It turns out my skill issue isn’t one of competency; it’s one of imagination. I am actually good at doing things. I am merely bad at asserting that I can do more things.
Part of this is a personal branding failure. When you are young and a girl and have a so-so resume and medium IQ, you get points for being helpful and wide-eyed and eager to learn, or chill and low-maintenance and fun. You get fewer points for declaring that you are decidedly, frighteningly competent, or sprinkling grandiose into your self-introduction, or -- gasp -- maintaining that you are smart and worthy to a public audience. It follows that I am well-practiced in traits of the former sphere (non-assuming; bashful; “easy to work with”), and less acquainted with those of the latter (intellectually self-confident; brave in conquest; outwardly covetous).
Residing in the first category is how I learned that I am good at things. I want to be of service, and people want to be served, and that is a sturdy foundation for many relationships. But in addition to being good at getting things done, I would like to be good at choosing the things that are to be done. I am increasingly put off by the idea of letting doubt-fueled or “gosh, I’m lucky to even be here” passivity steer me toward a default state, or accepting objectives assigned by whichever elevated slant of the corporate machine I have decided to tolerate for the time being. I am more interested in boldly identifying what I actually want -- really truly want, want bad enough that it grates to admit -- then proclaiming it, then allowing honesty to force an honest pursuit.
If you’ve taken a Sociology 101 course, you’re already aware that meritocracy (a system in which people are chosen and moved into positions of success and power on the basis of their accomplishments and not, like, daddy’s money) is a myth. That is, we do not currently live in a society that rewards merit exclusively – or even primarily – and there are many conflating factors like class, gender, race, etc. that muck up the general premise.
Along the same lines, karmic meritocracy, a phrase of my own creation, is a similarly incorrect interpretation of how the world operates. It applies the above to the concept of character and the popular misconception that good things happen to people who deserve them, and conversely, bad things to those who deserve them too.
I think that belief is false.
Of all the very sad things in our very sad world, the one that never fails to get me is imagining a child sitting alone at a folding table, conical party hat slightly askew, gazing out uncomprehendingly at an expanse of untouched place settings and waiting for birthday party guests who will never show up. I envision the parents white-knuckled, pitying, awash with shame and heartache and anger, willing their emotions into place in order to put on a brave face for their child -- their sweet, strange child who is still far too young to be burdened with the punishments of poor socialization.
I am moved by situations where the distance between devastating and salvageable is a little bit of well-placed effort from the right person. And I’ve been thinking about places where I can be that person.
On his track “Fast” from the album Death Race for Love, the late, Chicago-born emo-rap artist Juice WRLD delivers the following lyric: “I’ve been living fast, fast, fast, fast.” Like Juice, I, too, have been living fast (fast, fast, fast).
Over the past month or so, I have enjoyed a gratuitous amount of leisure activity. I’ve crested volcanoes, imbibed fancy beverages in fancy places, and participated in healthy levels of tomfoolery, much of which would make for excellent content fodder but cannot be shared online until I reach a protective level of wealth or status.
I’ve been thoroughly doused by a free-flowing spigot of experience, and the privilege of that is not lost on me. That’s why I’m disappointed to admit that I’ve neglected to truly process (and thus, truly appreciate) the vast majority of it.
I have a vague recollection of descending into crying fits throughout the second grade -- sudden, silent, solemn tears borne from inexplicable emotion. I wasn’t crying to solicit care or attention. I was crying just to cry. My teacher, the kind woman that she was, attempted to locate the source of my despair by asking probing questions about my home life, but there was nothing wrong. I was just sad.
Though my preferred experience of life is when it washes over me like a fine mist, life unfortunately cares very little about my preferences. Recently, it has been settling on my tongue like the aftertaste of an ill-timed nap, or the enduring alliaceousness of a particularly garlicky curry.
Put simply, I am having what is colloquially known as “a hard time”.