Overwhelmed.

It’s nearly October, and I’m tired.

I’ve been writing a lot of “advice-y” posts lately…where I try to sound wise or knowledgeable, where I share so-called insight. I know what I’m doing! I organized it into a list! Read me! Read me!

That seems strange to me this week.

I haven’t written since August 11th. I’m not apologizing; I’ve never liked the idea of churning out meaningless article on a weekly basis (I did try it once, but it felt disingenuous). I’m not apologizing, but maybe I should explain.

The readers of this blog have followed me through so many periods. You’ve joined me for ridiculous commutes, new jobs, viral rants, self-doubt. You’ve followed me through awkward holidays, musical train rides, and SO much “AHHH ADULTHOOD WHAT IS THIS?!?!” (seriously, like every other post).

Through all of it, all of it, I have been busy. Disgustingly busy. Here’s a confession, friends: Between internships and capital-J jobs, I have worked for twelve different organizations in the last three years. Twelve. Not one at a time, either. Jobs have been stacked like pancakes–four, five, six at a time. And that’s not including writing gigs, community service projects, tutoring, babysitting (counting those, my commitments are nearing the twenties). It isn’t counting this blog, either.

Oh, and it’s not counting school…which I attended full time.

This isn’t a braggy point. It used to be. The full schedule–being needed, being professional, knowing how to organize my time–it used to lend me a lot of confidence. I used to be really proud of my superhuman job-juggling skills, but now I’m not so sure.

Now I’m tired. Just tired. And I’m wondering exactly how long I’ve been tired; how long I’ve been ignoring the more unhealthy aspects of my commitment-a-holic ways because doing anything different is frightening.

So healthy, I know.

Don’t get me wrong, the opportunities have been phenomenal. It was exciting to grow in my faith enough to become a church youth leader. It was exciting to have writing deadlines to meet. It was really-freaking-cool to turn from a goofy history geek to a historical tour guide (aka professional know-it-all). And being paid to go on Twitter? Kind of the best.

But there was a problem. There was a big problem. I didn’t just like my full inbox and ringing phone–I defined myself by it. I measured my value in reference letters, scheduling conflicts, social media stats. I cared about klout at age 20 (Why. Why.). I said things like “I’ll pencil you in” and “Can we push this deadline out?” and “Hold on, let me grab my blazer.”

It was nice to be needed. It was affirming to watch my hobbies turn into volunteer commitments, for those to turn into paid jobs. But the lifestyle that came along with it was less-than-ideal. I developed fears, ridiculous ones: An empty schedule is frightening. Not being needed is frightening. Not moving forward actively, obsessively…well, that must mean I’m moving backwards, right?

Faulty logic. I’m learning that now.

Perhaps we spend too much time and energy building an “identity” and not enough time just building ourselves. Yes, sure, I was really good at being a blogger, a workaholic, a stressball. But I got too busy being those things. I didn’t smile at people in the elevator. I ran for the door after class ended, instead of staying a moment to socialize. I ate fast food, drank too much coffee, snapped at tech support.  I got really good at being “Shauna Vert, Communications Professional.” But that got in the way of being “shauna.”

Sometimes being “shauna” will mean writing, or working, or juggling. But sometimes that will mean going on long walks or cooking a lasagna or watching football and holding hands. Hell, sometimes it will just mean sleeping. It’s not just my title. It’s not just my job.

Of course, it will always involve doing-stuff-for-people. It has to. But that’s because I love people and I love doing stuff…not because what I’m doing defines me. We should honour our commitments, but we shouldn’t morph into them.

So, yes. It’s nearly October, and I’m tired. But I had a day off yesterday. I have a vacation in two weeks. I love my jobs–all four of them–and I like my classes. It’s getting better. I’m getting better.

I didn’t take a break from this blog because I was “too busy” (though, sure, that was a factor). I took a break because a) I didn’t really have anything important to write about, and b) I didn’t want to write anything, really. I didn’t want to, and now I do, and that’s fine.

That’s fine.

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I’m a mess. And that’s okay.

I feel fake.

Not all the time.  But lately, at least on the internet, I feel like I’ve been putting my “best self” forward. And that’s fine, I guess. But it’s not particularly genuine.

I have business cards! I was at an awards show! I wrote some stuff, and people read it!

I’m proud of all those things, I really am. And I’m glad I can share them. But between the collection of #humblebrags, the over-edited status updates, and the filter-on instagram version of my life….

