For one thing, there are too many variables. I sat down to make a résumé today and almost cried when I saw how many templates there were. What happened to standard format? Why do I have to know what kind of job I want? Why are you making me choose career paths? Just show me the damn template already!
Of course, this meltdown raises the question, if I don’t know enough about myself to choose a résumé template, then how am I supposed to find a job? buy a car? rent an apartment? build a professional wardrobe?
I keep reminding myself that these things take time.
When I was writing sym — my capstone for the English department — I did a lot of self-motivating. Friends and professors know that I kept a black spiral notebook labeled “Senior Symposium Notes,” but what they don’t know is that a good chunk of that notebook wasn’t dedicated to articles, annotations, or notes; it was full of pep talks.
“Do not worry,” I wrote on the inside cover. “You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write [one true sentence]. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
I have Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast to thank for that one, but there are plenty of other motivational speeches tucked between those pages that come from my own pen. For example, whenever I sat down to write, I had to start with pen and paper — by hand; otherwise I wouldn’t make it past the blinking cursor. Usually, I’d preface the handwritten portion with a word-count goal — one hundred, two hundred, five hundred words. Other times, I’d start off by writing down my content goals — “I’m seeking to show that Lucille Clifton should be included in the American canon because…,” “I need to make this point clearer and I plan to do it by…,” “This is what I need to get done…”
Sometimes, though, I’d let the pressure get to me and my brain would go into meltdown mode. I’d work myself into such a frenzy that I’d become convinced I’d never graduate college, that I would fail senior sym and wreck my GPA and that all my teachers would be disappointed in me, me. I’d had moments like these before, but they were never this bad. Never as complete and utter, never as impossible to handle as my meltdowns over sym.
So I wrote myself out of them. I picked up my pen and made myself verbalize my fears. “I don’t know if I can do this,” one entry reads. “It’s too hard. I get a rock in my stomach every time I think about it. What if I don’t get it done on time? What if I’m just mindlessly repeating myself and this paper I’ve poured half my year into turns out to be babbling nonsense? Does anyone even care? What am I really going to accomplish?” Other times I would refuse to acknowledge my doubts. I’d pick up the pen and force myself to write positive things — messages like, “you can do this,” “you will do this,” and “you are adequate to the task of this.” Sometimes I just made lists. Lists upon lists upon lists.
Whatever it was, putting the pen to the page helped me. It cleared my mind and calmed my head, told my heart to slow down, my stomach to unclench, my guts to unknot. It kept me from going crazy.
This tendency toward panic hasn’t ended with senior sym. All it takes is a morning wreck on Walnut Grove to make me wonder which one of my friends is dead, an imperfect sentence to assure me I’ll never amount to anything, or a headache to convince me I have cancer. What’s that saying — give her an inch and she’ll ask for a mile? Well, give me a late period and I’ll assume I’m the next Virgin Mary.
So you can see why the past few weeks have been rough.
But I keep telling myself, these things take time.
It was 9 pm on Monday, April 25th when I slammed my laptop shut and sprawled on my bed to cry. Sym was done, my short story turned in, and only one paper stood between me and finals. But it was due Tuesday night — tomorrow — and four of its nine pages weren’t written.
I can’t do this, I thought. I’m going to fail the class. My favorite professor, and I’m going to disappoint her because I couldn’t finish my last term paper.
I sat up. Wiped my tears. Rummaged for a pen and paper. “PEP-TALK TIME” I wrote in big, bold letters. “Step one: What do you have to get done?”
These past two weeks have been rough. I don’t know where I’m going or what I’m doing or even if I chose the right template for my résumé. But if senior sym, if term papers, if surviving college has taught me anything, it’s that you’ve got to approach these things slowly, steadily, and with buckets and buckets of grace.
One true blog post at a time.