I want to start with a disclaimer. I am a girl from the suburbs. I was raised to believe that the world is a meritocracy. By this, I mean that if I work hard at something, I will be successful.
This is something I believe, despite personal experience. I would go so far as to say that I need to believe this. I used to think this made me naïve. Nowadays I think it’s intelligent to be optimistic. It makes life more worthwhile.
I majored in English at a liberal arts college. After I graduated from college, I was unemployed and lived at my parent’s house while contemplating my next move. In retrospect, this was a great time in my life. I read books like Infinite Jest and Anna Karenina. I thought about graduate school and applied for jobs. Only of course, I was too stressed to really enjoy any of it. That’s the problem with unemployment. You waste too much time worrying about being unemployed and never fully enjoy the free time.
For fun, I read blogs and trend pieces in the New York Times. There happened to be quite a few out about unemployed, directionless millennials. I liked reading these articles and essays because they made me feel less alone, but also ridiculous for some of my loftier ambitions.
The general consensus is that we all think we’re destined for greatness in some way. Millennials think that the world is a meritocracy. Millennials can do anything.
A friend of mine at the time wanted to be an English professor and one of his professors told him that it was more impossible than he could imagine. Jobs in academia are few and far-between. Kids from the suburbs can never truly understand what it’s like to work really hard at something, not get it and be left with nothing.
My friend is like me. He was also raised to see the world as a meritocracy.
While I was in college, I wrote a young adult fiction novel. For a time it appeared as though the book would be published. Writing is my passion and I spent all of my time in college working on this novel. One of my professors told me that you needed to write for eight years before the words started falling into the proper place. I said the hell with it, and figured that if I wrote obsessively I’d prove her wrong.
In the end, the book didn’t get published. I received rejection letters from every major publishing house. The economy was bad and no one wanted to take a chance on my book. They only wanted to publish dystopian young adult fiction novels (The Hunger Games) or paranormal romances (Twilight). Or at least that’s what the rejection letters said.
This was a huge disappointment to me. I was obsessed with writing this book for a long time. One of my friends used to always say that she wasted so much time in college dating this guy who turned out to be wrong for her. This is the way I feel about my novel. I was possessed by it, to the point of weirdness. It was hard for me to justify time spent away from working on it.
There are worse things than working really hard on a novel only not to get it published. Disappointment is relative to life experience though and for me this was crushing. I felt like I didn’t have future after this.
Here’s the thing though, I spent an excessive amount of time writing in college. I’m a much better writer than I was before. It’s difficult to write a novel and I did it. Maybe things didn’t turn out exactly the way I wanted, but I’m still a substantially better writer than I was before I wrote my novel.
Luck and various extenuating circumstances are always out of your control, but if you put in the effort and the hours at something, you will eventually get better. As a general rule, nothing ever turns out the way you expect it, but after the fact, it’s difficult to imagine life any other way.