I mean, it looks like I’m the kind of person who puts on pants before noon. Who watches intellectual TED talks, instead of mindlessly binging on Dr. Phil.  Who always, always gets along with her picture-perfect family.

And that’s simply not true.

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So here’s the reality, friends:

I’m insecure, overzealous, and uncoordinated. I swear, sometimes when I shouldn’t (sorry, mom).  I don’t exercise enough…unless you count running late, I guess. I make jokes that aren’t funny, and I laugh at them. Out loud.

(Yeah. I’m that person.)

I suffer from foot in mouth syndrome, fear of missing out syndrome, there-are-always-clothes-on-my-floor syndrome. I also make up syndromes a lot, apparently.  I’m messy. I play mind games without meaning to, mostly with myself.  Sometimes, I have trouble being happy for people.  I can be a bad listener–or worse, a good listener but  a terrible responder.   I am sensitive to a fault; I use big words when I do not need to; if there is a mirror nearby I will be looking at myself.  I’m kind of awkward. Definitely impulsive.  Occasionally preachy. I don’t know how to hide irritation, even when I should. I cry at commercials, laugh when I’m nervous, and rarely think before I speak.

I’m a mess. And that’s okay.

It’s not that I’m proud of these qualities. Not even a little bit. But I’m not ashamed to recognize them, either.  They mean I’m here, I’m awake, I’m aware, I’m human, and I’m trying to be better.  They mean that even through imperfection–serious, serious imperfection–I can still live, love, and be loved.  We all can. And we can love other people through their not-so-perfect, too.

That’s amazing.

The judgement machine of the online world sometimes makes that difficult, I know. We put a filter on everything. We compare our everyday lives to everyone else’s “greatest hits” (thanks, Facebook).  We blog about the times we win, not the times we lose. We talk about the times we have been wronged, not the times we wronged others. We manufacture our own stories in which we are the heroes.

But we aren’t heroes. We’re People. We make choices. We have personalities. We have bad habits and imperfect histories and honestly, we’re pretty boring most of the time.

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So let’s take solace in the fact that we won’t always be perfect.  The fact that we will annoy people. We will try to be helpful and it won’t work. We will apply for jobs and not get them.  We will suffer failed relationships, send regrettable text messages, and come in last place.

I’ll be a mess. You’ll be a mess. We’ll be a mess. And that’s okay.

Life isn’t about being perfect every time you show up–life is about showing up, period.  And tomorrow is about being a better you than you were today. If we were perfect today, then tomorrow would be pretty boring.

(And right now, by pretending I have it all together, by pretending it’s only smiles and professionalism and good news, my internet-self is probably pretty boring. Hopefully this helps to keep it real.)

Love.

Because Easy Answers are Boring.

 “What should I be when I grow up?” she asked, crossing her ankles and looking at me hopefully.

I smiled at the question.  She smiled back.

“I dun’no, mom. What do you want to be?”

My mother asks this question every now and then, in different forms. I always like when she does. It’s sweet, and it’s vulnerable, and it makes me feel like we really aren’t so different.

We are different, of course. She’s an employed, secure, middle aged woman; I’m brand new to the big girl scene. She’s rocking the house/husband/kids/dog combo while I bounce between internships, roommates, and take out in the fridge.  Maybe that’s why it’s nice to have something so simple and juvenile in common: Neither of us can see the future. Neither of us “know” what we want to “be” when we “grow up.”

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I remember the first time she shared this. I was young, still under the impression that “my parents have everything together all the time!” (even if I liked to disagree with them some).  I was sitting on my mother’s office floor with a Fisher Price boom box, interviewing her onto a blank tape. “When you were a kid,” I asked, putting on my best TV voice. “What did you want to be when you growed up?”

She laughed. “I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”

Wait–what. What?

At first, this terrified me. What do you mean you don’t know yet? Will you ever know? Will anybody ever know?

Answer: Probably not.

[Insert prepubescent panic here.]

As I get older, however, that answer feels less and less scary. At this point, it’s practically comforting.  “I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”  Of course you don’t. Of course I don’t. Look at those loaded words, momma, look: “know,” “want,” “be,” and *shudder* “grow up.”

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A few days after the conversation with my mother, I turned the “want” “be” “grow up” question loose on a 7 year old friend of mine, a bubbly little girl who had stayed late to help me clean up the Sunday school classroom.

“I dun’no what I wanna be,” She responded, then shot me a goofy smile. “Something where I can sit in a hot tub and relax with my friends sometimes.”

