Forget the 30-under-30s, let’s talk about the in-their-20s-and-confused.
I am beginning to panic in the coffee shop I went into to stop myself from panicking. This is confusing, I know, but bear with me—I’m the one having the panic attack.
I have to walk outside because I feel like crying but I don’t want to be stuck in a space with people watching me cry. I would much prefer to be amongst the walking public. This way people will walk by me while they go get their groceries. They’ll pass by the girl clutching her laptop and clearly crying but also clearly trying to look like she isn’t crying. Soon they’ll forget what I look like as they try to decide if the avocado they’re holding is too hard or not hard enough. This is much better than people looking up from their laptops to see me crying into my latte. At least, I think it is.
What exactly am I panicking about? I’m asking myself the same question, but I guess when you stop drinking a latte you paid $5 for to cry in public, all logic goes out the window. The reality is, I’m not entirely sure. The only word I can use to describe how I feel is...confused.
I went to the University of Pennsylvania, where I took impossibly difficult science classes I wasn’t good at because I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian. By now I realize that my love for puppies has nothing to do with a desire to operate on them, and that maybe my lab partners were right when they asked, “What are you doing here?” (They also weren’t very nice, but I digress.)
Eventually I dropped all my science classes and focused solely on my English major, taking all the fine arts courses I could fit in my schedule. I finally felt happy, despite people constantly asking me a question I hadn’t come close to answering myself: So what do you want to do?
A couple of days before graduation, my favorite professor in my favorite class—advanced journalism—asked the whole class another question I couldn’t answer: What are you doing after graduation? I will never forget where I sat or what I said or that I went last and without a concrete answer. After class I walked outside and cried very softly to myself because I was surrounded by people I knew—not strangers getting groceries—and I felt ashamed.
After moving back home to New York, I took odd jobs in film and TV. I did everything from transcribing medical conferences about AIDS to working as a production assistant for two wiener dog actors, both named Vodka. Eventually, I realized the jobs weren’t what I wanted and that I had no idea what career I was suited for. Who I wanted to be was not who I was, and it felt like I was suddenly on the bench outside of my journalism class again. I couldn’t help but think, Why is this taking so long? Why does everyone I know have it all together? Why do I feel like quitting?
I think part of the problem is I’m always reading and hearing stories of people who have found it, made it, or created it. People whose Wikipedia pages suggest that they were met with obstacles and frustrations at the beginning of their careers; that they at one point felt what they wanted was impossible. There are even some suggestions that they have probably cried in public a time or two. But no one really wants to talk about that while it’s happening.
I don’t hear about people who are struggling, only people who were. Their inspirational speeches at college campuses, at the Oscars, or on talk shows usually begin with the past tense, and as I binge-watch these videos and interviews of people I aspire to be like one day, I find myself feeling terribly alone. Everyone wants to talk about the 30-under-30s, but no one wants to talk about the in-their-20s-and-confused.
So that’s why I had a panic attack in a coffee shop and decided to write about it—because I feel that most people wouldn’t, and that isn’t how it should be. I’d like to believe that even when people say “I’m great!” a majority of them are not sure where they are going and why or what it is they are going to do and how they are going to do it.
Outside of the coffee shop I’m crying in front of—where I went to work on job applications while simultaneously receiving rejections from jobs I’d already applied for—I pull myself together and stop panicking/crying/embarrassing myself in public. I run into someone I know, and for the first time, when they ask me how I’m doing, I tell them the truth. Even though they look slightly horrified as I tell them more than they want to know, it feels nice. For once I hope they do remember me and what I said as they pick out the perfect avocado.
As I walk away, I start to think that maybe we shouldn’t just talk about the jobs we did get, but also the ones we didn’t; not just the times we were sure of ourselves, but also the times we weren’t. And not only the lattes we drank, but also the ones we cried into. Maybe we should talk about our failures and not just our successes. And maybe I should be proud of my struggle instead of ashamed, because I think at the least it means I’m trying.
Author’s Note: In the spirit of Get Your Shit Together Week, I wanted to share this essay I wrote at a time when I didn’t have my shit together but also didn’t want to talk about not having my shit together. And even though I reference an audience, I really just wrote this at home for myself. It’s an essay I would have liked to have read on a weekday afternoon when all my friends were at work and I was at home alone, confused about what I wanted to do and unsure if there was anyone like me who felt the same way.
Five days after writing this, I interviewed for an internship at Coveteur. (My mom had recently asked, “Why don’t you try to be a fashion editor?”) So I sent a cold email on a whim. I got the internship, and now I have this job that allows me to write for an actual audience. It all happened after months of uncertainty, self-deprecation, and one very public cry. Looking back, I’m proud of getting rejected and crying in public and going home to write this for myself and no one else. I’m proud to share it here because even if everyone is obsessed with having it all “together,” the reality is no one gets their shit together before losing it first.