From the Basement

June 9, 2010

On Personal Statements & Failure

Personal statements are currently competing with mushrooms for the coveted status of My Least Favorite Thing.

I’ve prayed some and whined much, which is not the solution to writing a personal statement. I’ve spent a decent amount of time planning and brainstorming, but mostly I’ve been anxious and freaked out.

This has me running scared for two reasons: one, the more days I spend whining about the personal statement, the less days my application is complete and the fewer jobs I’ll be considered for. Second, the anxiety has me worried that maybe I’m not supposed to be a teacher if I can’t even write a personal statement.

I know the second fear is bogus. It’s the same fear that freaked me out during grad school applications (which I probably shouldn’t think about seeing as how that didn’t work out). It’s the fear that comes when you’re trying to tackle a difficult problem. It’s not rational; it just is. It’s the fear that has to be surrendered and given over because otherwise it’ll cripple you.

This fear is not indicative of potential success (or failure). It’s a fear that aims to keep you in your comfort zone, that says not to take the risk, that says you’re not qualified. It’s the fear of not being good enough.

Fear has no say in the final outcome, unless you’re so afraid that you do nothing and then of course you’re bound to not get whatever it is you wanted. I’ve come to the realization over this last year that I could have the perfect application and still not get hired/accepted if it wasn’t The Right Thing. I say this because I had a lot of really good applications, applications that employers, professors, and family members alike believed would guarantee me something. But none of them got me anything, save the learning that comes from failure.

In her commencement speech at Harvard, J.K. Rowling said that failure meant a stripping away of the inessentials. I like that. And at some point in the Mighty Ducks trilogy, the coach says he’d rather have lost, because you learn more from losing than you do from winning. Failure forces you to go back to square one and reevaluate.

As an uncle said during my graduation weekend, my lack of success means that I’ve been learning a lot about what God doesn’t want me to do (at least right now).

So back to this personal statement. All I can do is write in good faith, the faith that comes with knowing that somehow or another, this is just one more step in the crazy post-graduation employment frenzy. And it’s a step towards something. Whether it’s toward a job or more time with Mom and Dad, no one can say. But I won’t find out what that next step is until I finish this application. Which means finishing the personal statement. Which, when you think about it, really isn’t that scary after all.

It’s just a bit of parchment.

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May 11, 2010

Trusting Your Gifts

Talents. Abilities. Instincts. Smarts. Whatever you call them, most everyone has some special talent (my favorite word for it). Whatever your gifting is, my question for you today is: are you walking in it? Are you doing it? Are you practicing? Are you finding a way to incorporate it into your daily life?

I believe that our gifts are given to us for a reason, but too many of us live in fear of them. Perhaps it’s a fear of failure, but perhaps it’s a fear of what will happen when you start walking in the gifting you’ve been given. Maybe you’re just afraid to hope that what you love to do is something that you could walk in every day or even – woah – get paid to do.

I’ve been talking to a lot of people about jobs lately. The job hunt, the job market. Y’know – things that are pretty rough right now. Almost everyone I’ve talked to has at some point asked about the fallback, the safety job, survival. When I lead the conversation with the subject of My Writing, the person almost immediately clams up. Or they say “That’s nice. And if that doesn’t work out…?”

All this has me thinking that our culture doesn’t have its priorities straight. We value what pays rather than what edifies and, to be sure, things that are personally edifying won’t necessarily pay the bills. But I can’t help but think that our hope is drowning in our pragmatism. There’s this pervading, latent theme in conversation: it’s not that what we love can’t pay, just that it won’t pay. Too many people seem determined to pass that belief on to others. Don’t even think about pursuing something you love; it won’t pay and you’ll end up disappointed and embarassed, and then where will you be?

I am so sick of hearing that.

We learn early on to disregard our deepest desires, our giftings, our talents. When we’re little, it’s “what I want to do when I grow up!” Have you ever noticed how little kids always have an answer to that question, regardless of their level of talent/ability/opportunity in their chosen career field? But later on in life, we call the things we enjoy “hobbies.” We say “it’s called work for a reason.” And after college, we learn to look for what will pay rather than what we want. What we want might well pay – it’ll just take work and perhaps a thickness of skin that is too much to bear. (Or so we think.) And then we get lazy. We settle into that job or career or industry that wasn’t for us and still isn’t for us, but that pays the bills.

I am determined to not live in fear of my dreams. I am determined to not get lazy. But more than anything, I am determined in my belief that I was given my giftings for a reason … and why would I be given them if I wasn’t supposed to use them?

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