“So, any luck in the job department?” or how failure is making me see what matters most.

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Under the Golden Gate, March 2013

This month isn’t turning out quite how I hoped. When does it ever?

I planned on a 3-week online course on women’s fiction, but unfortunately this was cancelled the day it was meant to begin (the day after I booked it), so I had to re-think my use of this month’s writing time.

This weekend I’m attending the Psychologies Writing Weekend put on by Writers & Artists at Bloomsbury in London. I’m really excited as it’s my first foray into writers’ conferences (though I do wish I had a buddy going with me!). I’m looking forward to meeting other writers and getting a chance to do some workshops. I’m also attending a live webinar with literary agent Kate McKean entitled “How to Submit Your Book To Agents.” It’s on May 2nd if you want to join me! 

All that to say, most of my time has been devoted to writing. I can’t lie. I graduated in June 2010, and I’ve been endlessly applying for jobs, interviewing, and trying to network since then. A few contracts here, an internship there, but it is has been, without a doubt, the biggest anticlimax of my life.

Why? Well, when you return to university as a mature student — in a foreign country, to boot — you’ve by that time built pretty high expectations and demands of yourself. You’ve missed chances and been unable to focus on one thing in the past, so when this amazing opportunity comes around to make something of yourself, you want perfection. I’ve said it before on here. I worked my butt off to do the best I could on that degree, and some might’ve suggested I put too much pressure on myself, for things that, in the grand scheme of things, haven’t mattered so much. But I did it to prove to myself I could, and whether you scoff at a Film BA or not, getting that 1st is the thing I’m most proud of.

I didn’t expect to meet my future husband before my course even began, let alone that he would be someone who already had his act together (certainly not been my previous experience!). My plan of moving to London and living in a cardboard box until I got a proper job in film died an early death, for a variety of reasons, mostly practical.

If only my path were this clear.
If only my path were this clear.

I’ve had interviews at some fantastic companies and organisations, and been told countless times, “You were this close!” and “It was between you and one other person.” The number of times the door has been shut, slammed, or locked right in my face is just unbelievable, especially for someone who never interviewed for a job she wasn’t offered in the past. All this time I thought a degree would be the key, along with the work I put into it and work experience, etc.

Nope. God has had other plans. I can’t say I understand them, but life throws you surprises and you have to accept them, no matter how unbelievable. And when I say I’ve been applying everywhere, I mean everywhere. Jobs I’m totally overqualified for that I’ve dumbed down my CV for, jobs that I’m underqualified for that I’ve aimed for anyhow, jobs I’m perfect for either in an industry I care about or not, and still, every door has been closed.

Do I know why? Nope. My name? My nationality? My age? The economy? All these things? Or just that God has another plan?

I read a devotional email today that said in all our struggles and fears, it’s vital we yield to God. When I’m weak, He is strong. I’ve prayed many times, Your will be done. Whatever it is You want me to do, and to want, I want it. Show me how.

But I’ll pray it again today, and every day. I want to do what God wants me to do, just so I’m finally at that place in my life where I’m confident in my path. I felt confident at uni, but that had a countdown that expired on the day I graduated. It was a shadow of the real thing.

Writing has been the one thing that’s been consistent in my life since I was young. I’ve always had stories flowing out of my head onto the screen, and the more I learn about writing and publishing, the more I write and read and talk with others about it, the more I feel confident that if nothing else in all this struggle, God’s given me this passion, bigger than any other one. I can’t ignore that, and if people look at me and say, “Why doesn’t she have a job yet? What’s wrong with her? Is she just irresponsible and lazy? She must not really want it, I have to remind myself that their opinions and judgements aren’t relevant. I have to stop worrying about that.

My closest friends know how hard and frustrating this time has been, but they also encourage me to use the time not spent applying for jobs on writing. To those friends, thank you for believing in me, and not making me worry you think I’m lazy, or ridiculous, or irresponsible.

Words cannot express how exasperating, how humiliating, and how confidence-destroying these last few years have been. But if they’ve taught me anything — once I look past the self-doubt — it’s that the thing we have passion for, the thing we don’t feel we’re wasting time doing, whether it pays into a pension or not, it nurtures the spirit to do it. So I will keep writing, learning, networking and reading because it’s the one arena in which I feel I truly belong.

