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to be or not to be
fleeting satisfaction, lingering frustration
by michelle von euw

Imagine for a moment: you spend your whole life trying to find a way to do what you're good at, what you can actually do for the next forty years without poking out your nearest supervisor's eyeballs, and what you can get paid a livable salary doing.

You try this, on and off, for about a decade. It is harder than you would have expected, finding a balance among all three. You find you are stunningly ill-suited for the type of professional work you thought you'd always want to do; even more depressing, the field you wanted to be a part of all your life you realize you cannot stand.

You try on different careers like winter coats: maybe you wanted a charcoal ankle length wool number, maybe that cute red jacket was more your style, maybe you go with the leather. The jobs you work at, the careers you consider, are really not all that different. Sometimes the sleeves are too long, sometimes you the buttons are too loose, sometimes the lining isn't quite right.

You spend way too much money and three years of your life trying to do what you think you've always wanted to do, and then, almost accidentally, fall into something entirely new and previously unconsidered. The Prada pink gabardine of careers: a job that had terrified you at first, but gives you a strange adrenaline rush you never imagined you’d encounter on a daily basis.

You love your new job. For the first time in your life, the buck stops with you. You are in control, you are in charge, you make all the decisions, call all the shots. You find yourself becoming overly confident, sure of the fact that you're doing the right thing every day, that you are good -- no, not good, fabulous -- at what you do, and you are Changing the World, because that is how goddamn good and important you are.

You have the luxury to complain about your job, and the people you are responsible for, the people who have to listen to your rules, who are controlled by your decisions, who sometimes give you the type of headaches you didn’t even know existed. Terrible things happen to these people -- some are hit by cars, some lose parents and grandparents, some take a long time to get over their last break up, and many, many of them have drastic computer malfunctions -- and some of these terrible things may even be true. They complain, they look for excuses, they send you horribly misspelled emails in the middle of the night, they occasionally give you borderline inappropriate compliments, and some of them you even make cry. They give you 5,837 reasons to hate them, and twice as many reasons to love them, and yet, you're still just as likely to forget their names the minute they leave your domain.

Sometimes, they thank you. Sometimes, they tell you that knowing you changed their lives, and you made them like something they never thought they'd like, and because of you, a lifetime of success lays open and waiting for them.

So you think it's not just the adrenaline rush you get when they do something right, that these comments are some sort of validation, a confirmation that you are kicking ass and taking numbers and you may as well continue doing this for a long, long time.

But you are you, and you will never stop being you, no matter how good you may think you are doing, you'll never be good enough for everyone. And you'll remember why you've never wanted to put yourself out there in the first place: because you are vulnerable. The winter coat is gone; it was never real protection in the first place, just a stupid metaphor.

You always, always, always have heard criticism louder than praise. Like, ridiculously louder. Part of this has to do with you've spent your life loving things you weren't especially good at. Tennis. Singing. Vodka. The things you decide you are confident about have a ridiculously comic way of imploding in on themselves, so suddenly you’re left with very little beyond a list of reasons Why You Suck.

And when it happens at this new job, it floors you.

Like, literally. You sit down on the floor, and you decide you need to leave this job, and never, ever come back.

The timing is all wrong; you're in the middle of a long work weekend, and you approach the hours that were supposed to be chock-full of productivity dumbly, and there's no prying you out of your shell of self-doubt. The confirmation has arrived, and the message, delivered by an anonymous underling you'd once trusted you were helping, a life you'd erroneously believe you were Improving, was clear.

You were wrong. You are not suited for this new career of yours, not at all. Which, is actually fine -- expected even. You've spent the last ten years doubting your work-life; why would you believe the next ten would be any different?

You can see it, can you? The problem is clear, laid out in the above paragraphs like breadcrumbs. You are dealing with extremes, and the extremes that told you one thing, will eventually circle around and tell you exactly the opposite.

The truth is, the kind of satisfaction you're looking for comes between those extremes, come in the moments of balance and normality and acceptance of the fact that some people will get you, some people won't, and you can try your best, but you'll never reach everyone, because that's not what real life is, no matter what the movies starring Edward James Olmos and Michelle Pfeiffer and Hillary Swank tell you.

Criticism -- even the anonymous, misspelled type -- is louder than praise. The key to your life, this new life of yours you've chosen, is to listen equally, carefully to both.


Originally from Boston, Michelle is a writer, editor, instructor, obsessive sports fan, loud talker, quick laugher, new mom, and chances are, she watches more television than you do. Follow her on Twitter at michellevoneuw

more about michelle von euw


beware the blues of february
the shortest month is short on inspiration
by michelle von euw
topic: writing
published: 2.11.08

[censored] and the city
publish the personal, or the personality?
by michelle von euw
topic: writing
published: 2.7.01


tracey kelley
4.11.07 @ 10:28a

Wow, 'Chelle.

Is this a commentary on teaching?

sarah ficke
4.11.07 @ 12:38p

This is an awesome description, Michelle.

roger striffler
4.12.07 @ 11:47a

Holy cow, you just said it all...and so perfectly.

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