I recently decided my least favourite word in the English language is “potential.” It sounds so promising, as though we should be excited and motivated and full of hope when we’re told we have it. But to me, it feels more like a paralyzing rush of dread, like a heavy and crushing expectation rather than an invitation to an exciting world of possibilities. It’s not that people are often telling me I have potential–I mostly bring this stress on myself. It’s true that you are your own worst enemy. I am learning that the hard way in this uncomfortable in-between stage of graduating university and finding a job, all while wondering what the heck I really want to do and how I’m going to get there once I finally figure it out. It’s very intimidating, and in the midst of it all, I like to launch myself into unnecessary suffering by throwing that darn “p” word around in my head like an impossible game of Monkey in the Middle, and I’m the monkey.
Ah, potential. What is it that is so detestable about this word? By definition, it means “latent qualities or abilities that may be developed to lead to future success or usefulness.” Have you ever heard something so devastatingly daunting?! Latent qualities, latent meaning “existing but not yet developed or manifest.” Or in biological terms, “lying dormant or hidden.” Am I really just a human in a phase of latency?! And the very use of the word “may,” as in “may be developed,” meaning there is a possibility they will not be developed and could actually lay dormant forever?! And don’t even get me started on “future”! I just about pass out whenever I think about what on earth that might look like because it is very unsettling thinking about something so uncertain and so unknown. As you can see, my greatest mistake was Googling the definition of “potential” after I had already decided it was my least favourite word in the English language. There’s a reason we’re told never to Google our problems.
I suppose if I had a little more confidence and even the slightest sense of direction in my life, the word “potential” (*shiver*) could carry a positive connotation. And I know that when people say someone has potential it is meant to sound reassuring and hopeful, not loaded with dread and impending doom. Perhaps I am being held hostage by a severely pessimistic mindset as I navigate this whole unemployed life, one sprinkled with a million half-dreams that I can’t seem to commit to. On top of that, I have so little money that I feel an overwhelming and very first-world-problem sadness each evening as I do my multi-step skincare routine knowing my high-end holy grails are running out and I will soon have to revert to using cheap drugstore products like I’m 17 again. As the final, precious drops of my anti-aging retinol cream sink in, so does the panic. Thankfully, I am living at home and don’t have to worry about rent and groceries and basic survival needs (which I would not be able to afford even if I wanted to), but I am still crushed every time I spend even five dollars on a Pantene shampoo that will never compare to the lavish Sephora haircare I stupidly allowed myself to become accustomed to on a student budget.
I realize I could probably get a serving job to hold me over as I search for something more professional that might allow me to fulfill my so-called potential. But I’m not ready to do that just yet, so please let me indulge in my existential crisis just a few weeks longer. It is only the second week of January, and there is still hope that I will get a “real” job within a month or two, but there is also the possibility that I won’t. The economy is apparently horrific in Calgary right now, and there isn’t an abundance of job opportunities floating around that fit my skills and interests–not that my interests even matter anymore–but I simply can’t afford to live anywhere but my parents’ basement at this point, unless I miraculously win the lottery. Even a thousand bucks would completely change my life; the situation is that dire. By now, I realize I sound like a spoiled brat refusing to get an ordinary job so I can stop complaining about having no money while searching for something more ideal for a university graduate. (This may be true, but also don’t forget that these posts are highly overdramatized for entertainment purposes.) And I am fully aware of my privilege. To be able to move home to my parents’ house and not worry about my financial situation while I get my life together is a huge advantage that many people are not fortunate enough to have. So it’s not that I’m totally ignorant. I’m just scared and confused and not ready to give myself over to a shitty serving job just yet.
A lot of this fear that I’m harbouring is thanks to that darn “p” word. I’d like to think I have potential, as I’m sure almost every single human on the planet does. I just don’t really know what kind of potential it is that I have. Sometimes I set crazy goals in my mind that I am 99% sure I will never, ever achieve, and then I worry that by not achieving them, I am not reaching my full potential. Or that my fear of failure is stopping me from flourishing these apparently latent abilities of mine, and that I am really only hindering myself. Which I probably am; I am standing in my own damn way. It is self-sabotage, and while I fully acknowledge that, I am not quite ready to step to the side and give myself a chance. Does that make me pathetic? Lazy? Maybe. I have always stood in my own way. I’d like to get all psychological and think that something must have happened in my childhood that made me feel small and unworthy and has caused me to shrink myself down to the point of not believing in myself in any capacity. But really, I think this is just part of the human condition. I’m not special, and I know almost every single human has felt this way at some time or another, but I have a tendency to fall into a toxic cycle of self-doubt every time I am reminded of my “potential.”
