Rejection sucks. Losing sucks. Everyone knows that. But what’s worse? Almost winning the race. Almost getting the dream job. Being so close to something you really want and then…Big. Fat. Letdown.
Not to sound pathetic, but my life as an early 20-something has pretty much been a series of being almost (but not quite) good enough. And I’m not just saying that because I feel sorry for myself or want sympathy. It’s just factually true! OK, maybe I am starting to sound pathetic, but I also believe that I’m not the only 20-something who feels this way. We’re thrown into adulthood with the idea that we can achieve our wildest hopes and dreams, which we can, but no one really prepares us for just how many rejections, or almost successes, we’ll have to endure along the way.
And in the midst of all my “almosts,” I’ve had to come to terms with some harsh realities and have even learned a thing or two along the way (or at least I’d like to think so).
Let me explain…
I can only do what I can do
We all have a unique set of skills that we’ve acquired through our experiences, passions, and most likely some forced labor – whether that be requirements for your job or an Economics 101 class you loathed in college. Whatever your skills may be, these skills are what you can do (duh). And what you can do, someone else can probably do better. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s best you find out sooner than later, anyway.
Here’s an example. I grew up as a competitive cheerleader, then went on to cheer in high school and eventually at a major D1 university. It’s safe to say that cheerleading was one of my strongest skills, and I was great at it. Naturally, my dream after graduating from college was to become an NFL cheerleader (no judgments, please). For those who don’t know, and I’m assuming most of you don’t, NFL “cheerleading” consists solely of dancing, as opposed to the traditional act of throwing people 20 feet in the air that I was used to. So I trained myself in about six months to master choreography and improve my dance technique. I tried out for two different NFL teams and I made it to the final round…twice.
I was one of the top 50 candidates out of about 300 women, but compared to the dancers with years and years of training, I was just almost good enough to make both teams. I executed the pirouettes in every dance, but someone else could do an extra turn or two. My leaps were high enough, but someone else’s were higher.
So what does me being a cheerleader have to do with you? Well, you have your own talents and you know where your strengths lie. You can only do what you can do, and that’s perfectly OK. Because what you can do will eventually be the thing that gets you to where you want to go and to where you’re “meant to be” or whatever, even if it’s not what you originally had planned. Eventually, you’ll be the one with the highest leaps.
When you find yourself with an opportunity to use the skills you have to your advantage, do it. And keep making those skills better, especially the ones you actually enjoy doing. One of my less exciting but probably more useful skills is writing. I grew up writing poetry for fun and obsessing over magazines when I was in high school, which makes sense why I chose to become a journalism major in college.
And while getting a job post-graduation was a definite challenge (the 20 hours of cheer each week didn’t leave much time for internships in college), my writing ability was able to get me promoted from working in an emotionally draining customer service position to a spot on my company’s editorial team that was basically my dream job at the time. Yes, writing does come naturally to me, but it also took practice, diligence, and studying the correct journalistic styles, voice, and branding techniques it would take to get this job.
So what I’m trying to say is, figure out what you’re good at, what you actually like to do, and run with it. You never know where it might take you.
Does everything really happen for a reason?
Most of us like to believe that everything happens for a reason. It’s nice thinking there’s some greater plan for our lives that’s already mapped out for us, so when shitty things happen, we can convince ourselves that, “Well, it’s all just part of the plan. What’s meant to be will be!”
Even though I might be sounding a bit pessimistic at this point, I really am a believer in the hocus pocus of destiny. But that doesn’t mean I don’t question it sometimes, especially in those moments when I’m feeling almost good enough. Ready for another anecdotal example? Here we go.
Naturally, the “dream job” that I worked so diligently for eventually became the bane of my existence. After about six months of trying to convince myself how much I loved what I was doing – sitting at a desk for 40 hours a week writing fluffy articles about the same beauty must-haves and fashion trends every day – the reality of my situation set in. Was my dream job not my dream job anymore?
Aside from the tedious tasks, brainless writing and plethora of leg cramps from sitting all day, having a passive-aggressive boss and hostile office environment took my work anxiety to another level (I’m talkin’ crying in the office bathroom twice a week status). About a year into this dreaded state and after about 10, maybe 11, mental breakdowns I finally knew it was time to look for new opportunities. But as us 20-somethings know, finding a new job isn’t easy since our resumes showcase, at-most, two professional jobs and a slew of unpaid internships plastered on a piece of paper.
But after nearly 100 applications and even more LinkedIn messages to strangers asking for a chance, I finally had a lead. I secured a phone interview with a recruiter at a video production company that produced and distributed content all about food – from mini Instagram videos on how to bake the perfect cupcake to full-length episodes featuring recipes taught by famous chefs. The trendy company seemed perfectly on-brand for what I was looking for, and I was determined to make this my new space.
With two phone interviews, two in-person interviews, and two Skype interviews over the course of six weeks, my confidence was skyrocketing. I had talked to everyone on the team from managers to the head executive of the department, and they continued to bring me back for more. There’s no way they won’t offer the job to me at this point, I thought.
