Why I Gave Myself Permission Not to Compete

People say life is a game. But it’s never, ‘Life is a game, so have fun!’ or ‘Life is a game, so play fair!’ Instead it’s ‘Life is a game, so play to win!’ Win what, exactly? What is winning at life? And I don’t mean #winning. I’ve said before that I think I’m failing at adulthood.
failing adulthood

According to my [expensive] college degrees and my work ethic, I’m supposed to have a lucrative career by now. Because I’m 27, I’m supposed to be in a stable relationship headed towards marriage and kids. I’m supposed to be thinking about buying a house in a good school district. This is what I’ve been taught and what I’ve bought into. Nearly all the models I’ve had in my life pointed me in that direction. I’ve become obsessed with the things I’m not and the things I haven’t achieved by now. And countless blogs and online articles will show that I’m not the only one. Has any other generation been so obsessed with what we’re “supposed” to be doing? What we’re “supposed” to achieve?

Or maybe this isn’t a generational difference. Maybe this is the commonality across the generations; when we reach our twenties, we all face these crises – Incidentally, is this why so many people are on various anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications? Because all those “supposed to’s” can really add up. Being $90,000 in debt and feeling like my skills and education add up to not enough to score that dream job I’m supposed to have is crushing, frankly.

When I graduated from my MA program last summer, I felt really optimistic. I felt smart and strong and ready to get a job. In the last year, I’ve gotten soft and fat and spent a lot of time with my brain turned off. I can blame Netflix and post-graduate school burn out and job application fatigue all I like, but, in reality, I don’t know how to play this game. Especially when so much has showed me – and so many people have told me – ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know!’ As a recently graduated 20-something, turns out I know a lot of recently graduated 20-somethings. The world of networking makes me feel phony and insincere. Some people are designed for that. They’re predisposed to compete in life. I think they end up as economics majors and business majors, or they get their realtor’s license. I, on the other hand, chose the humanities, and nothing has made me feel less human than robotically sending out resumes and manufacturing cover letters. I have to stop buying into those ‘supposed to’s.’ I need to stop wanting what I feel I’ve been programmed to want, what too many have been programmed to want so that we have to compete rather than collaborate, and then feel like failures because we’re forced to boomerang back home.

A coworker told me I need to read the book The Defining Decade, that it really helps her when she’s feeling stuck. Our 20’s, apparently, is the defining decade. So, as with all of my ‘supposed to’s,’ the clock is ticking. The choices I’ve made and continue to make in my twenties will shape the rest of my life. I read the first few pages of the book and felt like I was going to have a panic attack because I’m not building enough professional capital. I’m too stubborn for self-help books or carpe diem advice or a life coach. But after years of schooling and feelings like I’m building up to something that never happens, just spinning my wheels in place, I do know I needed a change. I’m not saying I’m going to take up yoga or do on a 30-day juice cleanse or hike the Appalachian Trail. But I choose not to treat my life like a game.


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