For example, I was doing really well in my copy-editing class last semester, and one day, when the professor was handing back quizzes, she asked me what program I was in. “English,” I told her. “Honours English?” was her response. I was flattered by the question that seemed more like a compliment. “No, just English,” I replied. That was the end of our conversation, and she nodded and handed back my near-perfect quiz (apologies for tooting my own horn, but also it was only worth 3%). It did not take long for the elation of being thought of highly by an editing expert to dissolve into a deep existential dread that I was not living up to my potential. I had never even considered doing the honours program–I didn’t even want to do it–yet this one small comment had me consumed by the fear that I was capable of so much more than I was allowing myself to do. That maybe I could be an honours student, and I was only cheating myself. Obviously, this was about more than just being in the honours program. I couldn’t care less about having that extra credential on my degree. What I do care about is the fact that I do this to myself in every aspect of my life: I stay in my comfort zone, trying as hard as I can to do only the things that scare me the least, when maybe, if I weren’t so full of self-doubt, I could be doing more. But also, I do do things way outside my comfort zone every now and then, and I just don’t know who the heck I am when that happens because I mostly live in my cozy shell of safety. I guess I don’t really understand my own self, and that is just excellent when it comes to making big life decisions!
I want so bad to just have it all figured out. I want so bad to wake up one day and decide, “this is the life I want. Now I am going to go make it happen.” Most of us know it is not that easy. For some people, it is–those lucky people who have real passions that fuel them and motivate them and keep them steadily on the path toward their dreams. I wish I was one of them more than anything. I wish I wasn’t such a dreamer and was more of a doer. More of a person who accepts that life isn’t always going to be perfect and amazing and everything you dreamed it would be, and that sometimes you have to work a job you don’t like and live somewhere you don’t love and accept those aspects of your life for what they are. I am not one of those people. I struggle to be satisfied with the mundane, and it is making me have unrealistic expectations far too early on in my professional career!
I know what you’re all thinking: it’s because I’m a Pisces and a four on the Enneagram scale. How’d you know?! Well, it’s true. And yes, we can use astrology and personality tests to justify absolutely everything in this world. Duh. In all seriousness, I know astrology is super hokey, but the Enneagram is actually quite accurate and helpful in learning to understand yourself. I am a four through and through (with maybe a splash of nine for my extreme discomfort when it comes to conflict and confrontation). For those unfamiliar with this model, fours are titled the romantics. We are sensitive, self-conscious, and typically struggle with self-indulgence and self-pity. According to theenneagramatwork.com, an obviously reliable source, fours often have a sense of longing and melancholy and “seek meaning and depth in relationships, work, or in a quest for personal creativity.” We feel as though something is missing, and we are often passionate, empathetic, introspective, idealistic, and overly emotional. HELLO, remind you of anyone?!
I want to have a meaningful life so badly that it prevents me from doing anything that feels ordinary and unfulfilling. I know humans need money and therefore need to work, which sometimes means doing something that isn’t exactly your dream job. I get that. But I’ve always struggled with the idea of committing to something that feels meaningless. I never wanted to go to university because I thought it meant doing what everyone else was doing and merely joining the herd of average people on their journey to a lifetime of working an uninspiring office job. They might be making decent money, but surely they’re not living out a passion. In the end, I let my fear get the best of me, and off I went to university like everyone else because it was the safe thing to do. Now don’t get me wrong, I am very very happy I went (although my bank account would suggest otherwise); I learned so much more than I expected and made some incredible memories and friendships that I will cherish forever. And I am content knowing I am equipped with a degree that puts me ahead in this world. I also needed that time between 19 and 23 to start shaping even the slightest clue of what I want out of this life. And, as it turns out, not everyone in university is headed toward a lifetime of mediocrity. In fact, most of them aren’t. Crazy how that works.
So, that leaves me here: 23 going on 24, unemployed, living with my parents, no job in sight, no money to my name, and completely unsure what my life will look like in one month, let alone five years. I think I’ve expressed the fears of my anxious heart enough for one blog post, so I won’t overdo it more than I already have. What I will say is this: maybe it is not so bad down here. Maybe it is kind of freeing to have absolutely nothing going on right now. I mean, I’d love to get my roots touched up and restock my favourite skincare products, but I’m not going to die without those things. It kind of feels like rock bottom in a way–not the “omg I have completely ruined my life” kind of rock bottom, but more the “things can really only go up from here” kind. I read a quote the other day that I really, really needed to hear. It went like this: “Trust the wait. Embrace the uncertainty. Enjoy the beauty of becoming. When nothing is certain, anything is possible.” (Emphasis mine!!! Because nothing has ever made me feel so hopeful that good can come from such deep uncertainty before!!!)
I’ll leave you all with that wonderful quote as we head into the weekend. Surely there is uncertainty in all stages of life, not just the one where you’re 23 and trying to find your place in this world. I hope that message can inspire everyone, if only just a little bit. I also hope that my next update will arrive when I am employed and thriving! I should add that I recently applied to the education program at the U of C, as I’m thinking I just might want to be a high school English teacher. Even if I do get in and choose to go, the program doesn’t begin until the fall, so I’m still going to see how things play out in the months leading up because you never know… maybe my dream job will come along out of nowhere between now and September. A lot can happen in 6 months! That said, teaching is a possibility that I am leaning towards right now. So I suppose I’m not entirely directionless. Although I still feel like I am. Just maybe not entirely. And also, I tend to be slightly dramatic on the Internet.
Stay warm out there, my friends! I know my first winter back in Alberta after three years of Vancouver Island living is hitting me harder than I expected. I am cold, and that does not bring me joy. It does, however, keep me holed up indoors with nothing to do but apply to jobs (and write blog posts, apparently).