Every year I make a photo album to reflect what the year was about–what we did, who we spent time with, what our life looked like. Without fail, it never comes close to reflecting what the year actually looked like. Instead, it has the trip photos, rare gatherings with out-of-town guests and maybe a snapshot of an activity we did.
Right now I feel like I’m in a make or break moment. But am I really? Is this a big moment or is this just like all of the other little ones?
So much of life isn’t lived in the big moments. Those may be the times that you caught a photo or you are acknowledged for it, but it isn’t what got you to where you are today. It’s the little every day, seemingly no-big-deal decisions that propel you forward in the direction you’re going.
What I wore in my 5th grade class photo or what major I chose in college doesn’t define me now. Not even moving across the country or my wedding day, those monumental, meaningful days, truly define right now. They have an impact, absolutely. But it wasn’t my wedding day that made me a good wife. It’s not my location that makes me a part of a community. It’s not having a major in journalism that makes me a writer. (And thankfully my sense of style was not solidified in elementary school.)
It’s waking up every morning saying, I love you and making a daily commitment to my marriage. It’s being a friend and a presence with the people around me that makes me a part of this community. It’s sitting down and writing several times a week that makes me a writer.
It’s how you spend your days–those long days of effort and dedication in the little moments. The hourly, daily, weekly decisions may seem insignificant, but that’s what most shapes your life over time.
It’s my birthday, and I have mixed feelings about it. This cake is even confused and makes you do math: 25 + 1.
Last year, I wrote all about the milestone birthday that was 25. I listed all my contradictions and everything I knew to be true in that moment. I felt like a mess at the time but looking back at that post again, it is beautifully written and full of hope.
This past year has been so incredibly full. It was full of incredible high points and deep lows. In so many ways, last year was everything I could have dreamed of…just no where near the way I saw it happening. For starters, it was really hard. I cried a lot, felt ripped apart the majority of the time and was stripped of my confidence over and over again. I felt like I had something to prove–that one day I might be able to present all my accomplishments to the world and therefore justify the struggle.
To the outside world, I look like I am in the same exact place that I was a year ago. I have nothing to show you, no ribbons or trophies to wave in your face. I did not grow an inch, nor did I graduate to the next grade or life stage. I am still here, floundering about in my twenties.
But if that is all you can see in someone, then you aren’t getting it. Further, if that’s all I can see, then maybe I really need to reevaluate, too.
There was a lot of life lived in the last year (and in the years prior). I loved with all my heart, pursued my dreams and left my comfort zone. I asked hard questions and stuck up for myself when appropriate. You could even say that I failed, but I did so while fully persevering–committed to learning and growing in the process. I opened my home to strangers and sought community with those around me. I let go of the pursuit of perfection but instead embraced my strengths and weaknesses.
Through all that, I still thought by now that I’d have something tangible to show you. Then I could say, “Look, I did all this. I’ve finally made it. I know what I’m doing now.”But the biggest and best parts of life are lived in intangibles.It’s your integrity and character, your hope and faith, relationships and love that are your biggest achievements.
I can’t give you many metrics or tout any awards, but I know with certainty that all of those areas in my life have been developed and strengthened in this past year. For that, I could not be more thankful or feel more accomplished.
Do you know just how far a bit of encouragement can go?
I’ve been heavily surrounded by artists, musicians, designers and writers for the better part of the last decade. So many of them are constantly going up against the grind as they better their craft and pursue their passions. Some try to make it pay the bills while others dedicate countless hours burning the midnight oil. Success in a world like this is fleeting and even sometimes impossible to fulfill. So few get their names in lights, but so many pour their hearts out.
Over time, sadly, many give up. They don’t realize the impact. It’s not just about making money in this sort of community, it’s about making something that matters.
But how will they know it matters unless we tell them?
Seriously. If you know someone who makes or does amazing things, they need to know. So, say so. It might be just enough to keep them going.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not interested in the world of “everyone gets a medal” or enabling a life of negligence to responsibilities.
No, empty praise is sometimes worse than no praise at all. Further, a loss of accountability for rock stars, local celebrities or “talented people” is downright heartbreaking. Just because someone is good at their craft, does not mean we should over-glorify that aspect of their life while ignoring real issues.
But real encouragement, the kind that sees through the struggle and the hardship and promises support, is invaluable. Sharing the impact you’ve experienced or felt means more than you know. It’s worth more than a paycheck and carries more weight than any metric.
