I have recently faced my demon (one of my demons?) that is a) my fear of failure, which is actually related to b) my fear of being rejected for the imagined expectations by the socioeconomic class of my upbringing. Yes: I am afraid of failure to meet non-existent expectations. Let me tell you, it makes that dark head space really entertaining.
For those who don’t know, the socioeconomic class in question is the socioeconomic class of doctors and lawyers and Wall Street investment bankers. Functionally, this meant I grew up with the innate social pre-emption that service = lower class = bad. So when I found myself in the service industry—which was fine as a high schooler, less fine but acceptable (and attributable to “taking time”) just after college, and now, at 25, causes me to hedge answers to “what do you do?” by leading with my occasional freelance work, only at the end adding the fact that, 30-40 hours a week, I sling joe. That’s right, nay-sayers. Career barista, right here. And, in case you weren’t clear, I dig it.
Soak THAT one in.
According to some people (like parents, who I am disinclined to believe because it is in their DNA to make me feel better no matter what), these expectations are imagined. But they’re not. They’re not necessarily expressed, certainly not in my household, but they are by my peers to each other, to my peers by their parents and mentors, and by society/”The Media” in every pop culture depiction of twenty-somethings. We are almost always depicted as being gainfully (read: non-service-industry) employed, and if not, in hot pursuit of that happiest of endings.
The fact that these expectations (which I may or may not imagine) make me feel terrible about myself on a daily basis is why this article, forwarded to me by my mother with pure intentions, made me so gosh darned angry.
Read it, and come back.
This girl makes me angry because THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH WHAT I DO. She is modest to the point of self-righteousness, normalizes the misguided expectation that all young people have defined career goals and passions (and, beyond that, know what those are), and is sickeningly optimistic. It’s a guilt trip on everyone who hasn’t done, or “achieved,” what she has. Harsh, perhaps. But really: “My heart has always been in Africa” just screams white guilt to me. Perhaps my daily discussions have just been so racially motivated that that’s all I can see, which might be unfair. Good for her, you know, good for her for knowing she wasn’t doing what she wanted to do, but I have a hard time understanding people like her.
Let me put it this way: I am not sure I trust anyone who, at 22, claims to know what they want to do for the rest of their life, or can claim with sincerity where their heart lies. Or perhaps it is closer to personal offense: that she, of my generation, has chosen to incidentally judge my choices and reinforce my own insecurities: I’m just not good enough.