You. Just. Keep. Getting. Back. Up.

For a day or so last week I felt like if I didn’t have a mother who loved me, and if I didn’t have faith in a higher power, I might commit suicide, because I really don’t know my professional purpose. I don’t understand what God has planned for me, but it felt like the ability to be self-supporting (again) is not on the list—forgetting that I already am self-supporting, just not in the way I want to be. I realize this all sounds dramatic, but that’s how I felt in the moment. I felt very, very lost.

A job that I really wanted turned me down last week. I’d decided to go back into my field with a positive attitude for a more senior role creating strategies and plans rather than dealing with the technical parts of the job. The company asked that I complete a project and that four references complete a survey of questions about my performance. And the result was the company didn’t like the project and apparently the references weren’t all good. I have no other details besides that, so all I can do is fill in the blanks with stories about how badly I’d done at my previous job, how I should’ve tried harder, and feeling like my earlier insecurities were true, that I really am not smart enough or good enough and I don’t fit in.

And what I keep coming back to is this: What am I going to do now? I dug myself this hole and I’d gotten myself so far into it I couldn’t see any way out. I’d forgotten that in spite of my feelings of unworthiness, in the past I got hired, and I need to remember that I will again. But last week I felt like now that I was ready to suck it up and have a positive attitude about the field I’d fallen into, not only does my project get rejected, but at least one of my references—probably my last one—wasn’t good. I felt like maybe they’re right and I am a big failure—maybe I was right all along, and I’m the loser I thought I was.

In the past I’d applied for online marketing manager roles and not gotten them, because I just wasn’t ready yet, and maybe I’m not ready now. Maybe I’ll never be ready, maybe there’s another job that’s better for me. I hope to God it’s not as grocery store manager, as much as I love grocery stores, because I have this egotistical idea that I’m smarter than that, in spite of the fact that lots of smart people work in grocery stores. But every time I tried to get an online marketing manager position, I didn’t get it, and instead I got stuck in my former position doing a specific type of search engine marketing, a technical role that I don’t feel confident or competent doing and which I hate. Yet that’s what my resume speaks to, and it’s so frustrating because I don’t know how to make my resume speak to my real interests and strengths—and I use those two words loosely—no matter how I change the wording or the ordering of the bullets or the format.

But my sponsor told me something along the lines of what Bob Dylan (who is over 50 years sober, which makes sense because his lyrics sound like program words) says in his song (which I’ve posted here in a prior post), “To Ramona,” which is this: “there’s no one to beat you / No one to defeat you / Except the thoughts of yourself feeling bad.” In other words, I’m the only one who gets in my way, and if I believe I can’t win, then I can’t win. I will never win if I continue to believe I can’t.

So I realized that I need a professional mentor, and I have to get out and go to networking events, in spite of my introversion and social anxiety. I called a friend of mine who has a role similar to mine but one or two steps up, who majored in English (I got my BA in comparative literature, but it’s similar enough), and who’s made a good career for herself, and I asked her to be my professional mentor. She’s also in the program so she understands my dysfunction, although she hasn’t nearly ruined her own career due to her alcoholism or fear in the way that I feel like I’ve done with mine. The point is, she has agreed to help me, and I’m summoning the courage to sign up for a networking event coming up next week. More on that later. Baby steps, my friend. Baby steps.

Because here’s the thing. You fall down. And then you just get back up. You fall down again, you get back up again. You fall down a third time, and you just keep getting back up. You. Just. Keep. Getting. Back. Up. And it sucks real bad right now, but what the fuck else am I going to do? I’m not married, I have no children, my dog will probably die this year, I’m almost 40 years old, but I’m healthy and this is my fucking LIFE. As long as I’m alive I still have an opportunity to make something of it, to find peace and happiness, and I am FREE. I can do anything I choose to do. I have options.

