“So, any luck in the job department?” or how failure is making me see what matters most.

Under the Golden Gate, March 2013

This month isn’t turning out quite how I hoped. When does it ever?

I planned on a 3-week online course on women’s fiction, but unfortunately this was cancelled the day it was meant to begin (the day after I booked it), so I had to re-think my use of this month’s writing time.

This weekend I’m attending the Psychologies Writing Weekend put on by Writers & Artists at Bloomsbury in London. I’m really excited as it’s my first foray into writers’ conferences (though I do wish I had a buddy going with me!). I’m looking forward to meeting other writers and getting a chance to do some workshops. I’m also attending a live webinar with literary agent Kate McKean entitled “How to Submit Your Book To Agents.” It’s on May 2nd if you want to join me! 

All that to say, most of my time has been devoted to writing. I can’t lie. I graduated in June 2010, and I’ve been endlessly applying for jobs, interviewing, and trying to network since then. A few contracts here, an internship there, but it is has been, without a doubt, the biggest anticlimax of my life.

Why? Well, when you return to university as a mature student — in a foreign country, to boot — you’ve by that time built pretty high expectations and demands of yourself. You’ve missed chances and been unable to focus on one thing in the past, so when this amazing opportunity comes around to make something of yourself, you want perfection. I’ve said it before on here. I worked my butt off to do the best I could on that degree, and some might’ve suggested I put too much pressure on myself, for things that, in the grand scheme of things, haven’t mattered so much. But I did it to prove to myself I could, and whether you scoff at a Film BA or not, getting that 1st is the thing I’m most proud of.

I didn’t expect to meet my future husband before my course even began, let alone that he would be someone who already had his act together (certainly not been my previous experience!). My plan of moving to London and living in a cardboard box until I got a proper job in film died an early death, for a variety of reasons, mostly practical.

If only my path were this clear.
If only my path were this clear.

I’ve had interviews at some fantastic companies and organisations, and been told countless times, “You were this close!” and “It was between you and one other person.” The number of times the door has been shut, slammed, or locked right in my face is just unbelievable, especially for someone who never interviewed for a job she wasn’t offered in the past. All this time I thought a degree would be the key, along with the work I put into it and work experience, etc.

Nope. God has had other plans. I can’t say I understand them, but life throws you surprises and you have to accept them, no matter how unbelievable. And when I say I’ve been applying everywhere, I mean everywhere. Jobs I’m totally overqualified for that I’ve dumbed down my CV for, jobs that I’m underqualified for that I’ve aimed for anyhow, jobs I’m perfect for either in an industry I care about or not, and still, every door has been closed.

Do I know why? Nope. My name? My nationality? My age? The economy? All these things? Or just that God has another plan?

I read a devotional email today that said in all our struggles and fears, it’s vital we yield to God. When I’m weak, He is strong. I’ve prayed many times, Your will be done. Whatever it is You want me to do, and to want, I want it. Show me how.

But I’ll pray it again today, and every day. I want to do what God wants me to do, just so I’m finally at that place in my life where I’m confident in my path. I felt confident at uni, but that had a countdown that expired on the day I graduated. It was a shadow of the real thing.

Writing has been the one thing that’s been consistent in my life since I was young. I’ve always had stories flowing out of my head onto the screen, and the more I learn about writing and publishing, the more I write and read and talk with others about it, the more I feel confident that if nothing else in all this struggle, God’s given me this passion, bigger than any other one. I can’t ignore that, and if people look at me and say, “Why doesn’t she have a job yet? What’s wrong with her? Is she just irresponsible and lazy? She must not really want it, I have to remind myself that their opinions and judgements aren’t relevant. I have to stop worrying about that.

My closest friends know how hard and frustrating this time has been, but they also encourage me to use the time not spent applying for jobs on writing. To those friends, thank you for believing in me, and not making me worry you think I’m lazy, or ridiculous, or irresponsible.