This is a mighty long post, and if you’ve gotten this far, thanks for hanging in. It felt like time for reflection again on what’s been going on. I leave you with some snippets from JK Rowling’s Harvard Speech, which is one of the best things I’ve ever read:

Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it.So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears that my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

Lacock Abbey, filming location for Harry Potter, June 2006

Why yes, I am wearing an I Love Sirius Black t-shirt.

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13 thoughts on ““So, any luck in the job department?” or how failure is making me see what matters most.

  1. It’s all such a matter of perseverance, and for what it’s worth I believe I read the excerpt of somebody that I used to know. I didn’t realize it was yours because I avoided entries of people I knew… But if its the one by that title that I read… I loved it. Stuck with me.

    The writing world is so subjective, and trust me the doubt and the heartache and the constant battle do not end when you find an agent. I think they get worse.

    Have fun at the conference. I’m so glad you know what you love. I love that J.K. speech. That’s great inspiration. Stick to it.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, KT, and thank you for stopping by! I’ve no doubt the struggles continue… I guess I just can’t imagine wanting to struggle at something else more, if that makes sense 🙂

  2. Loved your post, girl, and I’m sooo excited about whatever the future holds for you with writing. Know this: I’ll be the first person (or one of them, anyway) to buy your novel. Hang in there, and never EVER give up, or I’ll have to give you a piece of my mind. Ha ha. 🙂

  3. Great post, Chy! Those who matter know how hard you work. Everyone else can get bent.

    JK’s speech is amazing! I love the bit about “rock bottom” becoming her foundation. When I walked away from my day job and opened myself up to help from the Universe, all the help I needed came rushing in. You have an open heart, Chy, and all you need you probably already have. 🙂

    Meg

  4. I have followed your blog avidly for a while now. If it’s any consolation, my life has been similar. I graduated in 2009 with a first as a mature student. I met my now husband soon after applying to uni and while studying got married. I was sure that if I only worked hard enough to achieve the best degree possible that the looming abyss of what happens next would sort itself out. Upon graduating I had an internship which ended by being quite demoralising. I too have an idea for a book, several really but have only been working on the one. Progress is so slow. I have since had a baby and this has slowed my work down further. Your posts inspire me not to give up. You work so hard and it reminds me to knuckle down when I could blow it all off and let the mundane day to day take over.

    1. Hi Stephanie! Thank you so much for taking time to leave a comment! It’s very comforting to talk to other people who’ve had similar experiences, and similar frustrations–not that I would wish them on anyone. I’m SO glad you stopped by, because it gives me inspiration to keep going as well. I read a lot of encouraging posts online, like through the hashtag #writemotivation on Twitter, but also just networking with other writers who are at various stages of their dream. At first I felt like I wasn’t far enough along to join in and chat with people who seemed well on their way, but never once have they suggested I’m not trying hard enough (at either writing or job-hunting), or been anything but encouraging.

      You and I graduated at about the worst time for finding our feet, and it’s only gotten harder. I keep looking, keep applying, but I want to make sure no matter what, this time still counts for something in the end. Do you have a blog? Let me know if you do! Keep in touch on Twitter, and thanks again for sharing your thoughts and experiences! 🙂 -Chy

  5. Let’s see. I graduated college in *hmmmph*. I think I got my first “job” after graduation in *muffle muffle*. That makes it 8 years. Yup, that’s about right. Eight years after graduating College with a degree in ENGLISH, I get a “job” in COMPUTERS! And now, *gurblegarbleglop* years later, I’m STUCK in computers. But back then, my life changed. I got married, and going in the Air Force was kind of put on hold since the husband was in the Army, and two military (especially different branches) was very hard. So, I settled with computers. It pays the bills, now. But, it’s not what I want to do. I can’t quit though. And you, well, you hang in there. Because of today’s economic situation, I think it gives recent graduates a chance to reflect on what they truly want to do. That way they don’t have to settle. (At least, this is the positive side I’m trying to spin). Your writing is awesome girl, and I love having gotten to know you! I hope to carry on our friendship and mutual encouragements. It’s a good way to get through all this negativity in our lives, right?

    Jai

    1. So I guess what you’re trying to say is the road isn’t smooth or straightforward for anyone 🙂 Definitely – you are one of those people I was referring to, always encouraging, always ready to point out the positives, despite how easy it can be to see negatives. If anything, these last 3 years have shown me how foolish it was to assume things would sail effortlessly because I had a piece of paper that “proved” what a hard worker and intelligent person I am. Bahahah! Jokes on me 😉

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