On lowering your expectations.

NOTE: Gentlemen, never date a writer if you’d rather not end up as a character in a poem/short story/screenplay/script/novel or fodder for a cheekily-worded blog post.
You’ve been warned.

Is “cynical optimist” an oxymoron? So be it—that’s me. I’ve always had a tendency to look at life situations with a shrewd eye. I’m passionate, but calculated. Strong, yet sensitive. Pragmatic. Determined. And if it sounds like I’m filling out a dating profile … well, we’ll get to that later.

I’m a person you want in your corner when life gets tough or you don’t know which path to take, because I’ve struggled with carving my own path so many times over that friends often come to me when they need an “expert” opinion. As willing as I am to help people whenever asked (and sometimes when not), it definitely puts a bit of pressure on me. I’m no expert. I had no example to follow when I set out to become a journalist in 2010. I had to rough it and man, did I.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the relatively short time I’ve been building my career, it’s not just the fortune cookie sayings of “expect the unexpected” or “everything happens for a reason,” though those old stand-bys are certainly true in some cases. Nope, I would say that you have to prepare yourself for some cold, hard disappointment. And that’s the optimist in me talking. You have to, you guessed it:

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When I graduated college in 2010, I was ready to hit the ground running. But as someone who came in last three years in a row running the mile in high school, I can only run for so long. I lost steam pretty quickly when I realized the vision in my head of me landing a job as a newspaper staff reporter or editorial assistant at a magazine within a year of achieving my degree was probably not going to happen.

It took three of the longest years of my life to find a (full-time) job in journalism.

After leaving my cushy safe Haven, my first foray into the big leagues was working as an editorial intern for a glossy travel mag in Manhattan eight months after graduation. Unpaid, of course. I lived with my grandparents part-time while I took an hour-long bus ride three days a week into Port Authority, walked 20 minutes from 8th to Lexington, and spent eight hours a day for five months fact-checking feature stories like what to see and do in Cape Town, what to eat in Austin, and where to shop on St. Maarten.

Yes, I got to do a small bit of original writing and saw my byline published.
*angels singing*

No, it still was not what I expected.

Internships never are. You’re never fully settled into the office dynamic, you’re never officially part of the staff, you don’t get any creative input, you want to learn as much as you can about the company and the hierarchy, but you know you’re leaving soon anyway. It all starts to feel a bit pointless. I had my fingers and toes crossed that it would turn into a job opportunity, like it had for current staff members who started as interns, and when it didn’t, my resolve totally crumbled. At that point, I was one year post-grad and back to square one.

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I’ve had my heart set on New York City since I was eight years old. That’s a longer post for another time, but when I left on my last day and I watched the skyline slip past my bus window as we wound our way into Weehawken, I think a small piece of me died. A month later, I was back at my seasonal summer job serving greasy food to baseball fans and I wanted the rest of me to die too.

Be ready for disappointment, but don’t let it consume you. I wish I’d had somebody to tell me that back then. Expect that you are going to stumble and fall on the way to your goals, but you will eventually get there. Good things take time—more time than you’re probably willing to wait, and it’ll be absolute agony, but give it time.

Exactly one year later, I got my first journalism job.

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Time for an applicable (and current) life anecdote:

Remember when I said I was ready to start dating? Well, it’s going great. Seriously. I’ll be engaged any day now.

So, I met this guy when I moved down here. He works in the leasing office where I live, meaning I’ve only interacted with him a few times while he was in polite customer service mode, which should’ve been the first red flag. Don’t ever judge someone by how good they look in a suit—Exhibit A.

I thought he was cute and wanted to get to know him a bit, so right before the holidays, I plucked up the courage to ask him out—at least that’s what I thought I was doing. I left him a Christmas card with my phone number in it, he texted me a couple days later to say he thought it was “so cute,” and we arranged plans to go out for drinks. Date, right?

Wrong. It became evident just within the ten-minute car ride that he had no idea I‘d hoped it was a date. Seeing as how I was the one who pushed for it, that should’ve been my second red flag. I had to squelch my disappointment when I realized the night was only going to end one way.

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His actual personality didn’t quiiite match his work persona, but he was still fun to talk to and the conversation flowed easily enough. There were only a couple of awkward pauses in the two hours we sat at the bar and we covered quite a bit of ground. I love sitting and talking to new people; it’s partly why I became a journalist. If I can list off some random bullet points about your life after just one conversation, feel special—I found you interesting enough to ask some good questions. 🙂

Still, the night was the complete opposite of what I’d been expecting, or at least hoping, it would be. I tried to make the best of a bizarre situation—the beer helped; the overwhelming anxiety I’d had all day had prevented me from eating much, so everything was already pleasantly fuzzy after the first of two tall glasses. And it was free, even though I’d made the initial offer, so he got points for that.

There was only one moment that truly bothered me and that was when he began laughing about all the residents who had wanted to buy him Christmas gifts, saying how easy it was to win people over on the job just by making eye contact and saying hi. Uh, YEAH. About that.

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Needless to say, I felt two inches tall.

By the end of the night, I was tipsy and torn between feeling like the “date” had been a bust but the hang out sesh had been a success and it was messing with my head, particularly when he dropped me off. I think I jumped out of the car without so much as saying I had a good time (which I genuinely did) or thanking him for paying/driving (and I am never that rude).

All this mind fuckery won’t even matter in a couple months, because apparently he’s moving across the country. At least I won’t have to keep bumping into him in the hall, because unfortunately … he still looks pretty damn cute in the suit.*

———————————————————————

Ladies and journalists, keep your standards high and your expectations low. Whatever job you get isn’t likely to fit into the pretty little picture you have in your head, but maybe one day you’ll land a gig that exceeds expectations in every way imaginable. If you prepare for the worst, but still hope for the best, you’ll be that much more thankful when the best finally rolls around.

*I joined an online dating site the very next day …
but I’ll save those horror stories for later.

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