Ambition

Last night was the first uncomfortably warm night of the year. We shut the cats out of the bedroom so we could open the window and let some air breeze in while we slept without cat heads banging against the blinds every 2 minutes as they craned through the slats to get a good view of our neighbors’ back yards.

Graduation fast approaching and none of my doctoral programs coming through with a research position for me (with Grad Cafe showing acceptances for other candidates at the one holdout), I’ve been scattered but optimistic. I guess you never know the full weight of a dream until you start to let it go and feel light and at peace and ready to live simply.

“Page, you’d better get ready,” Skyspook said. “I have a new order for you as soon as you graduate. An important one.”

“Oh?”

“You’re going to set your next goal.”

And the weight was back. I’d failed at this one, hadn’t I? All of my immediate plans had fallen through. My path as a researcher put on hold, despite my best efforts.

The hardest part to swallow is that I totally, utterly kicked ass — and things didn’t fall into place.

*

When I was in high school before, I was a solid student but not a perfect one. I had zero study skills and would often stay up all night talking to friends, playing music, or reading things unrelated to school (for example, I liked to teach myself grammar and vocabulary of foreign languages). On some occasions, I even drank screwdrivers with my friends before class and often went to sophomore English drunk.

However, despite this, because of my excellent memory (gift from my father) and good abstract reasoning skills, I managed a GPA of 93 and change (on a 100-point system). My graduating class was quite talented, however, (a lot of them were kids of professors who taught at the university in a neighboring town, though my own parents were a construction worker and a housewife) and this meant I graduated 23rd in a class of about 200.

I was a fountain of wasted opportunity, and virtually everyone in my life let me know it. I had so much potential but would do foolish things like not write the second paper for a class because my teacher wrote critical remarks on the first, and I didn’t want to deal with it.  Even when I landed a coveted spot in the University of North Texas’s jazz studies program along with a scholarship that would make it possible (2000 miles from where I grew up), I shot myself in the foot by turning it down so I could attend college 5 minutes away with my high school boyfriend, who broke up with me in July — just weeks before classes began.

My professional life has been a struggle (a few different careers, an associate’s degree for a trade that would within a few years be outsourced and radically deincentivized, etc), despite having plenty of ability and intelligence. I’ve blamed myself for this for years, blamed it on the fact that I couldn’t be arsed to do what I was supposed to do, that I willfully decided to color outside the lines to my own detriment.

When I returned to school 2 years ago to finish up my bachelor’s, I decided to give it my all. I worked extremely hard in my coursework, did research with faculty, applied for opportunities as I saw them, and yet, I feel like I’m not that far off the results I had when I half-assed things. I mean, yes, technically, I’m in much better shape. My grades are ridiculously good, I nailed the GRE, I’ve learned incredible amounts about myself and the material (most of my best learning was supplemental reading on my own even so, though this time I read stuff related to school – the effect was rather powerful) and the world, but I’ve been rejected constantly and have been extremely unlucky with regard to contests and the like (in fact, I did much better at those when I was a poor student, go figure).

It wasn’t at all what I expected. I’ve discovered it’s not straightforward. It’s a messy matrix of ability, luck, grit, and heartache.

*

“I’ll get a job,” I said.

“After that,” Skyspook said.

“That’s my goal,” I said. “To make money.”

“So you’re just going to make money for the rest of your life?”

“And maybe hang out,” I added blithely.

“Not good enough.”

“Well,” I said. “To be good, goals have to be achievable, right? And I’m not so sure anything is achievable anymore.” These past few years have flung my locus of control way out into outer space.

“That attitude will work against you,” he said.

He was right.

I went to the bathroom to get a drink of water, and by the time I returned to the bedroom, I had his answer.

“I’ll write,” I said. “I’ll write all the memoirs and publish them. Self-publish them if I have to.”

*

The trouble with ambition is that state of limbo where you aren’t happy with who you are or who you’ve been, but you haven’t made it to where you want to be.

 

 

 

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