It isn’t really a secret (to my family, friends, or those who read this blog) that this past year has been difficult for your faithful writer. To be honest, the past few years have been momentous and rewarding but also incredibly challenging and draining. In 2010 I wrote my senior thesis for my undergraduate degree, and the following spring I completed my student teaching. The spring of 2011 was also the first time I started considering what I was going to really do after my degree. Unable to make any real decision, I applied to grad school for a MA in English and was accepted to my first-choice school. In August of 2011 I moved away from home and undertook graduate school and living on my own at the same time.
I haven’t always been successful at these things, and one of my greatest strengths and weaknesses is that I’m very open about my insecurities. Some people manage to exude confidence and poise while still having feelings of uncertainty underneath, but I’m not one of those people. I like to tell people how I’m feeling, which I suppose makes me a bit of an extrovert. However, in the past few months, I’ve realized that being so open with my feelings is often detrimental to the way I want people to view me. When I talk about how I feel inadequate, nervous, or stupid, I don’t want people to give me advice or look down on me–I’m looking for them to empathize. I want the people I share my bad feelings with to share their own bad feelings in return.
However, not everyone is interested in that kind of reciprocal relationship. I’m learning how to be less of an alarmist and more of an actor. For me, this has meant taking a step back from Facebook. Checking Facebook five or six (or, okay, twenty thousand) times a day wasn’t healthy. First of all, it constantly distracted me from enjoying my free time or being productive during my working hours. More importantly, however, it made me jealous and angry. Why were all my friends sharing good news on Facebook all the time? Why did everyone else have tons of pictures of parties and nights out on the town and fabulous vacations to exotic beaches? Why was I the only one who seemed to be struggling?
What my Facebook addiction ultimately has taught me is that the way people perceive you is often quite dependent on the way you present yourself. Take a girl in my program who everyone has decided is the “smartest.” Now, I say “everyone,” but in the spirit of full disclosure I’ve only heard three people make this assertion. Let’s call this girl Diana. From the first day of classes, Diana sat in the corner with her trendy MacBook (decorated with edgy stickers about feminism and activism), wearing skinny jeans and ironic T-shirts and thick-framed glasses. Diana was cool. Diana only spoke when she knew the answer or had a perfectly-framed question. I, on the other hand, was frequently stuttering out responses and trailing off with “I don’t know if that made sense” or similar apologies. Diana was as chilled as I was high-strung. Pretty soon, as the pecking order of my grad cohort was hammered out, Diana became the cool girl. Diana offered to edit other student’s papers. Diana had book recommendations and music recommendations and restaurant recommendations. Diana made sure to tell everyone that her grades in her undergraduate career had been amazing; she had even won a medal. Everyone seemed to really like Diana.
Of course, I was envious. I never offered to edit anyone else’s paper, because I didn’t think I had anything special to add. I didn’t give out book or restaurant recommendations. Instead, I listened to what other people had to say. When I would complain about how difficult living alone was, I would listen (begrudgingly) to the advice of people who had never lived alone. When I struggled with papers, I would listen to other people tell me what I should be doing even though we received comparable grades on earlier assignments. My behavior wasn’t leading to other people responding the way I wanted them to, and it was making me angry.
Now, as I’m nearly at the end of this program and looking forward to a 40-hour per week job that begins in August, I’m starting to realize that even though I struggled throughout this year and the two years prior, I’ve learned a lot about myself, and I’m working on becoming the kind of person I want to be. There will always be people like Diana. In high school, I had other Dianas. In my future career, I’m sure I’ll meet more Dianas. I may never be a Diana, and I may never even really want to be a Diana, deep down inside. What I can be is the person I want to be, though, and that person doesn’t have to listen to Diana or even like Diana all that much.