This goes beyond art. It’s your colleague or your mom or even your friend who just had a baby. You see their struggle but also their strengths. If you benefit from their wisdom and their quiet leadership, say so.
Sometimes it feels silly to send that message or make the bold statement telling someone how their work, their art or their service has impacted you. Perhaps they’ll blush or shrug it off, but what you don’t see is the rest of their day–the surprised phone call they make to a friend or family member saying how flattered they were or the encouragement they turn around and give to their influencer or neighbor.
It pays in dividends that you’ll never see or know, but it’s what we all need.
We all want to know and be known on some level. Whether it’s fame or friendship, we want someone else to know who we are, what we stand for and what we are like.
But what happens when we let someone know the less pretty side?
I’m not talking about the, “I’m a mess because my socks don’t match and we’re out of coffee” kind. I’m not even talking about the “My life is not going the way I planned” kind of mess. No, I’m talking about the downright ugly internal struggles, like jealousy, discontentment or negativity.
I want to be known, but I do not want those things to be known whatsoever. The reason I don’t want you to know about them is because frankly, I don’t want them to be real. I don’t want that to be “me” in any way. Sometimes in my longing to build relationships, I let those out. The thing is, that’s not what I want to be known for.
So the question becomes, how do we walk the line of transparency, revealing our struggles and the really “real”, without seeming just plain ugly? I want any bitterness, jealousy and hurt to be completely removed from my life. But if I’m being honest, it’s in there sometimes. I hate it, and of course I don’t want anyone to see it. At the same time, I don’t want to slap on a facade and pretend it’s not there either.
I would rather you know the loving, thoughtful and creative sides, but truthfully, I have all sorts of flaws, too. This isn’t something I’d like to dwell on, but I think it’s worth talking about. I think we all have sides that we don’t want anyone to see. In hopes of hiding it away, we avoid and ignore issues that need to be addressed. Maybe instead it’s time to have some honest conversations. Find a trusted friend or maybe even confront yourself.
There’s more here to say: More to talk about when it comes to struggles and failures. Finding trustworthy friends and learning when it isn’t time to share. Coping with ugly truths and battling it out in hopes of personal refinement. Realizing beautiful truths and learning to embrace them. More to question and wrestle with as we discover who we really are. But for now, I leave you with merely the start…how are you known?
Back in February, I had a few choices to make and offers to consider. It came through around the same time that I was realizing my strengths and possibilities and feel more at peace with where I was in life. I didn’t love being without a job for so long, but I finally found the flexibility it afforded me and uncovered some of the dreams that had long been ignored. Last June, I had so desperately wanted to hurry up the process and shake out the remedies, but that just wasn’t the way it went.
Do you know how fullthose nine months in between jobs were? Full of questions, doubt, tears, struggle and uncertainty, sure. But also full of time, opportunity, challenge and joy.
It was far from easy, and I will continue to be a voice and sounding board for those in the midst of a job search. It is some sort of terrible to face rejection after rejection and doubt everything you’ve ever known career-wise. But I also want to share the other side, the side where I found a job.
I wish I could explain all the ways I’ve seen good come out of all of this mess this past year. It was never a guarantee that things would end up the way they did, and I will surely face trials in the days and years to come. Life brings pain and hardship, because that’s how it goes sometimes. It’s what reminds us we aren’t invincible–that we need friends, family and God in it all.
There’s a lot to learn still about my new position and what all it will entail. Right now I know that I’ll get to write, communicate and think creatively. As far as logistics go, I have the option to work from home or in the office just 20 minutes away. I get to work with a team and help a company continue to grow. And on top of that, they want me to keep going after my hopes and goals in my spare time: to keep blogging, dreaming and being me.
So thanks for listening to me and offering encouragement. Thanks for putting up with the rants and enduring the in-between. I’m glad to be where I am now but also grateful for the journey, as tough as it was.
(There are a lot of links in there…mostly to other parts of the story. This wasn’t a short story, and I have a feeling the story isn’t over yet.)
UPDATE: Sadly, this job did not work out. Major bummer. I’ve edited out some of the specifics about the job and company but decided to keep the post. It was triumphant, not only about the new job but also a celebration of everything I had learned and how far I had come. I stand by that celebration of growth today, despite the disappointment of how things happened in this particular job.
Okay, many of you know that I’ve done my share of job searching in the past. For some of you, I’m sure that statement alone cues an eye roll as it’s old news. Here’s the thing, no one seems to openly talk about the struggle in a job search. We talk about the successes and the outcomes, but rarely the struggle as it shows weakness and vulnerability. Not to mention, if you share such things publicly, it can make for a weird second interview. The problem is, when no one hears about the struggle they assume their struggle is an isolated issue. Well, ladies and gentlemen, here I come to save the day…
Searching for jobs sucks. Oh, excuse my language. I meant to say, it’s really, REALLY hard.
