I grew up in a family of titles. What you did (schools, titles, jobs, awards) spoke to who you were. I still list where you went to school and what you’ve done since next to your personality traits when I evaluate you in my mind. It’s involuntary and I make a habit of not asking, but if it comes up, it comes up. Now, before you start screaming “ELITIST” at the top of your lungs, I say “Yes.” But then I’d say, “Nah, that’s all I’ve got. Guilty.”
My grandfather graduated top of his class in a top boarding school, went to Princeton, graduated top of his class again, and was practicing medicine by 25. His son, (my father), went to the same boarding school, graduated at the top of his class, went to Princeton, graduated second in his class and then he had three kids who all failed to get in to Ivy League schools. Can’t all be home runs.
I was discussing colleges with one of my bosses born and raised in the UK, and we landed on the fact that they’re just about the closest thing we have to a class system here in the US. Let alone the fact that people who go to college get better jobs/make more money/have more opportunities, the colleges themselves constitute our American class system. Do you look at a UC Santa Cruz grad the same way as a Stanford grad? Do you weigh Penn State and Florida State the same way? Does a MIT or Harvard grad not instantly garner some of your respect?
I recognize that (rich) idiots can go to Yale and geniuses go to community colleges and that where you went to college (if at all) does not define the worth of your human soul but…it says a lot about your willingness to learn, how hard you’re willing to work and if the best minds in education think you’re up to snuff. Your diploma is titled proof of your intelligence and tenacity. It’s a certificate that basically proves your intellectual worth.
To prove you worked hard in high school, you have where you went to college. To prove you worked hard at that college, you have the job you get once you graduate. And to prove that you both made an informed decision and you landed a good job, you have the accomplishments from that job. You can do great things without any proof up to that point, but you might have nothing to show for it in the end. If people don’t know what you did, is you knowing you did it enough? Normally, nope.
And why do I have to prove anything to anybody? Because I assume the rest of the world operates on my system, and we all look at each other and judge each other, like toddlers in a nursery, all working hard at their own lego creations. We, beady-eyed, judge the kid who can’t figure out how legos work, gaze longingly at the kid who has built a castle, smile at the girl trying to make a dog, but we tell ourselves the functioning robot/mech/spaceship we’re building will be the best of them all when we’re done.
Lately, I find myself failing my own standardized testing. Don’t get me wrong, I love me. I have to watch this TV show all day long and it has a lot of good parts. But this season has gotten into a bit of a lull, and I’m waiting for the main character to go ahead and do something, to take on some new challenge. I have friends making big strides. Friends I had previously categorized into…lower categories?
Whether as a defense mechanism or a “I have to catch up now” mechanism, I’ve unconsciously adopted an “I think I can” attitude. But not in the awesome Little-Engine-That-Could way. In the “I believe myself to be capable of many, many things, far beyond the scope of what I can probably do” way. In fact, I feel a borderline moral obligation to myself (and…sigh…the world) to go out and use the other talents I don’t think I’ve cashed in on since I got my job. (Nota bene: I like my job. I like my coworkers, but I don’t use many of the skills I gathered in high school and college here.) The problem doesn’t lie with my job or really with anyone but me. I demand of myself the same things I need to judge everyone else by, which ultimately leads me to teetering between two things:
1. I think I can and should pursue things (I think) I’m good at like: stand-up comedy, puppet-building, puppeteering, acting, writing, screenwriting, directing and teaching.
2. The grass is always cactus. I have a fun job with great people and it pays the bills and bar tabs. Yet, I am still looking longingly at the people who make art for a living, or are striving to accomplish big things, jobs and money be damned. The grass is always greener, but sometimes that grass looks more like cactus. That lifestyle probably sucks. Sucks like trying to walk on top of a cactus forest sucks. While I’d love to take on that challenge for the sake of both fufilling my own crazypants demands of myself, and to prove to others that I am as good as I think I am, I’d also love to not be in cactus. I am drawn to the challenge, and know I should explore the other side of the fence…but it also looks very, very unpleasant.
Screw it. I’m young. Slowly, I’m inching out into the cactus. I’m writing this blog, for one. I have little side projects. I don’t make enough time for them, but I’m starting to. And I’m sure I’ll discover that I suck at a lot of things. Those are things I can cross off a list and never ask why again. I might even fail repeatedly and keep trying until the cactus stings me enough for me to back down. I’m slowly finding that those failures are more interesting than many of my successes.
I still keep my rejection letter from Princeton in my room.