I briefly thought about responding with something moralistic; ‘Oh honey, it shouldn’t be about material things.’ Maybe I should bring Jesus into it somehow, because that’s what a Sunday school teacher is supposed to do, right? But honestly, Jesus didn’t say much about 7 year olds who think hot tubs are kinda cool (which they are).  So I just smiled back at her. “Maybe you could sell hot tubs for a living, huh?”

“Hey, yeah! Lots of people buy hot tubs. My mom has one.”

“You wanna be like your mom when you grow up?”

“Well, yeah. I mean, she has a hot tub.”

“Awesome. In that case, I want to be like your mom when I grow up, too.”

It wasn’t the deepest conversation, but it made me think back to my own mother; beside me on the couch, half watching TV, crossing her ankles and asking me what she should be when she grows up. We all have little moments like that, I think–whether we’re 7 years old kids, 20 something college students, middle aged mommas, maybe even as we trek through the much later years.  Wondering what comes next. Working through what we do, but optimistically unsure of where we are going.

Maybe we never “know.” Maybe the process of figuring “it” out can take a whole lifetime or longer.

But maybe, that’s the best part.

Big thanks once again to image master Samantha Polzin for her fabulous photography!
Big thanks once to my image master Samantha Polzin for her fabulous photography!
 

Living Between the Lines

This morning, I caught my reflection in a dark office window and took pause. There I was—black pencil skirt, red lipstick, slight heels, straight back, mug of coffee in hand. A to-do list running through my head, quickening with every caffeinated sip.

Mesmerizingly adult.

I took a long look at the big kid in the mirror, tucking a thick strand of almost-blonde hair behind my ear. I can’t tell you how exactly I felt at that moment. Might have been fear, or pride, or confusion. Might have been all three. It wasn’t that I was particularly uncomfortable with the look—this is hardly my first blazer/pencil skirt combo. But I knew that only three hours ago, I had been marching down the dewy sidewalk as the sun rose. Jean shorts, hoodie, messy ponytail. I was singing old blues songs to myself, and watched as the street light beside my house clicked off at 6:30 am.

The lady-type I was looking at now didn’t look like a 20-something kid who crashes on couches. But I knew. I knew that only a month ago, I was living out of the backpack that now carries my work laptop and homemade lunch. That these red shoes have seen their fair share of karaoke nights (and were purchased for $10 at K-Mart, if we’re being honest here). That I live in a cheap basement apartment on the other side of town. That I am no stranger to overnight bus rides, used furniture, and 2 am pizza orders.

Classy, classy, classy.

Shaking it off, I resumed power-walking to my cubicle. I proceeded to go through my emails. The language! Visual identity. Network application. It’s RGB, not colour. I had to “tighten up” some designs before a conference call.

I clicked my heels on the carpeted floor and streamed the radio through my headphones. I knew the language served an important purpose. I knew the jean shorts and the hoodie are no more “me” than the businessy blazer. But my head was spinning with all the transformations in my day.

Sometimes, my mother gives me this look that says “Wow, baby girl, when did you grow up?” It’s the same fear/pride double take I gave myself briefly in the window today. Only she’s looking at a transformation spanning a few decades; I was looking at one that took 30 tired Monday morning minutes.

We all wear so many costumes, and speak so many languages. I don’t think that makes our roles less genuine—we move pretty seamlessly through the motions. It’s an interesting process, though, playing a role (not that you’re faking it, but still, it’s playing) every time you walk into a certain place, or consider a certain person. Balancing the expectations and conflicting commitments.

In some ways, I think identity is somewhere in the cracks. It’s not in the office, or at a friend’s house, or at family dinner. It’s in those first few seconds when you wake up and aren’t quite sure where you are yet. When you’re driving—just driving, and for a moment you stop thinking about where you’re going. When someone touches you on the shoulder, or the hand, and your body unconsciously warms to the contact. Or maybe, if you’re anything like me, when you stare out the window at the rain.

Unexpected meditations, split second reactions.

The different costumes and languages and skillsets are important, of course. They define a lot of things. They help us fill our hours, contribute to society, et cetra. But I know, deep down, that I am neither a 9-to-5 busybody nor a sloppy, happy 20 something with a broken internal clock. Role after role after role. There’s something else, something much more powerful, dripping through the cracks with every scene change.

If you’ve ever wondered why I believe people have souls…this is it, man. When the pressure melts away for a few seconds, all that’s left to do is practice being human.

(Why This Article Is Not Called) “20 Ways to Be a Twenty-Something”

I’m a sucker for clicking on blog posts ordered into “lists.”

