Friday, January 8, 2010

On Settling

The New Year prompts us to take stock, however arbitrarily. Sometimes, but not more than I can help it, I think about my career. When I was little I assumed, against all evidence, that one day I would be beautiful, just as my mother and grandmother were. Never mind that I didn't have my grandmother's symmetry of feature or the elegant, modern lines that nabbed my mother a series of high-profile 70s boyfriends. I just assumed it would happen, like it was my due. I might be ugly, I would think as a teenager, but by golly, one day I'll be a beauty. And then one day I realized that I would never be beautiful, and that I was in fact on the plain side of average. The acceptance of this fact was somehow liberating, and I've long since come to a similar realization about my professional life.

When you're young and precocious and doted upon, you assume the world will inevitably understand this, too, and you'll play some major role in the proceedings. But then adulthood strikes and, quite apart from any question of talent, one needs to be realistic about one's capabilities. I can turn a phrase and write quickly, but I've come to understand, probably since college, that I won't ever be really successful in the professional sense: I am not good enough, for starters, but I also don't have the drive to overcome that. And, worst, I'm content to be that way. I realized as soon as I took my current job that, while I could do a workmanlike job, I'd never really distinguish myself: I was too soft, and too mindful of my own psychological self-preservation to really commit to it or become a strong voice, and that was a compromise I was willing to make. I'm not really proud of it, but there you are.

I think having such trouble with depression through my 20s has changed me a lot, of course it has. I'm probably less fun, I'm certainly less funny. I could have been a better blogger, for sure, had I not collapsed in on myself in the way I did, and not incidentally opted out of professional life for a few crucial years. I mean, I used to have big ideas! I had dreams, so silly as to be kept closely-guarded: I wanted to be the "Lucky Girl" one month, and I wanted, one day, to tell a story on "This American Life."

Maybe I can, some time, do something I am proud of. If I could write one line as funny as Barbara Pym's, I'd be happy. And I'd be unsatisfied if I were not working, and working hard. But I think the real happiness in my life is probably destined to come from other things, and there's nothing wrong with that. I'd hate for my father to read this; he comes from the school of Wasted Potential Is The Greatest Tragedy. But what's "wasted," anyway? Is this all very dreary? I know it's solipsistic. I'm sorry about that, but it's something I've been wanting to get down for a little while now. And I'm happy as I do so, too.

45 comments:

ptb said...

so emotional i love my glock

lovely writing. so, in attempting to wax anti-aspirational, you have proven that you're actually mildly exceptional. i raise a flute of diet coke to the concepts herein inscribed, if not in agreement then in recognition.

Sadie Stein Blog said...

Thanks, P! Coming from you, I'll take it - I think you know what I was trying to get at.

K. No said...

I don't think what you're describing here is "settling." Most people don't live up to their full potential, but this doesn't mean we can't be happy or successful where we are.

Jess said...

I am starting to age out of being precocious and doted upon, about to turn 24, and I definitely emphasize with your post! I think about my career too, which has since college proven to be extremely random with little upward mobility, and since college has involved less and less writing. When I graduated, I filled out all the "writer" applications first, with zero results. Much of my own scribbling (in journals and a since-retired blog) have been about how I can become a better, more inspired, more widely read writer, and they were all apparently in vain. Anyway, you are the only jez writer that I follow outside my work-procrastinating websurfing, so that has to count for something, right?

Thanks for writing this, just because I admire you and it makes me feel like I'm not the only one that has this feeling.

charlie said...

i've always been the pretty one.

Nicole said...

I always like your posts the best. As someone trying to figure out my dreams myself, I admire you.

amelia said...

Sadie, I don't know you, but I think you are adorable and successful. Besides, people who peak in their twenties are boring. I'm all about rising to glory in middle age.

Sadie Stein Blog said...

K: maybe you're right, and "coming to terms" would be more accurate?

Jess: Yeah, my feeling is that it's not the end of the world, right? For a generation that was sort of told it was due everything...

Nicole and Amelia: Thanks!

Charlie: '84-'86 were all me.

Sadie Stein Blog said...

K: maybe you're right, and "coming to terms" would be more accurate?

Jess: Yeah, my feeling is that it's not the end of the world, right? For a generation that was sort of told it was due everything...

Nicole and Amelia: Thanks!

Charlie: '84-'86 were all me.

Katherine said...

Sadie, I agree that there's a vaguely unsettling feeling about being OK with just living your life as it unfolds, especially when you have grown up surrounded by overachievers, or were one yourself. Depression dampens ambition, confidence, etc. But it doesn't seem to have dampened your delightful and sharp writing voice - I love reading your blog!

During bouts of dissatisfaction with my job and my lack of motivation, I remind myself that life is not defined by work or ambition, at least not in the sense that modern society has foisted upon us. What we do in our free time should be weighed as heavily as what we do in our "work" time, if not more so. It's when you fail to do the things you want that are within your reach, like cooking a lovely meal, that you have to start worrying about wasted potential.

Jess said...

The wonderful thing about potential is that you can only have it as long as you never do anything with it.
That said, being a competent human being is highly underrated; wild professional success means jackshit when you aren't self-aware and functional.

Maintain that lovely potential and relish in your normality; not everyone can turn a phrase like you can.

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mollycakes said...

You are lovely and have a unique voice. I found your blog because I always enjoy your posts on jezebel. I think that there is a sense a lot of have that a certain kind of confidence and ambition are the most exciting and effective ways to get ahead. but the details, the small moments, the hesitations and uncertainties, are so much of what make life beautiful.

Bonnie said...

Sadie, I read this post when it went up and it's been on my mind ever since. There seems to be a weird expectation around for just the past couple decades or so, that everyone should be a beauty and a star. I think I've written about this before (of just thought about it?)

Of course I feel a strong urge to assure you that you are obviously both, but I feel an overall urge to correct the weird misconception everyone seems to have, that everyone should be those things.

I recently scolded a friend for often commenting "I'm no supermodel." I left it at: "That's just a job for 6 foot tall, Brazilian 14 year olds," but I often reassure her of her many charms.

This time though, I thought of pointing her to your post. Instead of berating oneself for not being a creature with fame-worthy beauty, or convincing oneself (through mantras, etc.) that one does indeed find oneself beautiful, I think "I'm not a beauty," could be rather freeing. As in, so what?

Jeez, I go on and on.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Fatima said...

Hi Sadie, this is Fatima from literaryfoodporn. This post struck a chord with me - I am going through exactly the same thing, only in academia. But, for what it's worth, you're my favourite blogger, and I think you're far, far better than your doubts would suggest. I don't know what your goals are in terms of writing, but I'd be very surprised if you couldn't achieve them.

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Anonymous said...

Sadie, oh Sadie. Just read your blog in one daylong marathon, abandoning it only to do a little of my own freelance writing and ferry my daughters to school. Feel qualified to say you are an Amazing Girl in the non-ethereal, hug-averse sense (original, giddily barbed, enthralling and with smarts to burn). Whenever I thought I'd gotten a handle on you, you pulled out the rug again. Kewpies AND Barbara Pym? Pudding AND the Magnificent Ambersons? Beat This AND the Roald Dahl Cookbook?

Couldn't quite tell if your aspirations run to the literary, but I hope so. I know you have an unforgettable novel or memoir in you, brain fever or no brain fever. Settling has its own allure, of course, but your post doesn't sound like that's what you truly want. So take heart. You've got many acts to go; I can tell.

A wellwisher

PS With your love of creepy atmospherics, have you read Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle? If not, you really should.

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