Author Archives: msmichellereeves

On Failure

Failure and I have never had a good relationship. I was always that kid who could pick things up with relative ease, I was a star student and teacher’s pet throughout high school and did well in my university classes too. I won medals in my extra-curriculars and my bosses’ regard during summer jobs. I always thought that if I followed the rules, laid out a good path for myself and worked hard, then things would fall into place. But that feels like a very naïve perception of things now.

I understand that failure is a natural part of any learning process. I understand that failure allows people to evolve and become stronger. I even understand that it gives people character, experience and intellect. Yet despite understanding these things in theory, the fear of failure still stops me from living the exact way I want to. It means that I can’t stand being a beginner. Rock climbing, yoga, guitar –things I discovered I loved yet have completely stopped practicing because they involve too much public failure as a beginner. Even as I write this, I worry I’ll fail at getting my point across or at making this article compelling and relatable.

Lately, failure is mostly associated with the job hunt. I finished my Masters 6 months ago and I am still waiting tables. I’ve been told that’s a normal amount of time, and that in this economy it’s actually not even that long. But every day, my various visions of the future get a little bit fuzzier. That image of me managing a team of policy advisors then driving home in my electric car to my beautifully decorated home gets blurry when tips from work are bad that week and I worry about the electricity bill. The picture I have of working in the field, collecting data on endangered species in exotic locations fades with each rejection email. The constant feeling of failure does nothing to motivate me to keep sending more job applications into the void of HR email accounts. Each rejection letter ends up making me feel more entitled, like somehow because I’ve gone through this, I deserve the job more.

I’m aware I’m not the first recent graduate to feel this way. And I’m trying to take these daily feelings of failure in stride by making time for friends and being out in nature. But the sinking feeling is inevitable when I sit down in front of a miserably formatted Word document job application once again. I apply to most jobs knowing I’ll never get an email back, let alone a positive response. Every pep talk from well-meaning employed friends or family feels like a repetitive reprimand despite it coming from a place of genuine kindness and concern.

I’ve been thinking more and more that I want to get creative and approach the entire job process differently, as so many of my peers are doing. Young people are taking the cards dealt to them and turning their traditionally losing hand into something wonderful by starting creative businesses, working remotely in budding industries or foregoing the notion of a typically defined career entirely. But again the fear of failure stops me in my tracks, despite my extreme admiration for friends who have taken the leap.

For now, I’ll keep searching and enjoying the little things. No doubt that this idea of creating my own career path will keep brewing in my mind the whole time. Maybe I’ll try and think back to the days when I barely had a concept of failure. I’ll try to incorporate some of that boldness into my future career goals. After all, back when I was a straight A elementary school student, free from the fear of failure, I won our school’s Valentine’s Day lip syncing contest five years in a row.

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on thunderstorms and optimism

So as I was standing at the bus stop in the middle of the night, there was a thunderstorm starting to gain momentum. At that point it was still silent flashes of lightning at very regular intervals. They lit up the clouds in the best of ways. But aside from the poetry of it all, it also made me feel incredibly small. Thunderstorms tend to do that. I looked up at the sky for a good seven minutes and just marveled at the weather trying to wrap my head around just how big the world around me was. I couldn’t conceive it; it was like hugging someone who is just too big to put your arms completely around.

It made me feel like anyone attempting to make this world a better place, including myself, has a hell of a challenge ahead of them. I don’t mean the people who “help the world” by putting their Starbucks cup in the recycling, although – thanks, I guess. I mean the people who pour their entire lives into helping others, into righting wrongs. People whom others call crazy but who are actually the most valuable kind of human being there is. I love that those people exist, I love surrounding myself with them, and I have a glimmer of hope that I could maybe one day be a fraction as awesome as they are.

There is a whole lot of fighting left to do before things start looking up. It’s a huge uphill battle.  That’s why I’m so thankful that I have the gift of optimism. I’m not sure where it stems from, as most of my family are total cynics and in my general experience people kind of suck. Still, there is some tiny thing inside me, with its own energy and vitality, which makes me truly believe that things will be OK. Maybe that’s naïve, but I like that this thing lives inside me, so I let it be.

On the other hand, I have met and discussed with a lot of negative people, pessimists, cynics, whatever you want to refer to them as. I’ve heard their arguments, and frankly, it’s bullshit. I’m calling them out! If there really was no hope for anything and people are awful and the world is going to crumble like a poorly baked dessert, then what’s the point? Why even keep doing anything at all? Why keep trying? The fact that these so-called pessimists have jobs, families, homes, a role in society means that there’s something keeping them going. It could be their kids, maybe they really fucking love watching Sunday night football or Pinterest is just the best thing since sliced bread to them. Whatever it is, there’s always something people enjoy that keeps them from giving up. That’s hope! Hate to ruin your pessimist rep, but that’s something to fight for, no matter how small.

In the grand scheme of things, all this really doesn’t mean much and I doubt I’ve converted many negative Nancies. I simply wanted to share how easy it is to be an optimist, and that maybe you should give it a try sometime.

-M

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