My friend and third cousin, a guy I used to drink and drug with, committed suicide in October of 2010 at the age of 36. At that time I had eight months sober, and he’d reached out to me for the first time since we’d seen each other when we were about 25. The last time we’d hung out he’d visited me in midtown Atlanta where I’d drunkenly put a dent in someone’s parked car after our bar outing and then lamented over this dent all night before putting a note on their car with my phone number. He’d told me how he’d gotten so deep into addiction that he’d prostituted himself for drugs, and how he’d blown $10,000 he’d gotten from a car accident lawsuit that left him addicted to pain pills. I’m not sure if he graduated high school or went to college, but he didn’t graduate from college, and he ended up blowing his head off one night after months of posting disturbing Facebook comments about how pissed off and hurt at the world he was. I think of him often, and how I wished I’d helped him more. He just gave up. He couldn’t see that life can and does get better, because I’ve seen people do it. People who’ve been convicted, prostituted, homeless, unemployed, and in far worse situations than myself. And their lives got better because they made a decision to surrender and just do this thing called life. It’s all we have, it’s all we know, and we can choose to search for and find joy or we can be miserable. What’s it going to be?

Gratitude for the Single Life

Since high school I’ve gone from one relationship to the next, never really going after the man I wanted, accepting (for a while anyway) the man that came along, but usually wanting a different man, one that was unavailable. I also wanted to be single, to get out of the trap of the relationship I allowed myself to get into, but it often took months or even years to be able to do so with each relationship. There were only two men that I loved, my college boyfriend and my second husband, but of course those relationships didn’t last.

After a brief stint of single life I found myself wanting to be in a relationship, just for the sake of being with someone, just to have a movies, dinner, and sex partner. So I got that with my old man, or I should say my former old man, because we’ve parted ways. And now that that has ended I’m finding myself uninterested in reactivating my online dating account, because love can’t be manufactured or created from a science project of personality questionnaires and photoshopped pics. Instead I plan to throw myself into participating in all the events and hobbies I wanted to do when I was in a relationship but I didn’t have time because I felt like I needed to be there for the man in my life. My circle of friends always went on all kinds of outings—camping trips, beach trips, barbecues, dances—and I always wanted to go, but never felt comfortable taking my husband, nor did I feel comfortable taking my old man, given the age difference. I think that says something about self-honesty, being embarrassed to take my partner on outings. If I feel uncomfortable taking my significant other to events with people who’ve known me for several years, many of them in ways no one else does, it means I’m probably not being honest with myself in dating this man. These are people who I’ve revealed some of my darkest secrets and fears, and to show up with someone who looks like he could be my father screams of daddy issues, which I don’t feel like broadcasting, although I realize the discomfort is within me, and what others think isn’t my business. Because my daddy issues aren’t something I’ve discussed with most of my friends. And the thing about bringing my old man around my friends is like George Costanza’s theory of the two worlds colliding. I just can’t have that.

Regardless, now I get to do all those things I wanted to do, and I don’t have to make excuses for why he’s not invited. When I can afford it, I can take a jewelry class or a painting class or rock climbing lessons. I can join a book club or take my dog for walks at the park. On Saturday nights I can go out with my girlfriends. When I get home from work I don’t have to deal with his mess or dirty dishes in the sink after he had the day off—because when a man takes the day off, he takes the day off, whereas when a woman takes the day off, she runs errands, cleans the house, goes grocery shopping, does laundry, etc. And I can decorate however I want to decorate, and I don’t need to concern myself with how to secretly donate his hockey stick from high school that he insists he’ll still use one day, or the Led Zeppelin posters he wants to thumbtack on the living room wall. The TV won’t be blaring, because I don’t own one, but I can watch “American Horror Story” from my laptop in the comfort of my bed, where my dog lays next to me spread eagle without worry of someone pushing her out of her space. On the weekends the football game won’t blast my serenity away nor do I have to waste my day off to go to a football game where rabid fans cheer men in tights as they throw a football across a field for four hours. I don’t have to remind my husband to take out the trash or mow the lawn, the only two chores I ask of him. I don’t have to feel obligated to take time off work to take a six-hour road trip with my in-laws to his great aunt’s 90th birthday. On my days off, I can do what I enjoy doing, without planning my life around his. Not that planning my life around his was his expectation, but it was something I did for a long time, and when I stopped, I realized that we were like two roommates living together, which I didn’t want.

Now that I’m single, I can enjoy being single. This is the thing I’ve been wanting! I wanted to be the kind of woman who could go places alone and be confident in doing so. I wanted my time to be my own. Even now, I can do the one thing I love most: write, without interruption. I cherish my time alone, and I rarely got that when I was married.