It’s so bad, you guys. I hardly ever like them. Those “how-to-be-twenty-something” lists from Thought Catalog are particularly tempting.  “Yes! A guru! Go ahead, stranger on the internet, tell me how to do this right!”

I know they capitalize on my insatiable desire for direction. I know these things are rarely entertaining, never mind enlightening. I know I’m being lazy, looking for life lessons in bite-sized, unemotional lists. I know all that, but I still give the articles a shot every time because–“What if they know something I don’t know?! What if they have the secret?!”

Unfortunately, the list-ers rarely  give me the shot back. They don’t leave room for another right answer. Lists are facts, rules, and deadlines. They are filled with fluffy and contradictory advice, seemingly thrown together by the same eighteen year old on ego-steriods:

Be vulnerable and emotionally available in everything…but don’t go falling in love or expressing your feeling, kiddies.  Get your shit together, and do it now…or tomorrow, tomorrow works too. Screw society…oh, but be gentle, you might need to use it later.

To save you the reading, I’ll sum ALL the articles up for you:

Build yourself, and be self-aware. Keep calm. Everything in moderation. Be good to people. Be good to yourself.

You’re welcome.

Outside of those pseudo-commandments, I’m beginning to think that there is very little deep advice that we can fit into lists like that. I also think that one-size-fits all advice is rarely a good call, especially in the twenty-something circuit. After all, this is the period in your life where you’re supposed to be learning how to question rules and step-by-step guides, not blindly march towards them. This is the time to realize how different everyone is, and how the same everyone is, and how relative everything is.

How do you list out the ideal reaction to any of that?

You don’t. You twist through your own complicated, beautiful story of “LET’S JUST TRY THIS.” Sometimes you will find friends to join you, even if it’s just for a night. Sometimes you’ll like them, sometimes you won’t. Sometimes you’ll like yourself, sometimes you won’t.

And sometimes it will work. And sometimes it won’t.

These lists try to make things logical, when they are not.  I think that’s what kills me. They try to sell us on the idea that there is a right and wrong way to do things, when there are about a million of both. The ambiguity of “twenty-something” territory is far better suited to awkward songwriting, 2 am storytime, uncomfortably honest prayers, and radically number-less blog posts.

So what, then, are lists good for? They certainly make sense for practical stuff. Studying tips. How to navigate University. Finding an apartment. Cleaning your kitchen. Planning a trip. Getting a job. Quick tips, man.

I have a few of those myself. Perhaps I will write a list some time.

But it won’t be a list that tells you how to feel about your life. It won’t be a list of premature “tips” which are really just jaded rants, personal regret, and #humblebrags.

(Unless the regret is genuinely practical.  Like, say, don’t go a year without glasses if you really need glasses. Or, don’t buy a shitty laptop.)

I hope that you can be a blogger without having to pretend you know everything–or worse, having to pretend you can put that “everything” into a list.  I hope imperfect people and listless lifestyles can fit into the conversation, because…well, because imperfect people and listless lifestyles are the definition of Conversation. And Conversation is what we really need, isn’t it?

Perhaps Sarah Bessey put it best:

I’m not too interested in telling anyone else how to live their lives anymore, let alone in six steps with a pinnable graphic.

Yeah. I’m not too interested in that, either. But I sure am interested in talking about it, and hearing about it, and writing about my tiny/young/fallible/idealistic corner of it. And maybe, sometimes, that will fit into a list.

But, mostly, my life isn’t about quick tips. Neither is yours. It’s about celebrating and mourning, sometimes at the same time. It’s about getting confused and getting the giggles. It’s the word “Oops,” and it’s the word “Love,” and it’s feeling unsure.

And I’m sorry, but there’s no number on any of that.

Kids. These. Days.

First, a short list of things that I have no control over:

My gender
My sexuality
My race
My parents
My blood type
Where I was born
When I was born

Now, a list of things that do not directly affect my employability or job performance:

My gender
My sexuality
My race
My parents
My blood type
Where I was born
When I was born

I’m new to adultland, so correct me if I’m wrong: I was taught that character, skills, competence and experience are what make or break a new employee.  I was taught that the factors I listed above are not all that important. At least, they shouldn’t be.

Thankfully, I live in a time and place that reflects these values. Being a woman hasn’t stopped me from getting a job.  I have worked alongside folks of many races and backgrounds, all of whom seemed to be treated fairly. Diversity in the workplace, in my experience, has been regarded as a good thing.

I’m lucky.

And I’m lucky that the media, bless it, is hesitant to blame any behaviour, good or bad, on such superficial factors.

