I've Lowered My Expectations
And That's Okay.
I have always wanted to accomplish big things. I had visions of grandeur. As a Gen Xer, I was in the first generation of little girls who were told we could be whatever we wanted when we grew up. But there were too many options.
I wanted to be a famous author, a teacher, a weather girl, a dancer, an artist, a journalist. A truck driver, a hairdresser, a costume designer, a lawyer, the lead singer in a rock and roll band.
At the root, what I really wanted was to be “successful.” But over my career, I learned that the world’s prescribed version of success is quite different than my own. During my lifetime, I have been anguished at my inability to get, manage, and keep “a real job.” You know, the buckle-down, be an adult, full-time, nine-to-five, with benefits job.
Even now, as a library director, my mother still asks when I’m going to get a “real job,” because this one isn’t full-time and doesn’t come with benefits.
Twice in my life, I have had such jobs. The first, in academia, lasted just over a year. It took that much time for me to go from loving the job to miserable. The second, as a newspaper journalist, I lasted almost four years. I thought it would be my lifetime career, “what I wanted to do.” I loved that job... For about three years… And then got tangled up in politics, saddled with a group of stalkers, and pissed off the state police. I was losing sleep, losing weight, and losing any inclination to go to work.
Any time I have had a job with benefits, I wound up physically and mentally unwell.
Over the years, I have still been compelled to prove my worth. I could have been anything — so what am I now? A “jill of all trades,” master of one.
I have been a fast food worker, locksmith’s assistant, mail stuffer, mail sorter, bartender, waitress, hairdresser, maid, nail technician, magician, census worker, staff manager, warehouse manager, desktop publisher, web designer, video producer, graphic artist, farmer, publisher, librarian, private teacher, activist, advocate, private tutor, public teacher, college instructor, and more.
As a writer? I have been a journalist, a copywriter, a technical writer, a grant writer, a columnist, an editor, a public relations writer, a research writer, an SEO specialist, a book author, a storyteller, a writing coach, a publisher, and more.
Apparently, I could be anything, so I wanted to do it all. I likely thought, at some point in my fluttering about, I would land on “success.” Of course, I’m older and wiser now, and I realize that success means something different to every individual.
A Renaissance man is defined as a man who is knowledgeable or proficient in a variety of fields. The technical term is a “polymath,” a person of wide-ranging knowledge or learning.
In my upbringing, a “jack of all trades” was followed by the phrase “and master of none.” For too many years I believed the goal in life was to master something, some field, some facet, something to graduate me from a Jill of all trades to success. I did not make the connection, until recently, that the “lowly” jack of all trades is actually a respectable polymath.
When I “mastered” writing (documented by my MFA degree) I came to understand that you really never “master” anything. There’s always room for improvement, always room to grow, and always something innovative and new to incorporate.
My generation of women could be whatever we wanted, and we became many things to many people - mothers, caretakers, employees, housekeepers, cooks, taxi drivers, teachers, lovers, and nurturers. We became Renaissance Women. We are matured Jills of all trades, well-rounded and strong-willed. It’s a part of our cultural DNA.
This has been my recent epiphany. As a master of one, I know I am still master of none. I still write to an audience far too small to satisfy my writing muse, still feel sometimes like a fraud, faking my way.
But I realize now I have nothing to prove. I’m a polymath, still seeking proficiency and mastery in many arenas. I’ve started painting again, a process less about skill than letting my mind mull over colors on a canvas. I’ve stopped pushing myself towards grand accomplishments to prove my skills and earn respect. I’m more focused now on who I am and who I will become and less on what I am and what I do.
I’m not sure if that can be defined as success. Some may define it as a mid-life crisis, or post-pandemic trauma. I just know I’m not as driven to seek out the future, and have to find some way to work on and with the present. I have been many things, am many things, and I no longer seek the elusive stereotypical “success.” I want to master the moments in front of me, here and now, and how to manage them gracefully and well.
That is challenge enough.
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