But you already know what’s coming…On a Monday after a series of follow up emails to the recruiter, my phone rang at 5 p.m. as I was walking out of my office (probably 15 minutes early because I couldn’t wait to get out of there), and I knew this call would determine my fate. As you can probably guess, I didn’t get the job. They went with someone who had “more experience.” Yep, we’ve all heard that one before. I was so close. Almost good enough.
I was obviously pretty let down. I was pissed because they held me on a string for six weeks until they found someone better and sad because I knew that meant I was stuck at my miserable job for longer now. Of course, a blubbering phone call to my mom and best friend was in order. And while I complained about my disappointment, they both reiterated the obligatory condolence that, “it wasn’t meant to be.” While I appreciated their words of comfort and willingness to listen to me ugly cry for an hour, I couldn’t help but feel irritated when they said these indefinite words. How do you know it wasn’t meant to be? Because, right now, I feel like destiny is kicking me in the ass.
Moral of the story: No matter how much you want something, how hard you work, or how much time you commit, some things really are just out of your control. And we have to learn to accept that.
Ghosted is the new black
There’s nothing like a shitty relationship to make you feel less than good enough, and I’ve had plenty of those. Well, actually, I’ve almost had plenty of those. I could start with the damage my high school sweetheart did, but I’ll spare you the details on that one. So let’s just touch on the series of men since then who have shown an interest in me, dated me, and then decided, “Eh, she doesn’t need a text back…ever.” I’m sure you can relate – unless you’re Margot Robbie. Everyone gets rejected at some point (except Margot Robbie, probably) and we all don’t get that text back sometimes. And while we know this is just a part of finding “the one,” we can’t help but feel like we didn’t live up to someone else’s expectations or standards. Like we weren’t quite good enough. Or is that just me?
Anyway, if you want to feel a little bit better about your love life, let me tell you about my last boyfriend. I was a junior in college (yes, I’ve been single for a while now), and he was a senior in the top fraternity on our campus. He was from San Diego and basically embodied the stereotype of a surfer guy mixed with a privileged white boy. You can imagine how I must have been drooling over him, right? Well, we dated for about three months before it was official – I refused to ask the “what are we?” question because of a former almost relationship trauma (again, I’ll spare you the details) so I left it up to him to ask me to be his girlfriend. Which he did…and then broke up with me two weeks later. Yep, I just almost had a boyfriend. Oh, and did I mention that he went back to his ex a week after the breakup?
I’m not here to complain about my former flings (OK, maybe a little bit), but I do want to share what I learned from the ex who shall not be named. While I wanted to blame him for the rapid downfall of our short-lived relationship, I was forced to reflect on the role I played in the situation as well. Yes, he asked me to be his girlfriend and then blindsided me with a hard core dumping, but I realized later on that I had not been 100% honest with him or myself.
I wasn’t honest with him in that I never showed him all of who I am. I was so afraid of screwing things up between us that I hid the imperfect parts of me I was worried he wouldn’t like – from my messy home life to not voicing my own opinions and thoughts if they didn’t align with his or what I thought he wanted to hear. I wasn’t honest with myself in that I overlooked some subtle, and some very obvious, red flags simply because I was excited about the idea of having a boyfriend. I liked the idea of him more than I actually liked the person himself.
In the end, I’m grateful to have had this experience because it taught me not to shove my insecurities aside or make myself small for the convenience of someone else’s wants. Oh, and to stop dating anyone who refers to me as “dude.”
Beauty to the bones
They say that beauty is only skin deep, but I think that’s a load of crap. Don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly agree that being hot doesn’t make up for being a bad person, but saying that looks don’t play a role in determining our self-worth or our status in society is just a lie we tell to feel better about ourselves. Unfortunately, we’re bombarded with never-ending messages that make us believe people will love us more if we’re attractive – Be prettier. Be skinnier. Get bigger muscles. Don’t get wrinkles. Basically, just hate yourself.
Many of us, especially women, determine so much of our self-worth based on our outward appearances. We’re in a constant state of being told that our body, hair, makeup, clothes are just almost good enough to be envied and desired by others. For me personally, this has been detrimental to my overall mental health. I have suffered through years of eating disorders and negative body image issues, ultimately neglecting both my mental and physical self for far too long. I reached a point when I felt like my bulimia had taken over my entire life. I would blow off friends so I could stay home and binge eat. I would hide under baggy clothing when I felt “fat” and then starve myself for weeks. I couldn’t think about anything other than calories and a number on the scale. I wanted to stop hating what I saw in the mirror, and yet I couldn’t keep myself from taking drastic measures to achieve a body that was good enough. For who? Honestly, I don’t even know.
Eventually, after a few too many rock bottom moments, I convinced myself it was time to get some real help. So I started going to therapy for the first time in the hopes of healing and figuring out why I am the way I am. This is a lot easier said than done, and like most other 20-somethings, I’m still in the process of learning to love and accept myself. But with some professional guidance and effort on my end, I’ve finally been able to better identify and understand my insecurities and feelings without judgement. This is something I think all of us 20-somethings should strive to do. Your boss, parents, friends and pretty much everyone else will criticize you enough, so why not show yourself a little compassion?
Although I still have lots of work to do on myself and I’m sure to be met with more failures than successes in the second half of my 20s, there’s one very important lesson I’ve learned from all of my almost experiences: I am not almost good enough, I am good enough.