Congratulations, You’re a Failure!
Everyone makes their call on where they feel they are in life and what they’ve accomplished.
For some? Everything falls apart and goes downhill after 21. Who am I to argue? Aside from qualifying for Medicare, there isn’t much in the way of milestones after that magical number. It’s the peak of life with the world lying open at a person’s feet.
Others savor the age at which they retire — whatever number that happens to be. Without the restrictions of a job, they find the freedom they haven’t enjoyed since childhood. Oh, sure, bills still arrive at the door. And it’s probably important to pay more attention to certain health concerns. But fussing over projects and seeking approval from clients or managers? That’s off the table.
Then there’s you sitting somewhere in between. Nothing exciting to report, no numerical age of any significance. (Trust me: I checked Hallmark to see if they made a card) But enough failures racked up to prevent the former from leaving home and put the latter into a coma.
So you have that. (Everyone needs to mark their life with an accomplishment)
And while the words sound horrific, I want you to throw your shoulders back, smile, and hold the list up for everyone to see. You smashed into walls — sometimes spectacularly.
Sweetie, no one fails quite like you.
Remember when you were little? Adults felt a compulsive need to include children in their small talk. No point in asking our opinion on the weather (“Yup, it’s sunny”), and our version of neighborhood gossip involved frogs and which swing on the playground wobbled too much. So they asked us a different question. The same question. A stupid question to ask a child, really.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
As if a five-year-old can form a strong opinion of their future career possibilities. We’re climbing trees (falling out of trees), playing in the mud (eating dirt), and chasing fireflies (and putting them in jars). Our concept of time is skewed. Yet they want us to have the forethought to look down the road to adulthood? To conceive of a time with bills and responsibilities? Quaint.
No surprise, then, that you dazzled everyone with your answer. For some reason, adults didn’t consider “a unicorn” the appropriate response. Of course, you weren’t supposed to hear the frantic suggestions that your parents get you into therapy. Or the recommendations that you not spend so much time reading. And let’s not forget the gentle nudges of their children AWAY from your circle of influence.
You failed on that score, unicorn girl. Thirty-seven years later, and you haven’t sprouted a horn in the middle of your forehead. (Not yet, anyway) No inherent magical abilities, either. The closest you’ve managed is a Tokidoki sweatshirt with a horn on the hood. (You know the one; that purple hoodie that garners strange looks from people when you wear it)
It’s probably your biggest — and first — failure. Especially because you remained oblivious to the lesson. While the adults fretted over your desire to grow into a mythical creature, your parents shrugged the notion aside. They never enrolled you in therapy. Your book collection? It never once faltered. (If anything, you benefited from that recommendation with those trips to the library and bookstore) And your folks never stopped you from playing with your friends.
Because your parents believed you could be anything you wanted — even a unicorn.
Little girls grow up. They set aside My Little Pony collections and take up Broadway playbills instead. From the first moments in a theatre, you knew — KNEW — you belonged on a stage. An ironic turn of events, considering the lengths you’d go to to avoid speaking with a stranger. (Let’s not forget riding your bike around the block five times to wait for the neighbor to leave so you could drop the package in the mailbox rather than knock on the door)
Performance meant the world to you. And you mapped everything out in your head: a Performing Arts degree, that magical audition landing you a role in New York City’s theatrical district, and a swift climb to the Tony’s (No one’s ever faulted your imagination). When you sent out your college applications, you always checked for a drama program.
Yes, even at those few schools everyone insisted on with a science focus.
There was no question about acceptance. With your grades and extracurricular activity list? You had your pick. Smiling and thanking people for their congratulations when the announcements came over the PA at school got tiring. And it interrupted your daydreaming.
Not quite as dramatically as Dad’s reality check. But interruptions all the same.
The parents who didn’t mind your unicorn aspirations — and faithfully attended your school performances — now put their foot down. College, of course. But you’d be attending a “real” course of study. Drama wasn’t on the menu. What you chose to do in your free time was your business. But if you expected their assistance with tuition? Yeah, you’d follow their directives.
Talk about a cold review.
Every dream crumbled. And, you, of course, pitched a fit. They held no faith in your acting and singing abilities. Their actions and words proved it. And in the course of your dramatic reinterpretation of teen angst, you failed again. Because you didn’t listen to the logic. You missed the lesson on practicality. Even worse, you spent more time complaining to Uncle — a dancer and performer — than you did listening when he described the uncertainty of his life.
You shucked the responsibility and maturity you’d cultivated at that point in favor of teenage conformity.
Just Keep Swimming
Mythical unicorns might exist. For instance, people out there attend college and find careers that align with those degrees. Then they stay there, never deviating to a different path until they retire. You don’t actually KNOW any of those people, but they exist. (Somewhere)
You’re not one of them. (See? Missing that unicorn opportunity all over the place) Not for lack of trying.
After you recovered from your dramatic moment, you moved on to a new dream. And you genuinely planned to become a researcher. That imagination launched you into journals on shark behavior, your research team around Australia or South Africa, maybe even a guest spot during Shark Week.
At least until your academic advisor warned you that research grants were getting difficult to come by. Had you considered getting your Master’s? (Sure. Was he offering to pay for it?)
And while working at the Zoo proved a high point on the career journey, hearing the words, “You’ll need to wait until someone dies to advance” doesn’t do much to bolster a person’s ambition. You knew you needed SOMETHING. That vet tech degree seemed like the perfect compromise. It took you a step forward while keeping you around the animals you loved.
Who knows? Maybe — in another world — it might have worked. Ten years isn’t something the average person shakes a stick at, you know. You learned enough to fill a shelf of books. And I don’t mean the medical knowledge (not alone, anyway); you took away life lessons. But failing to research the work environment, the struggles vet techs endure, and overall career climate? Yeah, that one’s on you, Kid.
Your resume resembles a hit-and-run report.
It’d be easy to call THAT the next failure on the list. I could even trot out the various mistakes associated with drifting from one job to the next. Except then you’d need to add ANOTHER epic fail to the list. One that plenty of people tick off their lists.
People DO find and cultivate a single job for their lives. It works for them. Maybe they learn something from the process. Perhaps they don’t.
But people like you? They fail to realize the growth they achieved by looking at their place in life and saying, “I don’t want to be here.” Instead, they squirm and feel awkward or embarrassed at trying something different. They try to sweep the reality into the shadows or shove it into the back of the closet with the unicorn skeleton.
Never realizing the strength they gained, daring to forge a new path.
You’re a complete and epic failure.
Depending on how you decide to look at the stories that make up your life, anyway. You’ve certainly felt that way for most of your 42 years. But when you start to think about it, those “fails” are badges worth displaying.
The fact you wanted to be a unicorn? Yeah, it’s why you’re a writer now. Your parents never curbed your imagination. And they believed — and encouraged you—to do whatever you wanted in life.
With, you know, some grounding in rationality so you didn’t starve in a cardboard box on the street.
And all of the background you wince over? That knowledge landed you your first freelance contracts. They provided the experience and research skills that help you win over clients today. (Probably wouldn’t have that without the science degree, either. There, I said it)
So, yes, you failed. You screwed up. You left a wake of crumpled corpses in the rearview mirror of your travels.
And don’t worry. You still have PLENTY of time before they shove you into the grave to fail at least a few more times. (Or you could always go for a dramatic event. I’m good either away).