Last week, while walking through Target (as one does), a young mom complimented my hoodie; any other day that wouldn’t have inspired a blog post, but the reason this time did – that hoodie read “Awkward N’ Adulting.”
Look, I’ve been doing this thing for a while; we might even be coming up close to 5 years now, but of all the years I have been doing this, I think some of my best work came in the early days. The days when I cared less about sounding smart, or profound, or in the loop – and more about sounding like what I was and frankly what I still am – someone who is just trying to figure herself and this world out.
When I started this blog my goal was to focus on topics that would help people like me feel less alone in their “Adulting” experiences. I wanted to tackle the topics that made growing up feel awkward and uncomfortable and even disingenuous at times. And for a while that is exactly what my team and I did. Anyway, years passed things changed, it’s just me now blah blah blah, which brings us to now. [Insert explanation on how the topics I’ve been trying to tackle lately (while relevant) are too big swingy for the post turn around times I’d like to maintain.] Anyway, anyway, long story short – I want to get back to my roots. I want to stop trying to dissect big issues and focus on what’s really important – the little stuff. So let’s talk about some little stuff – let’s talk about the pressure to be qualified and the stress that comes with feeling unqualified.
The starting line
Sometimes it feels like the pressure I feel so heavily now, started when it was time for me to enter (and stay entered in) the workforce, but that’s a lie.
Truth is (at least the way I see it), my ability to build my credentials started long before I was made to sit down and jot them down on a piece of paper or a LinkedIn account. And while I could take that sentiment and run with it as a statement on privilege and the expectations people are born into I’d rather keep it a bit lighter by starting in school.
The early times we have to qualify
Even in our earliest years of schooling we are required to meet some sort of criteria to qualify to attend. Parents of kindergarteners and pre-kers are expected to equip their kids with certain skills or lessons to grant their children the access to learn more. Then slowly but surely, the responsibility shifts to us and with each new year we, as students must carry on that torch by passing a series of tests (written and otherwise) to continue to progress. It isn’t until we reach a certain age that we realize how much we had to do or how much we had to overcome to merely exist (without disproportionate resistance) in certain sectors of society. [and keep in mind some people have to learn this much earlier than others based on who they are or what “limitations” they have when compared to the more “accepted standard” of society]
Then, seemingly before we know it, those of us who are lucky enough to keep moving and progressing without too much resistance, age into more opportunities. Opportunities like being able to work and drive and vote and fight; and despite the fact that we either feel or are completely unqualified to take on these roles, we do. This then continues the cycle by allowing us the freedom to learn more things and do more things and it gives us the confidence to chase more difficult opportunities and develop relationships etc. etc. and so on.
Until we apply for something like college, or a non entry level job…
Maybe it’s more about the shift in resistance?
I know I have been using a handful of generalizations thus far, but to be clear, I obviously can’t speak for everyone. So I’ll shift to my own experience.
In my own experience, stress becomes more common when I have something to lose or if something is out of my control. In other words, life becomes a bit trickier when I have planned my next move, but it feels like someone else gets to decide if that step forward is one I am allowed to take. This happened when being accepted to college, to an athletic team, getting a job, and often time it also applied to relationships as well.
Now, to be fair, that stress doesn’t actually come from me being unqualified to get the job or date the person or place in the competition. That kind of stress came and continues to come from not being used to the resistance that comes with being able to progress to the next level.
Maybe it’s about believing I am not enough?
When I first started applying for jobs I was so terrified. I was scared that I wasn’t good enough or worthy of the opportunity. Because of this I often took the first offer I was given. In most cases the employer wasn’t intentionally taking advantage of the situation but I was definitely underwriting my own worth and what values I brought to the situation. In half of those situations my inability to realize my own self worth lead me to making the wrong decision.
Luckily my ability to value myself in the workplace has gotten easier as I have gained confidence and experience. And I suppose this is natural progression I was meant to take on in life, but that doesn’t mean I don’t wish it had come with much less pressure to feel qualified or to live up to extreme expectations. So I guess looking back I wish I had told myself I was enough more, but then again I suppose that’s the power of retrospect.
Maybe it’s about being compatible?
In my own experience, not getting a job or losing a job or getting ghosted has felt a lot like not being enough, but getting stuck in that way of thinking neglects another variable, compatibility.
In my early years, and I think this might be a similar experience for a few of us, but, in my early years there wasn’t much of an issue with compatibility. I mean school wasn’t easy with a learning disability, but it wasn’t impossible given the support systems I was lucky enough to have. Not to mention when it comes to schooling, especially certain schools, there is a lot lower bar when it comes to being accepted. [Not from a social standpoint obviously but from the perspective that access to some level of schooling is somewhat accessible to a wide variety of individuals.]
And thinking about it, maybe this was intentional. For me and for a handful of others who experienced life in a similar way. Maybe, given the proper tools, some of us are allowed to progress through a path of minimal or medium resistance in our early years allowing us to gather more confidence in tackling bigger challenges. And this is not to say that adjusting to those new challenges was any easier, but at least I was given the confidence to lunge toward those things. But then again maybe having less resistance early on, while a great boost to confidence, also made it more difficult to adjust to the larger expectations and requirements that come with an increased demand of compatibility and an increased level of resistance.
So maybe I am lucky to look back at a time that felt challenging in the moment and now feel able to take chances, even if they are not given or even if I am not compatable with them. But maybe I am also allowed to acknowledge that being lucky to have that perspective doesn’t negate the fact that I also feel stressed or inferior or “unqualified.” Maybe I am able to acknowledge how many advantages I have while also feeling the things and all the discomfort that comes with the current situation.
Maybe feeling and being don’t have to be mutually exclusive?
In my life I have grown and learned and felt. In my life I have had moments where my confidence in my abilities was overwritten by one person’s opinion or a mere lack of compatibility in a certain situation but I have also had moments where I felt like the credit I was receiving was more than I deserved. In other words, I have been given opportunities and I have missed out on them, and I suppose that is the way life goes. But of all the ways life is supposed to go, one thing I have struggled with more than most others is (particularly in opportunity based situations) separating my feelings from some of the truth’s of a given situation. And I want to do better at that.
So, I guess what I am trying to say is that there are a lot of things in this society that have and continue to require us to qualify. And I suppose the point I am trying to make is that while I am not always as qualified as I would like to think, I am also not nearly as unqualified as I often feel myself to be. And maybe you or someone you know can relate to that too.
But, at the end of the day, I guess this is all to say that life is complicated. That I and we may have times where we feel like imposters or like we are not good enough. Hell, we may have times when people even tell us as much. But I guess something I am trying to learn as I grow is that just because I don’t feel like I am something right now, or just because I believe I am not what I have been time tested and trained to be, doesn’t mean it’s true. And maybe the same can be said for you.
The meaning of ‘unqualified’
Maybe none of us feel qualified for anything and everything we do, maybe the ones who think they are, actually aren’t. Maybe none of us actually have a clue – but hey, maybe that’s the point. Maybe that’s just part of being awkward and Adulting.