How Taking Myself Too Seriously Ruined Me
Have you ever thought about the proper spelling of that exclamation you make when you’re amazed or surprised? Is it spelled “woah” or “whoa?” Does it matter? These were questions that we pondered as kids and somewhere along the way, I was told that you could pick one and go with it, like “okay” and “OK” or “gray” and “grey.” They’re all the same.
However, after commenting on my friend’s Facebook post with “WOAHHHH” one day, one of her friends replied, joking that I had misspelled it and that it was supposed to be spelled “WHOA.” As a recent college grad who majored in English, graduated with honors, and couldn’t get a job to save my life even though I had been working since I was 14, this made me furious.
I replied with a long paragraph about the complexities of language and its pliability, that “whoa” could be spelled “woah” if one desired, and that ONE OF MY ELEMENTARY TEACHERS TOLD ME IT DID NOT MATTER, OKAY? AHHHHH NO ONE CORRECTS MY GRAMMAR. MY GRAMMAR, SPELLING, AND PUNCTUATION ARE PERFECT. I USE OXFORD COMMAS AND I KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS.
At this point, nothing that I had ever worked for in my life mattered. My pet bird that I’d had for eleven years had just died, and I was living off of the few savings I had by eating one meal a day in an overpriced, closet-sized room in Los Angeles. My boyfriend and I had broken up a few months prior, and I still wasn’t over it. He wasn’t even my boyfriend, anyway, yet I caught feelings for him.
I use “catch” like emotions are some kind of virus, like the flu…and it was. I remember visiting him at med school and joking about seriously dating him “if only” he didn’t live in Philadelphia. He looked me in the eyes, I imagine he grabbed me by the shoulders, and said, “I don’t like you like that.”
“It’s okay. It was just a joke,” I said to the only person that I felt a real connection with in the past three years. “I just want to kiss you.”
It was a joke– my life, at the time, and I kept pretending that it wasn’t. As I looked back at the Facebook comment thread, I thought, who was I to defend myself against this internet jokester who meant 0 harm and yet had crushed the only bit of confidence that I had left in myself?
My friend commented right after me, “Michelle, he was only joking.”
I looked back at my paragraph of pathetic, useless chaos that I studied so hard to perfect and closed the browser window so that I could apply to another one hundred jobs or so without any luck.
My entire life had been about getting good grades and doing everything perfectly. Now, here I was, having done everything “right,” but unemployed for the first time in my life and literally starving, getting mad at a guy making a joke on the computer screen.
However, I could not EVER dare to take a job that didn’t require a Bachelor’s Degree AT LEAST. I couldn’t work at a movie theater or a gym. I had done that “grunt work” my entire teenage life and now I had a shiny new Bachelor’s Degree that I earned fair and square. I would have rather starved, apparently.
Eventually, I found a job in the film industry and it paid $100 for 12 hours, which was far less than what I would have made as a movie theater cashier. The job was 3 days long which meant that I would make a whole $300.
I called my student loan servicer and screamed when they asked me to pay $200 a month. “How can you expect me to pay this? Do you know what the economy is like right now? I applied to 300 jobs! 300 jobs!” I yelled at the random customer service operator. She explained that I could change my repayment plan to be “income-based.” She said my income was so low that I would pay $0 per month. That wasn’t good enough for me, so I hung up the phone.
A friend suggested that I apply for food stamps. I was qualified. I could ask my parents for money, maybe move back home and work for a bit before I could find a “real job.” None of those options seemed appealing to me, so I picked binge-watching Orange is the New Black and falling asleep early in order to ease my aching stomach.
At times, my parents would arrange a flight home for me with their own money and people would ask me about L.A.
“What’s it like?”
It kinda sucks, tbh.
“Have you seen any celebrities?”
Yes, and it’s really not a big deal.
“Do you love it?”
Oh, yeah, it’s the best! But I don’t have any friends, I’m poor as fuck, and my life is literally meaningless now.
For all it was worth, I keep fighting to reach my “dream,” which was, in hindsight, probably someone else’s dream considering I only really liked to make weird art that makes people uncomfortable. My “dream” at the time was to work on set and live a filmmaker lifestyle, which I eventually did. I got my first job on the Shark Tank set and I gained a ton of work on Food Network sets. I lived paycheck-to-paycheck, freaking out about when/if I wasn’t going to have work. I pretended that I was better than other people because that’s what everyone else did and it seemed to work for them. Other people were also happy living their life like this.
I was unhappy. I was really, really unhappy and I had filled all the holes in my life that I thought needed patching up. I made friends– nice friends, not those who would make plans only to cancel them ten minutes before, when you are already on your way. By working freelance doing random gigs, I had made enough money to pay my rent, student loans, food, gas, and sometimes, I had enough to save for when I didn’t have work lined up.
I had fulfilled my “dream.” I made it. I survived as an adult doing a job that I majored in. As it turns out, my dream sucked and no one was there to congratulate me for achieving it. No teacher was there to hand me an A. My parents did not care. Eventually, no one from home asked me how I was doing anymore and I couldn’t hang out with my new friends because I was constantly working twelve hours a day in order to pay rent on my exorbitant, tiny room. Despite constantly being surrounded by people and making enough money to survive, I was lonely. I was empty.
Eventually I realized that nothing mattered. None of it mattered, and for the first time in my life, that idea made me happy. I didn’t have to care about anything because what I was doing was not my “dream.” Leaving it would not make me a failure. No one cared about my achievements, so why should I?
All that truly mattered was my own happiness.
Once I came to that realization, I threw out my insecurities. I threw out the idea of perfection and decided that it was too dangerous to pretend that the idea existed or mattered. I gave myself some respect and decency that I carried with me to future jobs, not letting anyone talk down to me or pay me less than I deserved. I spent more time on my hobbies and began to enjoy them again.
I went hiking by myself more often, taking the time to appreciate nature and silence. I started reading for fun again, whenever I had the chance, and I found myself finally connected to something real once more. It was like an enormous weight was lifted off my shoulders and I could finally breathe again.
I’m spending a lot of time now focusing on what truly makes me happy, seeking passion, and using a lot less time worrying about my achievements, or lack thereof.
Life is too insane to take yourself too seriously and to confine yourself to whatever mold someone else thinks you should fit into, even if that’s a mold that you’ve created yourself.
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