I remember when I was living in Chicago, spending every weekend bouncing between the local cafes, sending cover letters to literally any company that had ‘internship’ listed on their careers page. I shit you not, I’d spend 10-16 hours over the weekend applying. I was a sophomore/junior at the same and needed one to graduate.
Despite being a perfect candidate (I state humbly,) I heard back from exactly two companies. One rescheduled my interview three times before I rescinded my offer, and the other shuttered in wake of the pandemic. It was just my luck.
To keep from being overwhelmed with my inability to secure an unpaid position unjamming the company printer, I juggled a few fun things to bide my time. I took an acting class at The Second City, and piano lessons at The Chicago School of Music. I enrolled in performing art classes and came up with original scripts and performances. I created a blog that I kept for three years, documenting where my mind was at and every little instance where I felt I had lost it.
I kept up a GPA that held my place on the dean’s list. I went for walks and runs nearly every day along the lake. I explored the nooks of the city I had yet to touch and did it alone.
My only regret was not realizing how amazing that was for 20-year old me. I’ve always tracked my worth in ounces of productivity. How many pages I wrote, miles I ran, and jobs I’ve held that have patted me on the back and said, “not too shabby.”
I’ve always underestimated myself. My old therapist told me it was because I was a certified perfectionist. She was good at her job.
I’ll be 23 in exactly 111 days. I could detail every accomplishment I’ve had since 20, but then, what good would that do me in the reversal of equating my worth to my productivity? Little to none. The chances are, I’d only focus on business and career achievements – ones that have given my resume more than a seven-second glance.
That is sad.
It is sad that I am not the only (lost) young adult doing this. Losing themselves to track records and being convinced that hitting 30 might as well be equivalent to shriveling up and turning into dust. I’m tired of living that way, and tired of seeing other people live that way too.
Turning TikTok into a full-time job and being on the clock from the minute you wake up, escaping the dreaded 9-5 by working the 7-10. Commodifying every area of your life, and confusing it with romanticizing. Dedicating yourself to something you thought you loved at 19 and hate by 24. Dishing out half your income on a year’s lease in a cubbyhole with an alley-facing window and a dripping tap.
Or hating yourself for still living at home, and pointing the finger at the mirror when in reality, the job market is more fucked than it’s ever been. Condemning dating apps but struck with the actuality that naturally meeting people IRL is hard with a mask and AirPods in. Reminiscing on being a kid and sleeping in during the summers, but cursing when you’ve woken 10 minutes past your alarm on an off-day.
Moving to a big city ’cause everyone else is, but being confused when nobody told you just how lonely it is. It doesn’t go away in a month, or two or three. Being excited about a false start. Or two. Or Three.
This is your 20’s. Teen angst with its braces removed and an overdue bill. Our wrecked mental health has become a running joke in place of an epidemic, and gas is five dollars again.
The only real way ‘out’ of it all is to be delusional enough to exist in a space (if it’s entirely mental) that is positive and uplifting.
Existing is an accomplishment. Being bad at my hobbies is an accomplishment. Turning down job offers is an accomplishment. Getting turned down from jobs is an accomplishment. Watching HBO all day and ordering takeout is an accomplishment.
I think, if we celebrate these tiny moments as much as we do the monumental ones, we’d be a hell of a lot happier. I know I’m trying to be.
This February:
I cut down on my caffeine intake, opting for decaf espresso shots and tea.
I had all of my film developed, and had a blast to the past. Some were from childhood, and some from the pre-pandemic world of 2018.
I finished watching Demon Slayer – an anime that caught my interest after I swore I’d never find one that’d capture my attention.
I thrifted the cutest vintage lava lamp. It’s orange.
I’ve made so much progress in Photoshop, making graphics that excite me and support my vision.
I’ve gotten better at rock climbing and even flashed a few routes.
flash (verb, in context of climbing): to climb to the top of a route on the first attempt.
I finally have a headshot. Or something along the lines of that.
I went to Los Angeles to apartment hunt and look at the areas I like.
I went to the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures and saw Oscars up-close. I felt something stir inside me and was reminded of my bigger goals.
I took *more* film photos.
I got an internship offer from one of the most prestigious talent agency companies and unfortunately didn’t have it work out.
The pre-pandemic version of Elena would’ve loved the experience, but the current Elena knows: 1) her worth and 2) how expensive rent is, even if it WAS a great opportunity. Something that’s a better fit will come along the way, I know it will – and it’ll be a no-brainer.
‘Til then, I’m bidding adieu to winter and embracing the growth that will come with March.