Another thing about being in a relationship that I hated was how small my world became—and it was all my own doing, because it doesn’t have to be that way. My husband and I spent most of our free time together, and when it was time to socialize, I had my friends and he had his pot-smoking or college friends, and the last thing I want to do these days is hang around drinkers and smokers. Sometimes it doesn’t bother me, and sometimes it’s even fun, but most of the time I just find it annoying. If they’re drinking socially, which most of them usually do, it’s fine, but when people start getting wasted, my feelings about it range from amused and grateful to eye-opening and downright annoyed. That girl who thinks she looks so sexy dancing drunk—that was me. How embarrassing. I thought everyone was just as drunk as I was! Not the case. Most of the people when I go out are NOT that drunk—even at concerts! Amazing, huh? Anyway, I digress. When my ex and I went out with his friends, I felt like I had nothing in common with them. His high school friends were boring, being small town folks who’d gotten married and started families in their early 20s, and I couldn’t relate, being older and child-free.

The thing that’s so nice about being single is that I can do what I enjoy doing, and who knows? Maybe I’ll meet the man of my dreams during one of these outings. Maybe I already know him. And I realize that’s not the point—although I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hope it would happen—because the point is for me to go out and do what I enjoy, and to be grateful for this time of singlehood.

Finding Joy

Before I got sober I thought that I’d have to lock myself in my house to keep myself from going to the liquor store or the bar, and that I’d never have fun again. Lots of TV-watching, maybe an occasional board game with friends I didn’t have at the time but would get one day, probably through whatever boyfriend I had, and possibly an outing to the local bowling alley. Lame.

But when I got sober I found a young people’s group who actually goes out and does things. Fun things. Camping trips, beach trips, amusement parks, events, dinners, dances. The idea of doing all these things sober—and having fun—blew my mind. A part of me felt like maybe it was fun for all of them, who were mostly in their 20s while I was 35, who were extroverted while I was introverted, who were happy while I was not, who liked popular music while I liked indie, who were this while I was that—well they could have fun but I was incapable because maybe I’m just a boring person.

One of my first sober events was a formal dance, when I had only a week sober. I didn’t go on purpose; a woman I’d met had invited me, telling me it was a dinner, and then at the last minute mentioned I should wear a formal dress. Otherwise I probably wouldn’t have gone. And it seemed so lame at the time, like a wedding or a prom without alcohol. It was in a hotel and everyone was dressed up, and people danced. When I drank I loved dancing, but the thought of dancing sober terrified me. I didn’t even like leaving the house without drinking. I sure as hell didn’t want to talk to anyone without alcohol and no way could I actually move my body, uninhibited, in front of the world without some social lubricant to release those fears, some liquid courage. Luckily lots of women there were nice to me, and they talked to me, which made me feel comfortable. And I didn’t dance that night, or any other nights after that for a good four years.

Then my husband and I split up, and I decided I’d try getting out more. I tried another dance, and something amazing happened. I had fun. It didn’t matter what anyone else thought because this is what I enjoy doing, and I can either lament the fact that I’m too afraid to do something that gives me joy, or I can just push through the self-consciousness and move with the music. The funny thing is that it turns out just about everyone feels the same as I do. Since that time I’ve had dozens of conversations about how self-conscious everyone else feels, how weird it is in the beginning to dance without drinking, to be at an event without alcohol. Almost everyone feels like they’re not a good-enough dancer, or that they look funny.

Last night I went to a 90s-themed dance, which is really my decade, because I started high school in 1990 and graduated college in 1999 (I was on the five-year plan in which I took a year off to focus full time on partying). Although I’m almost 39 now I still have fun dancing, because dancing knows no age limit. Last night was even more fun than usual, because although I still love to dance, I still get in my head about who’s dancing with whom, why no one dances with me, whether or not I look funny, how half the people there were born in the 90s yet know all the words to “Santeria” by Sublime when I don’t because I was a music snob from early on and Sublime just wasn’t “underground” enough for this Smiths-loving, PJ Harvey-worshipping, brooding artsy persona I’d created for myself (which clearly served me well, isolating myself from everyone so I could feel superior), when really I like Sublime just as much as everyone else. But last night was different because I just allowed myself to dance wherever with whomever and not let the high-school worries of how that group over there looks more fun than this group I’m in, because I have the grass-is-greener syndrome and no matter where I go I have this old idea that something’s better somewhere else.

