to find love. This was a priority for me. The high school I went to was suffocatingly small, and I’d read enough books and watched enough movies to know that college equated to a very big, sweeping romance that would essentially change my life forever. No big deal. Second, I wanted to find purpose. I wanted to be in a major I liked, discover a passion, and excel. This seemed simple enough. Third, I wanted to make lots of friends and be very popular. In my mind, Queen’s being on the smaller size on the scale of Ontario universities meant that this would be very achievable. Fourth, which I think ties into the second very closely, I wanted to set the foundations to succeed professionally. I wanted to leave university impressed with myself, which required me to be impressive to others. If people were jealous or happy for me, I knew that I’d have done my job.
When you write shit out like this, it sounds insane. I know it does! Very pathological, as though I had a whole plan laid out for me, step-by-step instructions that I would live by strictly in order to succeed. This was most definitely not the case. I barely had any idea what I was doing, which I think is very fair. Any first year who thinks they know what they want from life or has a cohesive idea of how these next four (or five or more) years are supposed to go is delusional. How could you possibly have any of that figured out? Many, if not all, of these goals were chosen with the express intent of counteracting what I thought I lacked in my life. With no ambition, love life, and a limited social circle, in my mind this was my time to fix that. It was by looking outward, seeing what other people had and I didn’t, that this list was formed.
Can you tell that I was desperately unsuccessful?
Earlier this semester, my family was on a walk in my neighbourhood. When we moved here 20 years ago from an apartment too small for a growing family, the subdivision was barely developed. What are now plazas and strip malls, used to be acres of farmland, where we used to go pumpkin picking in the fall. There are small patches of forest scattered between houses, an attempt to preserve what was bulldozed to make way for us. This is where we like to go on walks. The copy-paste houses are far less interesting to look at. My sister and my dad like to walk at a brisk pace, something I refuse to keep up with. There’s enough going on that I should force myself to struggle while leisurely strolling through the neighbourhood. My mom and I are usually buddies on these walks. Earlier this semester, I unloaded on my mom. I complained about everything. Academics were already ramping up, there was nothing to look forward to now that the holidays were over, and my joblessness, lovelessness, and loneliness were particularly painful. I hadn’t achieved any of my goals except for, “make friends,” about which I can proudly say I was quite successful. When I was done, my mom noted that I often look at others to determine what I should deem valuable. Very much a “grass is greener” kind of situation, in her view. She was right. As I’ve grown older, I’ve become very good at identifying and understanding my patterns. This is one of them. It’s only natural to compare yourself to others. It’s difficult not to, especially these days.
The problem with looking for a job during a pandemic is that it requires you to go on LinkedIn, which, despite the insidiousness of Facebook, the horridness of Twitter, and the vanity of Instagram, still remains my least favourite app on my phone. Because unlike Facebook, which I rarely go on, Twitter, which has jokes, and Instagram, which has hot people, LinkedIn is full of shit. Like, actual pure shit. Because of its pretense of professionalism, your only option is to brag. And that’s gross. You would literally have to hold a gun to my head to make a post on LinkedIn. I have made a single post and it was for the MUSE article I wrote about hating the LSAT, so there. I inevitably scroll when I’m on there, only to be bombarded with the fact that I’m a jobless loser, a flop. I discussed my flop-dom at length from January to March after I didn’t get a job at Christmas. When I’d corner a housemate of mine in the living room and say, “I’m a flop,” the most common response was, “What’s a flop?” Then it gets a little dicey because I not only have to state the definition of ‘flop’ but I also need to dissect the facets of how flop-dom applies to me. For reference, flop is synonym for loser, essentially, but there’s something even sadder in flop-dom than there is in loser-dom.
The problem with LinkedIn is that it’s become an essential tool while looking for a job. So, when you’re endlessly scrolling through the job postings, searching through troves of alumni to connect with, it’s so easy to be sucked into the void detailing everyone’s accomplishments. While you’re actively trying to get yourself out of a bad situation, it’s difficult not to feel insecure when the quantitative ways of how people are doing much, much better than you are dangled right in front of your sad, flop nose. How could I not compare myself to others when I only saw how everyone else was beating me?
In respect to my first, most important goal, I’ll keep it brief: absolutely not. Nothing really happened. I’m very bad at picking people. Not that I pick bad people, but that I pick people I’m incompatible with or I pick them for the wrong reasons. So many bad, terrible reasons. If the only reason you’re interested in someone is because they seem remotely available, stop. Run. Leave them alone. If you’re only acting interested in someone because they seem to, “check all your boxes,” or because there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with them, give it up. It’s really not worth it. You shouldn’t have to convince yourself to like someone when you don’t. It’s that simple. I think I’ve better understood my worth. Also, I’m convinced I’m gonna marry an NBA player and they obviously don’t go to Queen’s.
I also don’t think that I’ve lost anything. Obviously, it would be nice to have that life-changing romance, but that seems to take up a lot of time and energy I don’t think I’m willing to sacrifice for anyone but myself. It sounds selfish, but I think it’s very practical. Over the last couple years, it felt like everyone was slowly pairing off in a way that made me feel very alone. But on closer inspection, there wasn’t a single model of a relationship that appealed to me. It’s not like they’re bad or “toxic”—though some are—but they’re just not my speed, if that makes any sense. It just wouldn’t work for me like it works for others. I’ve learned that just because someone has something you think you want, doesn’t mean you actually want that thing. This is something I understand intellectually, but it’s hard not to feel emotional pangs every now and again that you’re missing out on something greater than yourself.
This problem can be solved in its entirety if I stopped thinking of others’ successes as a finishing spot in a race, but that kind of growth can’t happen overnight. And it hasn’t. It’s been a slow-going process in extricating myself from the opinions and desires of what others want and have, and I still struggle with this a lot. I still want these things eventually, in some capacity. And that’s great! It isn’t bad to want things. Wanting things is natural. But it’s in wanting things that belong to others, that you have absolutely no interest in that the problem lies. I craved ideas of what my life was supposed to look like, romantic and busy, with an unrealistic inertia that can’t be attributed to anyone living on this Earth, unless they are fabulously wealthy.
I was very worried that I hadn’t accomplished anything tangible over the past four years because not only had I not grown to want the things I was supposed to want—a traditional career path, anything to do with capitalism, etc., etc.—but I also hadn’t achieved anything to offset it either. We put a lot of weight on these four years because everyone tells you that they’re, “the best four years of your life,” and we should cherish them accordingly, whereas in actuality, only one of these pieces of advice holds. We should cherish these four years, not because they are the peak of our youthful existence, but because they’re special and transitory and important—not because they’re the best. That notion always made me sad, because it made the rest of life seem pointless. I was sure that there were better things to come once I graduated, but for the longest time, I’d been told otherwise.
Now on the other side of this advice, I kind of know what people mean. When you’re young, and you’ve only been alive for 22 or 23 years, it makes sense that being here means too much. You’re the most sure of yourself. You have the most freedom. You can be who you want. But that doesn’t change when you leave. Sure, there’s a lot of pressure because now it’s on you to keep yourself alive, but when you look at life holistically, that’s always been the case.
When taking stock of my accomplishments with respect to my goals, my 18-year-old self may be disappointed to see that I didn’t accomplish much. But I love my friends (if you’re reading this, hi! I love you all so much!) and I actually have a job that I think I’ll really like. I’m a little afraid of what’s to come, but being scared is good. That means that there’s a lot to gain. Fear is only bad when it stops you from trying something new, from doing something great.
Header Image Source: Alexa Margorian