So, if you’re out there wondering why that job you want hasn’t happened yet, let me just reassure you that you’re not alone. From time to time we all meet that oddball of a person who just seems to “happen” upon their job and effortlessly climb the career ladder. Either a company approaches them first or their initial application in the search just got scooped up from the pile and a generous offer simply falls in their lap. (If you are one of those oddballs: 1. Congrats, you lucky duck. 2. You will not relate to the rest of this post, so you might as well walk away now. 3. I know you feel like it was merely all your hard work paying off, which might be true…but some of the rest of us also work really hard but it hasn’t quite paid off in the same way yet.)
Job searches start hopeful: There’s another opportunity out there that will suit you and pay better and make all your dreams come true.
Over time, they rip you to shreds: Oh you applied to that? Well, it went straight to the trash and you’re not good at anything.
Okay, stop! You are good at things, so just quit believing that lie. Write down your list of strengths right now and tack them to your fridge or mirror or whatever you look at a lot. Now remind yourself this search takes time. It also takes a whole lot of perseverance and effort. But just because it takes time does not mean you’ve suddenly become worthless.
In the past year I applied to nearly 60 jobs. I’m talking a custom cover letter, revised resume and all 7 pages of the application form for every one of those jobs. People would ask me how the job search was going and all I could say was that it was “still on”. I’ve been rejected so many times by companies that don’t even have the decency to send an automatic email. Of those jobs, I interviewed for 17 positions (many of which included several rounds of interviews). I was a finalist 8 times and almost always under the impression that I got the job. Do you know how hard it is to be the runner-up in an interview process? You think the next time you hear from them it will be with an offer but instead find out you’re left with nothing but dashed hopes and a wrinkled suit.
How do I know the numbers? I have a master spreadsheet containing information on every job I applied for. I included the title and company of the position, the date I applied, the referral I used if I had one and record of any communication I had with the company, whether it was an automatic email or my handwritten thank you card after an interview. Two months of searching went by…three…six…eight…to the point where I wondered if I would ever be hired again.
So what’s my point in saying all this? To give you a taste of what a real job search struggle looks like. By no means am I trying to discourage you or scare you. In fact, just the opposite. I’m confirming all your frustrations that this might be a long and painful process. I’m also saying, it’s not just you.
Even though you have not heard the feedback you want, don’t lose hope. Sure, you might have to pivot and think of different angles and opportunities that fit your strengths, but don’t mistake that for being worthless or unwanted. You bring value to a team. You have strengths and skills that are desirable and important. But you can’t give up. You have to keep going.
Go to the networking events that slowly seem to suck the life out of you. Reach out to the person who might be able to give you a referral. Send your resume to the people closest to you and see where it can get circulated. Apply for the job that you might first think you are under- or overqualified for and see where it goes. Set a schedule and make a list of all the places you plan to regularly check for jobs. Ask someone you know who works in HR or editing/communications to look over your cover letter. Find someone in your field to critique your resume. Continue to invest in yourself and your skills.
While we were away we were almost intentional about not doing the things we usually do. Now that we’re home those duties, drivers and dreams are back with a vengeance.
It’s as if we both feel this need, this longing to create. It’s almost a burden and to be honest, I can’t decide if it’s a good one or a bad one. He immediately starting editing videos. I wrote and wrote. I have a sense of responsibility to my writing. To my goals, dreams and hopes. It goes beyond writing–travel, music, relationships and art all have seats at the table in this house.
There’s no denying that we’re back. No hiding in another country without a properly functioning cell phone. The pressure is clear, the distractions are back and the battle is just getting started. We both had victorious moments during the first week of our trip. I had an article published in Relevant, and he got to contribute some footage in a National Geographic video. It was as if our hard work had paid off, and we got to momentarily bask in its bliss.
But upon return, we went straight back to the grind. We know these creative goals are not something we can just sit on and expect dividends in return. It’s a pressure, it’s a responsibility and it’s right in front of our faces. Neither of us know when time will run out on these dreams so we continue to cram ourselves full to make sure things happen. It’s exhausting already, and we just got back last week.
So the question becomes, what for? What are we aiming to achieve? What cost does it bring? What’s the purpose? Is it the right kind of dream? Finally, is it worth it?