Today, I want to share some revelations I’ve had in the past few of months. This transitional phase in my life may seem similar to the ones I’ve experienced within the last 3ish years, but it’s very, very different. This time around, I’ve been forced to confront several terrifying questions, such as what am I doing with my life? who am I? and why isn’t my anxiety going away?
These questions have always been in the back of my mind but I’ve managed to avoid answering them thus far because I’ve had goals I was busy accomplishing (moving, wedding, grad school). But now that I’ve accomplished those goals and have had no other place to turn, I am diving into the adventure of self-discovery.
Here’s what I’ve learned so far.
I’ve procrastinated on life by working.
If there’s one thing I know that I’m good at, it’s being a student. I got some sort of sick, warped pleasure from torturing myself with reading 5-6 books a week, writing several 20+ page research papers in a short 3 months, and vying for the praise of “experts” in my field…aka: professors. And I truly love history. I find it so fascinating that EVERYTHING we are experiencing as a society right now is linked to cultural/political/economic developments of the past.
The problem with sticking to what I’m good at is that I never considered what the outcome of my work would be. I knew that most historians either became teachers or professors and I nonchalantly decided I could be a professor…until I got into grad school. There are some seriously fucked up politics that happen in the ivory tower. Plus, the field of history (academic and public) is facing its own identity crisis. It doesn’t make for a promising career. Add in the fact that I was not a huge fan of coddling college-aged students and grading papers and my option of teaching at any level was out the window.
In my effort to “find myself” this summer, I’ve been listening to Gretchen Rueben’s Happier podcast–I highly recommend it! One of her segments discusses the use of work as a procrastination method. While the majority of people experience this in less consequential circumstances, such as having an overwhelming desire to clean out a closet rather than finish a project, she mentions that there are more dangerous situations where people avoid major life decisions by working. And because they are working, it’s not usually recognized as a form of procrastination (by the procrastinator or those around him/her).
Whoa. Talk about hitting close to home.
I’ve always known that my motivations for going to grad school weren’t the “right” ones (I had no idea what I wanted to do or how to land a good job with a B.A. degree), but I never considered that grad school was a way for me to procrastinate on the transition into adulthood. Everyone told me that an additional degree is never a bad thing. I got nothing but support on my decision. However, when I get to the heart of the matter, it turns out that grad school was just my way of procrastinating.
Do I regret it? Not really. I may be back at square one as far as trying to decide what to do with my life, but I managed to rule out career options that would have made me miserable in the long run. I got to explore parts of the country I doubt I ever would have had it not been for the 700+ mile relocation. And I got to indulge in my love of history in ways that challenged my previous understandings of race, gender, and identity formation *enter nerd emoji here*. But now that I’m out of options for procrastinating on life—getting a Ph.D is not worth it—I think I’m ready to actually put in the time and effort to figure out what I am “meant” to do.
The way I live my life has been shaped by justifying everything.
When it comes to every life decision I have made so far—choosing to move to Raleigh to be with Cody without a job/career plan, going to grad school, not having children, the types of jobs I’m applying to—they’ve all required some sort of justification that I felt I owed to my family, friends, or the world in general. This is especially evident in my search for a job.
Even if the demands for justification remain unspoken, they’ve been in the back of my head, driving me towards certain types of career paths or steering me away from certain personal truths.
Someone with a Master’s degree shouldn’t be working for a salary less than $30k/year. With my education, I should be in a management role or working in a corporate setting. Nevermind that the thought of working in corporate or being a manager without any experience makes me nauseous…it’s what is expected of me and anything less invites judgement. And so I’ve directed my job search accordingly.
It turns out that these “types” of jobs aren’t quite for me and it is definitely being reflected in the continual rejections and radio silence on behalf of my application submissions. So I started to apply to jobs that I know that I’d be good at—customer service related positions. And guess what? I’m finally getting positive outcomes!
In fact, there are several positions that I think I’d actually love. They just don’t qualify as the type of job I should be in. I’ve already received some condescending questions (“you actually want to be in a retail position?” “Is there a career in that type of job?”).
I don’t know what is so different about this round of justification demands, but I felt a mental snap—I don’t give a flying fuck anymore about what other people think I should be doing for work. I don’t care if my pay grade isn’t impressive or that I won’t have a regular 9-5 Monday through Friday schedule. It’s my job and my paycheck. The only one who is allowed to have any sort of opinion about it is my husband—so those who are waiting for a justification shouldn’t hold their breath.
I’ve finally realized that I “don’t have to justify my education by demonstrating its financial rewards”. It’s a wonderful, freeing feeling. Thanks Cheryl Strayed.
Anxiety is a problem that needs to be addressed—and isn’t something to be ashamed of.
I have to admit that I’m still struggling with this revelation. After two long years of anxiety that has steadily increased, I finally went to get professional help. It was embarrassing and extremely uncomfortable. I couldn’t make eye contact with the doctor as I described the physical manifestations of anxiety or the several panic attacks I’ve had while being in a car during a storm.
But it was those physical symptoms that finally forced me to seek help. In the last week alone, I’ve had at least three mornings where I’d wake up with my chest feeling constricted and adrenaline coursing through my body without any event to cause these feelings, other than joblessness. While I know worrying is normal, having tangible consequences of worry is not. And let’s not forget that my fear of being in a car accident has gotten ridiculous. At the rate I’m going, I’ll be agoraphobic by the age of 30.
I’ve been trying my best to wrap my head around the fact that seeking help outside of friends and family—professional help—isn’t a sign of weakness or failure. It shows that I’m willing to do whatever is necessary to live a happy, healthy life. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. The anxiety that I have been struggling with for years is not some personality quirk, it’s not something that should just be “sucked up and dealt with.” And it’s not something that I’ve ignored. I’ve battled it in every way I know how—exercise, self-help books, talking it out—nothing works.
And I’ve realized that so long as I let myself be embarrassed by my anxiety, I won’t ever be able to come to terms with the fact that it is a part of who I am. A part that keeps me from being completely happy and healthy.
These revelations of mine have been bittersweet. I now experience a greater sense of personal relief and contentment. But personal growth is also uncomfortable, and I’m not done growing. This phase of my life is a transformative one. I can only hope that the work I put into myself will help me come out on the other side as a more self-assured being.
P.S.–I know that my posts have become spaced out and erratic. If you’d like to remain up-to-date without having to constantly check the blog, sign up for email updates below. I promise there is no spam (: