My Brilliant Career

We can’t all be hero geniuses

My Brilliant Career is a captivating film, though it is about neither brilliance nor a career. It follows Sybylla, a redhead “not like other girls” coming of age in a farm house in the 1890s. She is unwaveringly certain of her creative potential, sure that she has the makings of a great actress, musician, writer. Will she succumb to marriage and a life of domestic dullness?

But this will not be a film review. No, bringing up this movie is just an excuse to talk about myself.

Though I’m a 21st century brunette from the suburbs, it’s easy for me to identify with Sybylla. We are both underappreciated forces of creative genius, only unproven due to our youth. Or, I once thought so. It now seems ridiculous to have confidence, and I wonder if I would be happier if I had less of it. My convictions remain, but in a greatly weakened form characterized by a self-aware detachment. Elif Batuman puts it best in The Idiot. “Even though I had a deep conviction that I was good at writing…this conviction was completely independent of my having ever written anything.”

Sybylla has never applied for a job, never been rejected. It’s easy to believe in yourself when you haven’t been told over and over by the people who can make your dreams happen that you aren’t the right candidate. Over 150 job applications later, I curse everyone who told me I had potential. Thanks for getting my hopes up.

The Buzzfeed piece that’s circulating now says that I just need to adjust my expectations. I need to stop “wailing” about finding “a cool job I’m passionate about!” How condescending to hear this from a professor — the definition of such a job. Millennials are well aware that we will be worked to death, precarious, and underpaid no matter what. I’m not wrong for wanting to do something that’s at least interesting.

Reading Kids These Days by Malcolm Harris made me feel that perhaps my unemployment is not my fault. Yet, I graduated near the top of my class from a reputable state school. So am I arrogant enough to declare myself both a genius and misunderstood? Is the world unfair, or do I suck? Am I less great than I thought, or are my rough edges a liability?

I know that I am more than my capacity to perform waged labor, but we must all fit ourselves to the needs of the market. And it seems the market does not need me.

But this is why My Brilliant Career is the perfect movie for despairing young job-seekers like myself. The story ends where Sybylla is finally in circumstances where the actualization of her aspirations has become a possibility. Only a possibility. Though she has completed a manuscript, its reception is outside the scope of the movie — all that matters is that Sybylla did everything she could to allow her dreams to happen (including move back in with her parents). She has not yet proven her worth to others, only to herself. Thus, the titling is an act of optimism. The movie ends at what is just a beginning.