…well, except one.

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For some reason, it’s totally fair game to pick on an entire generation.

In fact, it’s fashionable.

On a weekly basis, I am pummeled with articles about how  the attitude of Generation-Y, meaning anyone born between 1980 and 2000, is all but a signal of the end times.  We’re the worst employees to have. We’re the take-take-takers.  The entitled ones.

When I read these articles, I am tempted to write an article to shout back. To cite statistics and stories on the other side: NO YOU’RE WRONG! LOOK AT US!  LOOK AT ME! WE’RE WORKING HARD! IT’S YOUR GENERATION THAT RUINED THINGS! LEAVE US ALONE!  I could make a case for it. I could.  Most millenials I know are working multiple jobs, some of which are unpaid, often heavily supporting the very function of the government or helping advance the world of technology, while dealing with a hugely changing economy and paying off record-high tuition.

Whew.

Yeah.  I won’t write that article.

I won’t write it because all that seems self-evident to me.  And I won’t write it because the positives that I see are also an oversimplification. I don’t want to contribute to a totally contrived “debate” about what it means to be born between 1980 and 2000.  Because honestly? We’re insulting our own intelligence with this mainstream conversation about KidsThese. Days.

When we talk about the Generation-Y, we’re talking about a massive group of people with different capacities, backgrounds and relationships with reality. Admittedly, as with any cultural group, the Generation has some shared experiences and perspectives.  But the conversation we’re having is about jobs, about standard of living, about a person’s individual worth. Before we all flutter to the comment sections with our personal stories and claims of “I work harder than you work,” let’s get real:  You should really hire some of us.  You should really not hire others. Everyone born in this twenty-year period is not meant for the same job, nor are they bound to infect workplaces with the same “sins.” 

While headlines damning the upcoming generation may be a good way to sell papers (all together now: Kids. These. Days.), it’s lazy, self-indulgent, and stereotype-pushing “journalism.”  And it breeds attitudes which hurt. A lot.

Obvious stereotyping.  Gets a positive score of 5 on the Globe and Mail online.
Obvious stereotyping. Totally out of line. Gets a positive score of 5 on the Globe and Mail online.
tim hortons
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free education
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To be fair, the 9-year Arts party has left many young people able to spell words like "Like".

(Thankfully, the alleged 9-year Arts party has also created a generation of people able to spell the word “like.”)

Now, if these comments were tough love from someone with a right to give me tough love, I could take it.  If my client or employer thought I was acting lazy, entitled, or selfish, I would really want to know.  I appreciate, deeply, any constructive conversations that I’ve had in my short career. I love to work; I love to improve at work; I love to learn from people who have been there awhile.  Specific jobs require specific skills and behaviour, and figuring those things out is important.

But those conversations would be about me. They wouldn’t be about a Generation spanning twenty years.  In practice, it would be ridiculous for anyone to make it about that.

“Well, I’m a millennial and have an Arts degree…what did you expect?”

(said no one ever).

Once again, a list of things that no one can cite as an excuse for good or bad workplace performance:

My gender
My sexuality
My race
My parents
My blood type
Where I was born
When I was born

The reality is that it’s not only insulting for someone to use those things to categorize one’s competence: It’s dangerous.

Like any stereotyping, this “debate” distracts from real problems, solutions, and cooperation. It breeds fear and hate. It welcomes barriers based in bullshit.

If you don’t believe me, you should check out the backlash.  The “Generation” conversation has created unnecessary hostility between different age groups. As someone with a lotta love for older Generations, this backlash really, really upsets me.

NO YOU’RE WRONG! LOOK AT US!  LOOK AT ME! WE’RE WORKING HARD! IT’S YOUR GENERATION THAT RUINED THINGS! LEAVE US ALONE.

Remember this? That all may be true, but it’s about to get ugly.  A division has been created, and now there is no stopping it.

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Look at what we started.

Not productive. Not helping. But when slurs are being thrown at the younger generation from high-ranking news media, is this defensiveness all that surprising?

Charlotte Whitton’s popular quote reads “Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.”

That was said a long time ago, but if you replace “women” with “Millenials,” it is somewhat of a reality for me today.  In some ways, I’m okay with that: To be perceived as “worthy” members of the workforce, we have to pay our dues, show up on time, and earn it.

But no one should have to “earn it” while faced with discrimination, lowered bars, and prejudice from so-called Generational differences.

If we need to work harder, and be smarter, then okay. Okay.

Let’s do it together.

Let’s start by being smarter about how we categorize people.