I can't imagine this is actually a unique experience, but I suffer from self doubt. Maybe it's the constant presence of happy selfies and hashtags, but it seems like self doubt isn't allowed anymore, making it all the more shameful that I experience it. Don't get me wrong, I feel pretty comfortable about many things. I think I've earned my stripes, etc. But when it comes to my "career" (Sylvia Plath loathed the term, and it's never been my favorite,) I think I've undercut my own ambition, maybe without even knowing it. There have been moments when I look around and see what everyone else is accomplishing and think, "why haven't things happened for me?"
Or maybe it's more, "why haven't things happened to me?" Have I been waiting for my professional life to be presented to me on a doily-lined silver platter? Is this what entitlement feels like? Shame. Shame. Shame. Bring in the scary woman and her bell!
Since graduating from the University of Washington's schools of drama and dance in what was the worst economic crisis since The Great Depression, I've had a lot of jobs. Sales and service. Service and sales. My mindset has been less focused on "career," and more focused on surviving. I truly felt like a traumatized animal entering the world with an arts degree when no one wanted to hire anyone, especially when you specialize in playing pretend. I hadn't much considered "career" outside of my interest in performing and finding ways to continue performing and continue eating. What else had I set out to do? I was in total survival mode. The same feeling came after graduating from the University of South Carolina, now toting an MFA in acting. This time, however, I felt more acutely aware of who I was and what I could offer the world making the impetus to see things happen even more strained. And yet, there seemed no easy way of bringing this to fruition.
Sales and service. Service and sales.
And then, like a swift tide, an empire fell...right into my lap. The fall of Carthage.
My friend and cohort Don Russell was working at Carthage College in the lakeside town Kenosha in Wisconsin teaching theater courses as well as a required freshmen writing intensive course called Western Heritage. He had been threatening to get me to teach at Carthage for about a year before he made it official and when I finally got the job, I was elated. Finally, I was applying my terminal degree and getting paid to do it! Sure, it was an adjunct position and really not enough money to live on, but still! I was going to be respected. I was going to work in a field that was much better suited to my personality (I am very very not good at service. Or sales.) And I was going to finally get past my deep seeded self doubt and build for myself something of a "career" in academia, a noble profession, working at an institution named after a legendary empire...that fell.
One important detail to remember is the course I was hired for, Western Heritage, was in fact not a theatre course. It did not involve movement, dance, or acting. It did involve the ancient texts of the western canon; Homer, Plato, and Aristotle to start. More importantly, it involved me knowing these texts within a month. And, it turns out, there is a difference between knowing something and knowing something well enough to teach it to 18 year-olds who can smell your fear and feed off of it with snark and sass until you want to cry silently behind the lectern if only they would leave if only the would JUST FUCKING LEAVE.
I love my students. Let's get that straight. But they do smell my fear, and even though I am now in the second year, coming up to the fourth semester of teaching these wonderful yayhoos, it turns out the self doubt does not go away. This is true, even after "arriving" in the place you always thought you should be. Now I am also teaching in the theatre department, so there you go.
I can't speak for Sylvia Plath, (more on her in another post,) but I wonder if she loathed the word "career" for the same reasons I think I do. I have always feared a prescription for a life. To me, the idea of setting up a plan for your whole existence is more terrifying a notion than almost anything. It seems as if, by deciding on a career path, one is resigning to walk in that one, unchanging direction. That one makes a choice in the early days of adulthood, when we are most unsure and unknowing of ourselves, and then sets off resolved to complete said journey, despite whatever changes in weather arrive. I don't want to know. I don't want to pretend to know what my life wants to be. I don't believe I really do get to decide that, to choose that. Is this passive? Weak? Indecisive? Maybe I do believe that my life, professional or otherwise, will be presented to me. And that it will change. And change again. And along the journey, there will be an endless variety of opportunities that will be offered.
It's ironic that Sylvia Plath had this same aversion to "career" as I do. It was that very "endless variety of opportunities," of not choosing a path, that stifled and gnawed at her throughout her all too short life. She was like her own little empire.