A Kindergarten Lesson

I was taught, as many of us were I’m sure, that manners are the way to go. If you want something, say please. You want them to know you are polite. When they hand it to you on a silver platter, say thank you. You want them to know you appreciate their efforts. I was also taught that hard work yields results. You must be the wave that keeps kissing the shoreline with ferocity; because if you are, you will achieve all that you hope for. So when I entered college, I got to work.

I applied to things, attended classes and took notes. I updated my resume every other week. For a while, it seemed like the adults were right – my hard work paid off. In fact, during my first semester of my final year at Bentley University, I had 3 jobs. One was an off-campus internship and the remaining two were on-campus positions. On top of this, I was doing well in school and held a leadership position in an on-campus organization as well. Those were the glory days, if I might say so myself.

Then came spring semester. It was a different time. I stumbled upon Facebook posts and Instagram pictures of my peers who had signed offer letters or been accepted into a Masters program. I felt like being successful in college has garnered me a medallion, which was now choking me. I couldn’t casually chat with someone and not have them ask me what my plans after college were. Even friends, in low, morbid voices, would ask, “Do you know what you’re doing yet? I mean…after?” This was all done with the best of intentions, with well-meaning curiosity. That little fact, however, wasn’t enough to console me, because I always had the same answer. “No idea”.

All of a sudden, it felt like my days had to be spent researching jobs and writing cover letters, because unemployment after college felt like the imperial stigma. It felt like none of the achievements in the past mattered if I did not know what I was going to be doing with my life, before I had to walk across a stage in a cap, gown and tassel to collect a degree I wasn’t sure meant anything to me anymore. Besides, for someone who has, in the past, been eligible for 3 separate employment opportunities, how could finding one full-time job be so damn impossible? And yet, that is what it seemed like.

In the beginning, I would read the job description and try to imagine myself engaging in the responsibilities described. If the fantasy was an easy one to achieve, I would go ahead and start typing up a cover letter from scratch. I would outline my qualifications and summarize, in depth, the skills I would bring to the job. I used ‘collaborate’ and ‘diligent’ and ‘effective communication’. The subtext of all of this, however, was ‘please’.

Please reply back to my email. Please call me in for an interview, I won’t disappoint. Please think I have something that the others don’t. Please don’t ask me if I am a U.S. citizen. Please, please.

Eventually, when the rejections started rolling in and it seemed as though there was no point in much trying, I stopped the fantastical imaginative process. My eyes started to glaze as I read the job descriptions and my cover letter template proved most useful. Still, my words said please with resounding force.

Please give me a chance, I don’t want to graduate without a job. Please understand that I am actually a really good worker. Please look past my words and all the desperation, and see shiny beads of optimism that just won’t back down. Please.

January and February had slowly rolled in and out of my last semester. They bid farewell with pity in their eyes. March snuck up on me, making me more and more nervous. It forced me to allocate 3 hours a day to searching, researching and writing, and then, before I could blink, left in a hurry. April was a tornado. It left me in pieces. I found myself waking up in a frenzy that had nothing to do with the last few weeks of college and everything to do with the after. I shrugged off all words of encouragement at this point because none of them seemed tangible. None of them were going to get me a job.

These were thoughts I expressed to a friend one Tuesday night. I sat on his couch and cried. I let my un-employability whirl around the room and told him that I felt like a loser; for not knowing and for not being able to embrace the uncertainty. He listened to me without interrupting. Then, he spoke about a cousin he had. Someone who was accomplished in the field I wanted to break into. He asked me if I wanted to speak with her and apologized for not thinking of connecting me with her earlier. I nodded a small yes. I was broken but determined. I was ready to run down any path in the hopes that it would lead me to clarity.

Clarity came the week after, but not in the form of a job offer. Clarity came from a rejection email. I had applied to a job in Canada. The position fit everything I wanted and the interview was stimulating. I was certain of how much I wanted it. Around 4 pm, my phone buzzed. It was an email that clearly stated that though they had loved my candidacy, my visa status meant that they were going to pursue other options. Basically, a no like any other.

