A short essay on worth

I was speaking with someone today about the purpose of college. We talked about selecting a major only to change our minds halfway through our sophomore year and the hassle of transferring credits. We talked about campus culture and campus groups and making lasting friendships. We wondered aloud if classes outside our major were a money making scam. We talked about a lot of the different factors that make up these little ecosystems and we landed on one idea:

College’s primary function is as a stepping stone in finding a job.

The idea is to build skills that make us better candidates to qualify for a purposeful job that affords us financial security and stability.

When I was a senior in high school, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to go to college. The idea of helping starving people in Africa sounded more impactful to me. Maybe I told people I wanted to help the poor out of some misguided sense of importance or a hero complex. I’m sure that was in there somewhere, but more than that, I wanted to “make a difference.”. I wanted my life to matter in the grand scheme of things and my vision was fogged to how the world actually worked, so I still felt like I could shake things up (a bit of sarcasm there).

I decided not to sell all my personal belongings and move continents and instead attended university, like so many of my peers. Classes came easy to me and the subject didn’t seem to matter. Geology, world literature, art history, creative writing, all were met with top grades on my part. I truly enjoyed learning and working hard to master the subject at hand.

Four years passed. High honors were earned. My degree showed up in the mail and that chapter of my life ended. So began the journey of diving off the high dive into the “real world.”

At this very same time, I moved back to connecticut (leaving my solid community in Ohio), my parents divorced, and I experienced my first true manic episode and subsequent hospitalization. Because of the episode, I was forced to leave a job that I had just started (and really enjoyed) teaching P.E. at a private school and tutoring high school students in english.

Seven years have passed since I graduated college at BGSU and to spare a lengthy description of all the downfalls, I’ll just say it like this:

I have never experienced success in work.

There have been jobs that didn’t challenge me at all. Jobs that could have been done by robots. Jobs that I didn’t understand. Jobs I wasn’t passionate about and jobs I’ve had to leave because of mental health woes.

It gives me great insecurity to watch my peers secure work with relative ease, leaving me behind in the proverbial dust. There are countless ways that I feel behind; relationally, financially, in job stability and so on.

During a conversation I had with my father, I broke down, thinking of all these failures: am I ever going to amount to anything?

This is a question we all encounter and there are many like it. Do I have what it takes? Do people respect me? Do I matter?

When I look from 10,000 feet up, I can see that we all matter equally; each affecting the next and accumulating great spheres of influence in a butterfly affect sort of way. But much of the time, I’m not accompanied by that sort of perspective, and instead focus on what is five feet in front of me and right now, I don’t like that five feet so much.

I feel very sleepy a lot of the time because of the medicine I take. Depression is something that comes to me often and suicidal thoughts come more than I would care to admit. (It is rather odd when a psychiatrist asks you if you think about harming yourself and you have to come up with a manner of speaking your truth that doesn’t involuntarily land you back in the hospital.)

What I am saying is, there are a lot of factors that have worked against me finding stable employment and I wish I could end this short essay with something that turns the negativity on its head. Something that you could put on a bumper sticker or a cleverly edited social media photo with lense flares and handwritten script. The point of this thought is that: sometimes your truth is enough with no spin; not every sentiment needs to be wrapped in a little bow. Not every story has a silver lining.

I ask myself, ‘will I ever amount to anything’ many times a day. From my perspective right now, I’m still not sure. Perhaps you can relate.

Checklist by Stephen Dunn

The housework, the factory work, the work
that takes from the body
and does not put back.
The white-collar work and the dirt
of its profits, the terrible politeness
of the office worker, the work that robs
the viscera to pay the cool
surfaces of the brain. All the work
that makes love difficult, brings on
sleep, drops the body off
at the liquor cabinet. All the work
that reaches the intestines and sprawls.
And the compulsive work after the work
is done, those unfillable spaces
of the Calvinist, or certain marriage beds.