Words cannot express how exasperating, how humiliating, and how confidence-destroying these last few years have been. But if they’ve taught me anything — once I look past the self-doubt — it’s that the thing we have passion for, the thing we don’t feel we’re wasting time doing, whether it pays into a pension or not, it nurtures the spirit to do it. So I will keep writing, learning, networking and reading because it’s the one arena in which I feel I truly belong.

This is a mighty long post, and if you’ve gotten this far, thanks for hanging in. It felt like time for reflection again on what’s been going on. I leave you with some snippets from JK Rowling’s Harvard Speech, which is one of the best things I’ve ever read:

Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it.So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears that my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

Lacock Abbey, filming location for Harry Potter, June 2006

Why yes, I am wearing an I Love Sirius Black t-shirt.

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Job hunting. Right now it’s the worst time in recent memory for it with the state of the economy, budget cuts, overabundance of graduates and ridiculous competition. I’m not here to complain about it because it is what it is, and I’m beginning to realise that as much as a steady income will be greatly appreciated, and as psychologically frustrating as it can be when you know you’ve got a great degree, valuable experience and a desire to work hard and still can’t seem to get a break, things happen for a reason and I’ve got to make the most of the opportunities in front of me.

It might sound strange to claim to have an opportunity in the midst of unemployment, but it’s there, and it’s been the time to write, learn more about the craft and get inspired. I’m trying to do more of this every day I can before I do land a job. What I’m also hoping to learn through this stage though is how to respect and view myself, regardless of what other people say, or don’t say. No matter whether other people accept me or don’t even have time to read what I send them.

Perfectionism isn’t a positive. Maybe some people use the word to mean striving for the best and not settling for anything less, but even that is unrealistic, unachievable, and unhealthy. I’ve struggled with perfectionism since I was a kid but I always thought the term inferred that a perfectionist “does things perfectly”, so I never considered it described me. I don’t think I do anything perfectly. I do some things well, but I’m not one to blow my own horn. Far from it. But I have been a perfectionist in certain situations. Perfectionism is when you beat yourself up for not reaching your mental idea of perfection. The Free Dictionary says it’s “a personality trait manifested by the rejection of personal achievements falling short of perfection, often leading to distress and self-condemnation”.

So it’s definitely not cool.

I struggled with it during university. Because I was a mature student, I wanted this time around to do things right, get the best grades I could, get as involved as I could. It paid off: I got a 1st class degree and I learned and enjoyed so much. But the perfectionism saw me sleeping about 4 hours a night sometimes, trying way too hard to please some people, and expecting way too much of myself. Example: I got upset at certain lessons when I felt like I should already know what was being taught simply because I was older than most other students. It’s not healthy.

I thought about all this today when I saw a job post that listed perfectionism as part of the person specification.

Am I applying for that job? I have the experience and it sounds like an interesting industry. But no way am I applying. I can already imagine what that position would look like. They’re not asking that I try my best, be diligent and give it 100%. I’ve had jobs in the past where it was expected I’d only do everything perfectly, and a spotlight came on every time I didn’t. I didn’t wait this long for a job to get one where I’m condemned before I begin. I know I’m a hard worker, because I don’t like letting people down, and I like how it feels to know I’ve contributed something worthwhile and beneficial to others. In that respect, I’m completely happy to no longer be a perfectionist, nor take a job that requires I be one.

Celebrating perfectionism is not a good thing. Doing my best and then calling it a day and going on to the next thing – that’s what I’m trying to learn right now. Accepting that if I try my best and then let go and not worry about what’s out of my control, that’s what I want. I want that more than a job, and that’s difficult to say out loud, but if I get to 90 I’ll be glad to say that I finally conquered worrying about the what-ifs, and that whole time period of job hunting will be a blip on the radar compared to the memory of when I learned to be okay with my best. Besides, my best is pretty darn good, if I do say so myself.

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