I’m grateful that I’ve made the decision—or really, the decision has been made for me—to stay in Maryland and allow the roots that have taken hold to ground me here in this place where I’ve found a home and my chosen family, a network of women and some men who have shown me how to live. Because I’ll still be here, wherever I choose to dance. I’ll still be me. No amount of worrying about how much more fun or easier it will be if I dance across the room with a different group of people will make anything better for me—in fact, I feel worse when I spend my time focusing on what I don’t have here and now. Because the joy can be found right here and now, inside of me.

A New Perspective

I thought I would be going away, maybe off to Hawaii or Japan or just Florida, get a yoga teacher certification or teach English to Japanese kids or join the Peace Corps and become a Zen Buddhist with a regular meditation practice, giving dharma talks that would become famous via podcasts and blogs and eventually a groundbreaking memoir endorsed by Oprah, which would in turn cause me to make millions or at least six figures, and then I’d be enlightened and awakened to my true purpose that I would continue to spread to the good people of America. As I was thinking about my decision to go back into marketing, I ruminated that nothing amazing happened, that nothing different happened, that here I am going back to do the same old thing that I always do. But I was wrong. Something amazing and different did happen. My perspective changed.

Now, instead of begrudgingly going back into it with the attitude that I’m doing this because I have to, I’m going back with the attitude that maybe I can do this and maybe I am actually good at it, and maybe I can get better. I don’t have to look at this like I’m crawling back to financial safety because it’s the only thing I know, the only thing I seem to be able to do or get, but rather I can look at this as an opportunity. How many people get this opportunity? This thing I don’t want is the very thing a lot of people work very hard for or just dream about. Happiness is a choice. It’s not something I’ve acquired by catching it out of the air. It’s not something I was born with, but something I’ve learned. I can do this with a positive attitude and just fucking do it, or I can live in paralyzing fear and continue on the same path of not progressing, or I can become so fearful that I just don’t do anything. And honestly, I am so sick and tired of the last two options.

There are so many reasons why this is good for me. I don’t have a husband or kids, so why not focus on a career that involves a service that people need and want? Why not try to become a worker among workers? Why not allow myself to be another ant helping the rest of the community because no matter how small I feel, I am significant. Every single ant is needed to help the larger project. I am not just a cog in the system; I have something valuable to contribute.

It’s odd to me that this is the path God seems to have set for me, when I am sure that my path was to write a memoir or teach or counsel others, all of which seem to me more noble paths that surely God would want for me. And I do get to do those things, but not get paid for them, and maybe that’s what I’m meant to do. Or maybe I get to do those things for pay later in life.

So my job interview went really well, and if the second interview goes well then I’ll be moving to Columbia, which is only half an hour away and still close to my network that has become so important to me. And my sister and her family are moving to Richmond, Virginia, which is maybe two hours from there, and what that means is that my family is coming to me. All this time I’ve been thinking I needed to move to North Carolina where my mom lives so that I can be closer to her, and now that my sister is moving here, that means my mom will be here all the time to see her grandchildren, and that I can easily visit my niece and nephew. I suspect they’re going to need their Aunt *Ella when they get to be teenagers.

The company where I interviewed provides a service that people need and want, which is education, and I have this need to do something that I believe in. I felt an instant connection with the woman who interviewed me, and I thought maybe she’ll become a good professional mentor for me.

Speaking of mentors, a side note. Everything I’m doing, I’ve done it on my own, with the help of my higher power, my personal mentor, and my circle of friends. It’s not because my mom doesn’t want what’s best for me, but she looks at it differently. She just wants to see me happy, and she knows I’ve never been happy in marketing before, and she’s never worked in an office environment. So the idea of changing my perspective and embracing a career where I lack confidence didn’t occur to her because she thought of it as me simply being in the wrong career. Mom has always known me better than anyone else so it’s possible she’s right, but this is where I am today and I can either love it or hate it during the process, and if another career awaits then that time will come when it comes.

On my way to the interview I listened to Destiny’s Child to pump myself up, because these women make me feel empowered—except for that song about getting a man to pay your bills (“Bills, Bills, Bills”), which I skipped over. And I must confess I never watched the Charlie’s Angels movie though I remember reruns of the show when I was a kid, but the basic premise of the song, that I did this on my own, and I depend on myself, and not some man or my parents to take care of me, well that really appeals to me. I can do this.

*Not real my name. I think we’ve had this conversation before, but just in case you forgot, or didn’t notice, this is an anonymous blog.