Except this one felt different. It came a few weeks before my last day on campus. It came as I was getting ready to say goodbye to the life I’d known for 4 years. Instead of disabling me, it gave me crutches to walk to the other side. I was not going to graduate with a job. I was going to have to be done with this chapter of my life before I find out anything about the next one… and that was okay. All of a sudden, I felt okay about not having it all figured out. I almost laughed when I thought about how old I was.

21.

And I had so much time to figure it out. Here I was, rushing, as if graduation was D-day. I could see beyond, now. Sure, the disappointments hurt but just like that, I was okay with them. I felt calm knowing that my life would continue to grow once May 21 had come and gone. Subconsciously, I proceeded to become excited about the next five-year window of my life. This was just as well, because I was getting tired of being the pessimist in the group. Negative thoughts, I had realized, could be exhausting.

But an hour before my final exam at Bentley, I got an offer letter with my name on it. A final, defining clarity. It was the cousin. I had interviewed with her a week prior to that. She wanted me to join her team. Just like that, all those months and days of stress and disappointment fell away. All that remained what a certain kind of optimism. It brought everything together for me. 6 hours and 2 parental phone calls later, I had accepted the offer. Now, I had the task of saying thank you to the person whose idea had catalyzed my employment. The please and thank yous, once again, were on my mind.

I walked into his room slowly. As I did, I saw a mental image of my flustered self, hurrying in with tears in her eyes, just weeks earlier. He was standing by the kitchen counter. I told him my news and he was happy for me. It was all very anti-climactic in the end. I tried to tell him what this meant to me but he didn’t want any part in it.

“This is all you. You deserve it. You worked for this”.

But I did hug him for a long time, and here’s what I wanted to say but didn’t:

Thank you for listening to me, for thinking of me, for trying to help me. Thank you for recommending me, for believing in me enough to vouch for me. You don’t know this yet, but you have given me the starting point that I am going to make my own. You tell me that you have not done anything hard in your life and that there are times you don’t respect yourself because of it. But I want you to know that I do. I respect you because you are wise and you care. You tell it like it is, even if the person you call out is yourself. So, thank you for being my Yoda, if you will. The one that always told me the truth. Thank you for this opportunity and for being part of my life. Thank you. Thank you.

V, I hope that this hug imprints my thoughts onto you. I hope that you know that through all the broken hearts and knees, the 4 am confessions about imperfect families and friendships, I am proud to call you my twin.

Saying thank you was immeasurably harder than saying please, because it meant so much. And now that I have started, I find that I cannot stop at just one thank you. I do ask that you bear with me because I must thank one more person. As I went through my journey of self-doubt, uncertainty and disappointment, this person stood by me every step of the way. I find that calling him my boyfriend takes away from the vigor with which I feel about him. I don’t want to confine our relationship to its romantic boundaries because that would be inaccurate. A is my best friend, mentor, therapist, cheerleader, food critic, drinking buddy and secret diary. He is the still water that consumes my waterfall. He can make me laugh on the darkest of days. I can only imagine how hard it must have been for him to watch me spiral into my darkest fears. But he was persistent. He held on for me when I gave up.

He supported me. He told me that my time would come, and then he spent an incredible amount of time trying to make me believe it. I think I almost did. He was the first person I told about the offer letter. As I lay next to you and told you the news, and you rubbed sleepy eyes to congratulate me, here’s what I was thinking.

Thank you for never giving up on me. Thank you for being my rock. Thank you for understanding me when I was being incoherent. Thank you helping me up, every day. You tell me that I have changed your life and I don’t know how to respond; because you didn’t change my life, you shaped it with your love, your kindness and your words. You are the very reason I am who I am. So, thank you for helping me morph into a person I am proud to be. Thank you. Thank you.

I guess what I am trying to say is that manners are tough in the real world. But they’re equally important. You have to be humble enough to say please and thank you, because you cannot make it out there, alone. You are going to need help. Don’t be afraid to ask for it, and don’t forget to be grateful after.

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