Every family has someone who is the complete binary to the rest of the family. While there’s a crowd of people at a family reunion jamming out to Journey, this person is off in the corner, humming Simon and Garfunkel. When the entire family is in the living room cheering on the local football heroes, this person takes up rhythmic gymnastics and practices every Sunday in the basement. There just seems to be a different beat pounding with their footsteps.
This isn’t intentional. If it were, the black sheep would just be a sheep with a bad dye job. This is something inside them, something that singles them out, pushing them to do what they love despite everyone else telling them not to take risks and to do more of the same.
That’s me. I’m the black sheep. My family is all “science-y,” even my siblings. They have conversations about esophagi and medicine with long names and things such as nomenclature, whatever that is. I’m not like that. I like words. I like diagramming sentences and hearing a pretty string of words and arguing about what the point of—well, ANYTHING in Camus’s The Stranger. The only comment I can make in my family’s science conversations is that “Niravam” has a nice ring to it.
Recently, I started to doubt this path for the first time in my life. I graduated college in May and have been on the job hunt ever since. This ain’t an easy world for those in the job market, let alone those with an English degree. It seems like when you hit “Submit” on a job app, it gets sent through some wormhole in cyberspace straight to the other side of the universe where they only accept applicants with at least five years of experience.
I finally found my perfect job, though. It was everything I wanted and would launch me into my dream career, affirming my black sheepness was not in vain. I was the top candidate, they told me. I would get the job, they hinted. They just had one more round of approvals, and an offer could be made. But in that last round of approvals, the position was suddenly canceled and my dreams were shattered.
Want to know what rock-bottom looks like? It’s spreading icing on cinnamon rolls with a butter knife while sobbing uncontrollably. This is where I was when I realized I didn’t know what I was going to do now. I had given this job my all and had left myself no backup plan. I didn’t even have any pending applications.
I know, I know. I put all my eggs in one basket, I counted my chickens before they hatched, or whatever other fowl-related idiom you have for me. But I’ve always had one motto about success: Make failure your only back-up plan. If you do this, you’ll give it your all and put every part of you into every goal, and you’re bound to succeed. But this time, I hadn’t; this time, all I was left with was a back-up plan and a minor existential crisis.
I started to wonder…had I made a mistake all those years ago, choosing this path? If I had majored in business, or psych, or even biology like my parents, would I still feel like this? Was I still the same person that had wanted this so badly, I would do anything? After trying almost everything, was I still able to continue down this path?
But after I dried my tears and ate one (OK, maybe three) of the cinnamon rolls, I realized I had never doubted myself before. I knew I wanted to be an English major when I was thirteen and wrote an 11-page rhyming poem about a girl pirate who used curtains as sails. I knew in high school when I took the ACT and bombed the science section but got a perfect score in writing. I knew with every paper I edited for a friend, with every properly used semicolon I used on Facebook, and with every book I read and promptly argued about with anyone who was willing to listen. It was who I was. I was The English Major.
I was the girl who shrugged off my mother when, after I told her I declared English, she said, “Oh, a degree that will make you a shoe-in at the local Payless.” (The pun escaped her.) I was the girl who edited my brother’s personal statement to a doctoral program in pathology and only noticed his lack of proper comma usage. I was the girl who took every snarky remark about my chosen career path and waved it off, ‘cause it was always who I wanted to be.
That’s what important: knowing what you want and going for it. Giving up on something because it didn’t come easily would leave us crawling, blabbering infants. At the risk of being cliché, let’s just say we would be flightless, we would be lightless, and Americans would probably call an elevator a “lift.”
There are reasons things don’t work out. Maybe it’s to give you the time to find something you love more, or maybe it’s because there’s an even better opportunity up ahead. You just have to persevere and be true to your own sheephood.
I don’t know where the concept of black sheep originates. I just looked it up, though. Some random article I read on JSTOR said that being a black sheep is a sign of recessive genes compared to the parents’ dominant traits. You know what else has a recessive trait? Type O blood, which serves as a universal donor. Different doesn’t always mean useless.
No one ever said being the black sheep was going to be easy. Different never is easy. But different is revolutionary.
So be the black sheep.