What If

A new thought came to me last week: What if I stayed open to the idea of going back into my field? What if I did all these things that are required of the job but which I didn’t think I could do, things I’ve done before but in my opinion not very well—what if I did those things anyway, and what if I learned how to do them well? What if I took some classes, contacted former colleagues, asked for a mentor, joined a networking group?

What if I did all of that and gained self-confidence in doing so, and worked on my hobbies on the side, which may or may not become something more one day? And what if I made a decent salary and got my own apartment and paid off my debt and took painting classes and wrote my blog and did other fun things I like to, all on the side? What if I allowed myself time to research other options while working in this field I’ve landed in, if it turns out that there is indeed anything else out there for me? Maybe this is it. Maybe this is the path that God or whatever you want to call a higher power meant for me. For some reason.

For months, years really, I have resisted the field I’ve landed in, which is marketing. It happened by accident and I don’t feel qualified to do it. But what if I looked at it differently, in a light of gratitude for getting paid well, with a feeling of confidence that I know what I’m doing because I’ve been doing this for years, and I can take classes, read articles, or go to events to learn more. Is it possible that it could be different this time or am I deluding myself out of desperation and a deep-rooted belief that I can’t do anything else? On the other hand, what if I didn’t go to work every day in a state of panic? What if I felt comfortable in my own skin and had a positive attitude without that old idea that I don’t fit in?

Maybe this really is all there is. This is it. I’m probably never going to become a Mother Teresa-like yoga teacher living on a Hawaiian beach making a million dollars. And that’s a huge disappointment. Because I thought this was America, the land of the free, where you can do anything you want. Where we’re all going to become President, right?

Joking aside, maybe I can find a job that I’m capable of doing, something that contributes to my small part of the universe in some way, even if that means being a grocery store worker—although I really hope that’s not my fate—or even as a marketer. Intellectually I understand that it’s not about the job itself but more about my attitude towards that job, but it’s hard to believe I could ever really become a competent and confident marketing director or manager promoting something important to me, especially if that job involves analytics, which is what many of the online marketing jobs require. Each time I think of a specific job requirement, which I don’t feel capable of doing, such as analytics, I wonder if I ought to take a class on whatever it is so that I can learn it and just do it.

I still feel so trapped. There has to be a better way. There’s more to life than this.

But then another epiphany—well, possible epiphany, possible delusion—that occurred to me is that no one really knows anything for sure. Meteorologists can’t predict the weather in spite of spending their entire professions doing just that. Stockbrokers can’t tell you the perfect stocks to choose. Nutritionists argue about what’s really healthy: low-carb, paleo, or vegan? Sports analysts, news analysts, industry experts of all kinds, none of them really know what will happen, yet everyone has an opinion. As for me, I don’t want to analyze anything. I don’t want to plan anything. I don’t want to create strategies, yet no matter what I do, no matter where I go, that’s what everyone wants. They want someone who’ll create a plan, a strategy for what to do, and I’m no different. What I want is for someone to give me the fucking blueprint with detailed steps on exactly what to do because I don’t know. None of us fucking know! It sure seems to me that we’re all asking for someone else to be the leader and tell the rest of us what to do because really we’re all just bumbling around trying to figure it out. But maybe I’m wrong. I mean, a meteorologist has to study weather patterns, a doctor has to go to medical school, and I’ve been working in marketing for years. I definitely know more than your average Joe when it comes to marketing; it’s not like someone with no experience would get hired.

And I don’t want to tell people what to do—especially not if they’re not going to do what I suggest anyway. And isn’t that usually how it works? You get a job as a manager and your job is to direct employees in their jobs, and while some may be people pleasers who’ll do just what you say, most people resent their bosses and don’t want to do what their bosses ask of them, or they don’t want to do it in the way their bosses want. We all want someone to tell us what to do, but none of us want to actually do what is asked of us.

Anyway, a few days after this revelation that maybe I can do it, I’ve reached a new theory. It’s possible that not only is everything going to be okay, it’s probably going to be more than okay. I am going to be more than okay. Not in a rose-colored glasses sort of way where I get everything I want in the way that I want it, but in a better-than-I-planned way. The reason I know this is because I just acknowledged that I have a unique talent that pays well and I’ll be able to get a job doing it. Correction: I don’t know any of this for sure, but I have a hunch. The only thing is, I don’t know if it will happen soon—I only know that it won’t happen soon enough for me.