I was supposed to be a success. I was supposed to be the girl who made it big and made everyone proud. I was talented, driven, creative.
Somehow along the way, I turned out disappointing.
Growing up in a tiny Midwestern farming community, I became slightly obsessed with the idea of Getting Out of There. I didn’t know how exactly I was going to do it though, and so I did everything. I sang, danced, wrote, painted, and acted my way through school. I skipped a grade and tested in the ninety-eighth percentile. I sang a solo with the symphony in the closest city and was editor of the school paper.
At some point in the midst of all this, I decided I was going to be a magazine editor, the likes of which Vogue had never seen (ha.) So I went off to college, convinced I was never going back to that tiny town except in a glorious swirl of couture clothes.
I got to college and got lost. I hated all of my journalism classes with a surprising passion. I switched my major three times and decided to focus on my writing, while justifying my English major to myself as being a more universally applicable major. The whole time I kept hearing people say, “Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life.”
Every time someone said that, I wanted to cry.
What did I love to do? I loved to read historical biographies and cuddle with my cat. I loved to bake. I loved movies. I loved art galleries and loitering in museums for hours on end. Which one of those things would I be willing to do and love every day for the rest of my life? *
My problem was that all of the things I had done up until that point were all things that I liked. I enjoyed doing all of them. I was good at so many things, but there wasn’t that one thing that I was blessed with that I obviously was supposed to do. I would trade being good at a lot of things for being great at one thing any day.
I was paralyzed and afraid. Whatever I picked to do with my life had to be amazing, and I had to be amazing at it. I had to live up to all that Talent and Potential. I had to live up to myself. Instead, I ran myself ragged, came down with an extremely serious case of mono, and then, frustrated and terrified, dropped out of college and moved to the big city where my boyfriend at the time lived. One thing led to another, that relationship fell apart slowly, and I worked retail and waitressed to pay the bills and still didn’t have a clue about what I was going to Do With My Life.
Then I met E. He is adorable and makes me laugh until my face hurts, and for some reason he didn’t think I was a complete and utter failure at life because I didn’t have a career. He loves me for me, whether or not I decide what to do with myself. So now, a couple of years later, we have moved together across the country to another big city for his career.
I think it has taken all this time and E’s love for me to accept that I’m not actually a disappointment to anyone but the crazy sixteen-year-old me in my brain. All I really wanted growing up was to move out of Nowheresville and live in a big city, with all the art and culture that a city has to offer. I did that. I made enough money to support myself and to go shopping occasionally and go out with my friends, even though I made that money with dead-end jobs. If I had never dropped out of college and moved, I never would have met E. And I don’t think my mother has ever been as proud of me as when I sent her the collection of my poetry that I am self-publishing with the money I made being a receptionist at an office.
I would like, at some point, to go back to school and finish my degree. I would love to find a job that I look forward to doing every day. Maybe I’ll find it, maybe I won’t. I hope that I can find my niche, to find a place where I value what I do and that it, in turn, is valued. I think the biggest thing I have to remember is that all that Potential I had as a child and as a teenager is not all there was to me. E. fell in love with me after I decided I’d already failed to live up to it. Seeing myself the way that he sees me has helped me come to terms with my own disappointments. It has also helped me to appreciate the things that I have accomplished so far. I am still talented and creative. I still have the potential to do any number of great things. I am not just the sum of my achievements or the list of odd jobs on my resumé. Sometimes you need someone to give you the space and the perspective to see what you can’t. He was that person for me. Whatever I want to do, whenever I figure out what that is, he will be there cheering me on as I make it happen. Then I can tell that sixteen-year-old girl in my brain to shut up about not living up to her.
*I would gladly read biographies every day forever. Does anyone want to pay me to do this?
Photo from Ashleyn’s personal collection