Earlier today, I sat at my office desk at my part-time job, reading an email from the head of the Journalism and Media Studies department of San Diego State University, regretting to inform me that I would not be one of its students this upcoming fall. Tears of disappointment burned on my bottom eyelids, threatening to spill out. I had been rejected. I had failed, perhaps for the first time in my life. Not that I’ve always gotten everything I wanted, but I had never tasted true failure before today. Yet, a contradictory emotion swept over me. Was it relief? Strangely, it might have been.
When I had applied, I was anxious and hopeful, but there was a part of me that felt numbly lost. The best way to explain it would be that I still felt as vague about my passions and dreams as I had at 17 years old, so committing to studies for a Master’s felt somehow wrong. “Trust life,” I had told myself, a mantra I had adopted throughout my college years. I made a pact with myself to look at either outcomes as win-win: if I get in, I’m doing something productive with my time and becoming more of an expert in a field I’m very interested in, or if I don’t, I have more time to work, try new things, and discover clearer answers for myself.
But guess what? It doesn’t feel like a win. While it isn’t exactly a loss either, I feel lost. I kept asking myself all afternoon, “What’s next for me?” Not to get dramatic, but I began having visions of myself in thirty years, still feeling as if I had never pursued my greatest passion. The most frustrating thing is that I don’t even know what that greatest passion is. I’m good at everything and nothing all at once. When I played softball in high school, I could play almost any position well enough and consequentially, I played four different positions in four years. I enjoyed the flexibility, but I always watched the pitchers doing the same thing in every practice, focusing on their delivery and working hard to improve it. They knew what they were– purely pitchers– in the same way a tall left-handed player knows she’s a first-baser. Me? I was vaguely a softball player. I would’ve traded places, and I still feel that way today. I want to be exceptional at something, even if it’s one thing only.
“Failure” has been blinking on and off in my head all afternoon, like an annoying sign at a cheap motel going, “Full.” Blink. “Full.” Blink. “Full. We don’t have room for you. We’re full.” Blink.
However, in only one afternoon, my perspective was altered and put back in a better place. All because I reached out. I asked my friends how they knew what they wanted to do with their lives, and more than once, the word “failure” came up. “You can never fail; they are always learning experiences,” one said. “No matter what, you only truly fail if you don’t get back up on your feet” another said. How true, I thought. And then someone else said that stasis is what kills us in the end. Rereading that sentence, I became filled with images of getting up from my desk and away from my formerly-storage-turned-office, doing creative work that will leave me poor and hungry but striving.
That’s when it hits me. Whatever it is that I end up doing, I cannot feel indifferent about it. I’m a person of emotion, evidently, and I think with the right side of my brain. That I should pursue a career that I’m passionate about is the most obvious thing in the world to me, but then I realize that as long as I’m able to strive in it, I will be happy. It doesn’t matter if it’s something as traditional as teaching, as long as I continue to “make great efforts to achieve something” (the dictionary definition of strive) for a purpose that I believe in, my career will be meaningful.
And for the first time in ages, I feel a little lucky about having so many could-be’s to choose from. It doesn’t stop me from feeling the most lost I’ve been, but it makes me feel okay about it. After all, I might need to be at this place today to get to where I’m going, wherever that is.
Remember, Leila, it’s about the journey.