Stories for Lent: #5 The help I didn’t acknowledge

It’s embarrassing to look back, sometimes, and think about all the people I didn’t thank for all the support they gave me when I needed it most. I am, however, most ashamed about the people whose advice I actively didn’t listen to, whose attempts to help me I dismissed in a haze of depressed victimization. To my mind, everyone was out to get me at a time. And when it came for me to receive some tough love, I dropped it like a hot potato.

It’s like looking back on a drunken night out once you’re sober and the hangover has cleared, and not having a single excuse to pin it down on.

*

Out of all my years in uni, the second one seems to hold the most memories for me. There’s me, receiving an ARC of Cinder and reading it breathlessly throughout the night (I’d been following Marissa Meyer’s publication journey and it was honestly like a friend had just gotten everything she wished for; I was SO happy for her). There’s me, practicing a talk I’m supposed to give, and my BFF coming into my room to listen. There’s the novel I wrote on the narrow, rickety desk, hands in fingerless gloves because it’s November and the heating is off. There’s the other novel, written in spring, which left me breathless. There’s the third novel, a rewriting of a project from my fresher year, the catalyst to which was a creepy smiley face on the neighbour’s house which I could see only from my window.

(I asked our neighbour about it. Turns out her kids did it years ago. It was our first and last conversation, strangely enough.)

And then there are the other memories. Me, crying about not being able to find a placement. Being told that recruiters weren’t sure they could justify me because they didn’t know if I could speak English (for a French-speaking job in France, I might add.) Reading up for interviews like they were an exam and then being late because I got the room wrong.

In hindsight, that’s not surprising at all. It’s not surprising that my best memories from that year have nothing to do with studying, either. I didn’t want to be in business school. I knew that as I went into it, and I still put myself through the paces, convinced that sheer hard-headedness could get me through. Academically, that was no problem. But in terms of work? Oh, the interviewers must have been onto me as soon as I walked through the door, in my fugly heels and pantsuits that made me look like I was 51 instead of 20.

“Tell me why you want to work for us?” they’d say, and I’d smile and rattle off a bunch of good replies, occasionally stumbling over my French, but secure in my knowledge that at least my accent was good.

“What are your strengths?” More smiling, more good replies.

“And your weaknesses?” Perfectionism, naturellement. Back then, it was still a valid reply.

If we hit on a topic that we both liked – Japanese poetry, in one case – I’d get my hopes really high up, convinced that not only had I found a placement, but a placement where I can enjoy myself. We’d shake hands, and I would walk out on clouds…
And then fall back down to the ground when the rejection came.

*

I’m ashamed for how I talked to our placements officer at the time.

She tried to help me – God knows, she tried – but I was unused to criticism, and I was not in a place where I could stand to have my work criticized. I had few friends. I missed home. I was still having trouble connecting with people because I double-guessed their motives for wanting to be friends with me. I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

You know what happens when your work is the only constant in your life, the only thing you can control. You become overprotective of it.

And our placements officer was the stand-in for everything I felt threatening me. I lashed out. I shouldn’t have.

She never blamed me or tried to put me in my place. I can’t believe how lucky I was.

*

Eventually, things did work out for me, and I found a placement. I went on to do a few things I was proud of. I even repaired my relationship with the placements officer, which was a miracle if I ever saw one. The pendulum swung and I ended up talking to people on open days about my experience, reassuring parents and children that yes, anything can work out, and you have to be open to possibilities, and put yourself out there, and make things work.

I’m pretty sure I apologized to her, too. And said I was wrong. Or maybe I didn’t and this is just wishful thinking.

*

I was very careful about the story I spun about that year. I focused on the good bits – the struggle, sure, but mostly on the victory and the lessons. It’s the sort of thing that you say on Open Days, but also, depression is not exactly a topic you get into over coffee and biscuits, after a campus tour.

It wasn’t the right place.

A friend once asked me how I even went to business school when I am so obviously suited to what I’m doing now. The truth is that I didn’t know what I was suited for, and the only obvious thing to me, as a young adult looking for her next step in life, was that I needed a meal ticket. I didn’t know that a job could be rewarding and enjoyable. I didn’t know that you could get up in the morning, excited about what you’re doing today. I was caught up in the idea of suffering artist-day job struggle, and I was too deaf to hear the people who told me otherwise.

It made me an asshole.

It made me a nightmare to work with. I can only hope I’ve gotten better since then.

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