On Being Disappointed With Myself, Renewal and Writing

It’s October, which means the main topic of conversation is how it is already October. 2017 hasn’t gone as planned for me. I’m still looking for a graduate job, I haven’t kept up with friends and, the elephant in the room, I haven’t kept up with this blog.

For me, 2017 has been a year of hard work and slumps. It’s been job applications and countless unsuccessful interviews. It’s been not wanting to get out of bed and wondering where the last week went. It’s been unemployment and double shifts. In many ways I feel like I’m in exactly the same position as I was at the end of last year, applying for jobs and not getting anywhere, giving up for a bit, trying again and not getting anywhere again. But I guess this is simplistic. I’ve improved my application and interview techniques. I’ve seen great shows at the theatre, interesting films, amazing concerts. I went to the Edinburgh Fringe and visited my family back in Scotland. I have a job I enjoy with colleagues that I genuinely enjoy working with, even if it’s not what I want to do for my whole life and it doesn’t fill up my week. I wish my life was different, and I wish certain things had improved, but you don’t get to decide how things work out. You can work hard, you can go for opportunities, you can try to shape them, but you don’t get to decide the outcome. Some jobs I didn’t get picked for I thought would be perfect for me and I would excel at but I guess they weren’t for me. I try to imagine a positive future but when the same things keep happening again and again it’s hard to maintain confidence.

Feeling like I’ve not progressed enough has made me lose touch with friends. I’ve never been the best at keeping in touch with people at the best of times, but nowadays I basically never send messages to my friends. I feel embarrassed to talk about my lack of achievements and I don’t want to be a downer and just whine to someone when I haven’t cared to listen to their problems in months. Everyone says that you should reach out to people when you need help but I’ve not been a good friend myself so I don’t feel right expecting things from others. I naturally rely on myself and whilst I am an honest person I’ve been let down by friends in the past and I don’t always feel comfortable being vulnerable with others.

But the thing that makes me despair the most is when I don’t write. I scribble bits that fall somewhere between first drafts of poems and journal entries in my notebook. However, I don’t have a big project that I’m working towards. I started NaNoWriMo last year on a story idea I’ve had for years, and whilst I didn’t get anywhere near 50,000 words at the time, I thought I might get there this year, and I’ve only written a tiny bit more since. I keep saying I’m going to edit my poems and I don’t. I stopped writing my blog, but more by accident than for any particular reason. Writing is the only thing I genuinely believe that I am really good at, and the only sure thing I know I want to do. In January, I was really low and didn’t feel up to applying for jobs, so I told myself everyday that I had to do two things: shower and write. That’s why I wrote so much in January. When I started feeling up to doing other things, started applying for jobs and eventually got a part-time job and interviews for other jobs, blogging took a back seat. I told myself when things all got sorted I’d pick it up again. But things weren’t that simple. So I told myself I’d write again when I felt more confident. But writing gives me confidence.

I’ve really wanted to blog again for a while but I knew my first blog post would have to be an apology for not posting for months and not keeping in touch with friends. I would have to admit that yes, I am still looking for a graduate job and I do still live at home with my parents and I haven’t travelled anywhere new recently and I don’t have stories from an amazing social life. Hell, I’ve not even read as much as I wanted to this year.

But I have had little things to encourage me recently. After being really worried that my birthday this year would be terrible, I visited the Bronte house in Haworth and rediscovered the importance I’ve always placed on an inner life and imagination, which can make even quiet girls from the North of England tell stories and make an impact. A few days later, I went to one of the best concerts of my life, which reminded me how much joy is possible. We’ve also just had Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). Usually, I associate these festivals with guilt for all of my sins, however, this year I felt that they are also about redemption and the opportunity for change and renewal. I’ve felt bad all year for not doing enough and being enough in my career, in society, for my friends and family, but every year is a new year and I don’t have to just feel regret and self-hatred. I can see the new year as a chance to begin again.

Yesterday I went to a book reading with two young female Nigerian authors as part of the Manchester Literature Festival. Whilst I go to the theatre and concerts regularly, I’ve not been to an author talk in a long time. I felt like I was opening up a part of myself that I haven’t for a while. The part of me that sees the escape and connection of reading, rather than the chore and expectation. The part of me that so desperately wants to be a published author more than anything. The part of me that saw my imagination as a place of retreat, rather than a place of worry. I realised I’ve been losing my imagination over the last few years and I need to make sure it doesn’t leave forever.

I’ve always seen myself as someone who writes and someone who creates characters and stories. Creating used to come easily to me but the writing required discipline. Now I’ve realised that whilst I write more, even if it’s not “proper writing” that I would share with somebody, the part of my brain that just makes up people and creates new ideas constantly when I’m bored, or waiting for the green man when crossing the road, or when I’m eating food, has greatly diminished. It’s hard to explain how important an active imagination is to me, but I think it’s the thing that if I look back on my life and it vanished, I’d feel the most despair about.

So this might not be the blog post you want. But it’s the one I needed to write. It’s not helpful or witty. It’s not about culture or travel. I’m hoping it’s a bridge. Between my last post back in February and October. Between not sharing and sharing. It’s a new year, I’m a year older, and I may not be able to get every job I want or even any, but I can write. And if my achievement this year is getting my imagination back, it’ll be a damn good one.

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7 thoughts on “On Being Disappointed With Myself, Renewal and Writing

  1. Wonderful post Sarah and beautifully written (as always!). Don’t be too hard on yourself – though this is much easier said than done ! I find that it is particularly tricky in this day and age where we have all the tools necessary to compare ourselves to others (or at least others’ projected exteriors on various forms of social media). I think this is a great time of year to start afresh, even if this only means a fresh outlook on life and its opportunities. I’m a firm believer that “all works out in the end” and you will, I’m sure of it, one day be an excellent published author. In the time being, I don’t think there is such a thing as “proper writing” so just keep going! Xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Juliet, you’re making me gush. I definitely find that I compare myself to others a lot and it’s definitely easier said than done to stop comparison with people’s projections of themselves on social media, but I try to check myself when I can, but also acknowledge that that’s how I feel. Thanks for your faith in me, and I’ll make sure to remember “there’s no such a thing as proper writing” whenever I’m too self-critical about what I write.

      Like

  2. Thank you for writing this because it’s captured my own feelings on this perfectly; it’s basically the past year for me. My year of unemployment can be summed up best in one word: alienation. I felt alienated from my true self because of my general lack of progress. I had time to write but didn’t want to and so felt bad for not spending my time more productively, meanwhile rejections and silence from applications kept piling up. I didn’t feel “good enough” for any sort of jobs, whatever that means …

    Everyone asking me how it was going was devastating. No progress, nothing to show for my time. Because of a general fear of being reminded of my inability to get anywhere I too distanced myself from my friends.

    I even prevented them from talking about it until I could get a job.

    I think the idea of quick progress and very visible displays of success/achievements is corrosive and damaging to those who don’t get those things immediately. The reality of our world now is that the things we want re:jobs is going to take much longer than anticipated. In general it’s fine, but in the moment is the worst thing ever, and that’s a tough pill to swallow, especially for a sustained period of time.

    It’s probably hard to do but you can’t be too hard on yourself in this difficult time. I’m speaking from experience, here. I didn’t want to hear it, though. Everyone kept telling me about how “productive” and “busy” I seemed but I still was unable to get basic shift work, for example. I felt like a total layabout.

    Something you said really sticks out to me, however: “writing gives me confidence”. I’ve found this too but always feel like it would be the inverse. This is the seed of hope that will blossom, hopefully sooner rather than later.

    I’m rambling now! To summarise, I’m glad this has ended on a positive note–a clear-eyed look at the state of things–with getting your imagination back. It means you’re on a warpath for somewhere better emotionally. Your moves might be slow, but take it a step at a time and you’ll be just fine before you realise.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m really glad you connected with the post. I wrote it as a personal piece but it’s reassuring that I’m not the only one with this type of experience post-university. The strange thing about alienation is that lots of people feel alienated, and often for similar reasons, yet we don’t feel able to talk about it.

      I definitely identify with what you’re saying about people asking about your progress and also about quick success stories making you feel uncomfortable – whether that’s through social media or the news or wherever. And you’re right in that it feels awful in the moment. Family members and friends who are older than me have told me they felt similar but it does get better, but it’s hard to see that in the moment, particularly if you have an idea of when that might be and then you get there and you still feel bad. That’s why I hate the concept of the post-degree “gap year to figure things out”, because you won’t necessarily figure things out in a year – I haven’t in two.

      Thanks for the positive words of encouragement and your confidence in me – I like that you describe it as a warpath! People who don’t know me too well can think I’m sweet and mild, but I can tell when people understand me better they see I’m determined and a fighter, so thanks for seeing that.

      And from what I’ve seen of your blog, Twitter etc you seem very busy and productive and that’s you’ve learnt a lot about the job market and that you’ve been working a lot on your writing. I think sometimes we feel like things should go in steps but sometimes you do a lot of hard work and get nowhere and then you do just a little more and things come up at once because of all the work you did before (hope that makes sense?). I’m sure you’ll be great and I can’t wait to read your book one day. But don’t be so hard on yourself about it now – anyone I’ve spoken to who has been unemployed says that they weren’t able to use all that time the way they would have liked. Unemployment isn’t the same as time off, it’s draining and not the best headspace for writing, so be pleased with whatever you can do. And you can always rant to me about the job market.

      Liked by 1 person

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