“We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. That’s not true, (I always do a lot of thinking) but I’ve been paging through this awesome book called Boomerang Kids by  Carl Pickhardt Ph.D. and it’s been very therapeutic for me. While I’m not a Boomerang Kid per se, if I didn’t have my awesome and reliable boyfriend and the support of my parents to live in Pittsburgh *deep inhale*… I’d live with one of my parents right now *deep exhale*. I have a full time retail job, which I’m grateful for, but with debt from my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, I can’t pay all of my bills  or loan payments each month without some help. So. While I’m not a Boomerang Kid I identify with a lot of the strife that Boomerang Kids deal with. I’m telling you all of this because I’ve had a bit of a thought revelation while reading this book. But first, I want to rewind.

This past May I applied to a dream advising job. I got a call in June, and in quick succession had a phone interview an an in person interview all within a month and a half. Then, there was nothing. I’d dutifully hand written my thank you notes, and left behind a packet that contained a tailored sample advising syllabus, campus resources for the institution, my philosophy of advising, and my resume. I felt good about the interview, but not hearing back was starting to worry me. My confidence dwindled, and by the time I heard back from them and learned that I didn’t get the position, I was far from surprised. Heartbroken, but not surprised. I’m sure the candidate they chose is lovely and will do great things for their students, and I tried my best not to take it personally. Because it wasn’t personal at all.

I sort of went into mourning for the future that slipped through my fingers like a handful of sand, though. I let myself imagine what it would be like to get that job. I thought, ‘I could pay off a good chunk of my loans with the money that’s helping make ends meet where my paychecks don’t. I could have vacation time. I could have my own health insurance. I could walk to work on nice spring and summer days. I could have disposable income. I could have weekends and weeknights all to myself. I could start saving to buy a house.’ The thought police were nowhere to be found and I let my imagination run wild with the possibilities.

When it didn’t work out I was an emotional mess. My migraine free streak ended, and I started getting awful tension headaches that wouldn’t go away for anything, and it felt like someone was sitting on my chest a lot of the time. My anxiety and stress manifest with shortness of breath, so you’ll hear me sighing a lot not from discontent, but because I simply am not getting enough oxygen.

Fast forward to picking up this book at the library on a whim, and I started to identify with the young adults this book was describing. While it’s written for parents of Boomerang Kids and has a ton of good information about coping with your child while they struggle to get their feel on the ground, it’s undoubtedly helped me pick myself up and dust myself off.

One of my biggest problems is that I tend to view life in a formulaic way. Go to college, get degree, get job. No one ever told me it didn’t work that way for everyone. I was told I could do anything I wanted; the sky was the limit. I just needed to check off the correct boxes on the curriculum of life and I’d get where I wanted to go. While that’s true for a lot of people, it isn’t true for a lot of other people. I’ve been putting myself under a lot of pressure to get a job that utilizes my degree (or at least allows me to live a financially stable life) and I’ve been kicking myself while I’m already down. The longer it takes me to get where I want to be, the more I hold myself accountable. I get stressed and frustrated, and my body starts to break down. My self care has been at almost 0. I see all of my doctors regularly and I have a therapist, but I haven’t really been doing anything to actively check my state of mind. I used to do yoga. I used to paint my nails. I used to wear make up. I used to get massages. I used to treat myself occasionally.  I don’t do any of these things on a regular basis now. I haven’t felt that I deserve it. I’ve been punishing myself for not being where I want to be at this point in my life. I see others who are my age (and less educated than me!) that have the life I want and let me tell you, when they say, ‘Comparison is the thief of joy,’ that’s real. Really real.

So what’s the point of this story? Well, for one thing, the unrealistic expectations for myself end today. There’s a fine line between staying motivated and setting yourself up for failure and I crossed that line a while ago and I need to get back on the right side of things. It’s easy to feel like everything is your fault and that you’ve made many mistakes, but when you’re putting yourself out there and making an effort, your criticism of yourself becomes absolutely unhelpful and very hindering. Today’s the day I adopt the phrase, ‘Tell the negative committee that meets inside your head to sit down and shut up.’

7 thoughts on ““We have met the enemy and he is us.”

  1. Jill Weddle says:

    Hi Jess! I love your blog. I can relate to a ton of things you write about! I was actually just venting about the comparison game too (http://jillweddle.com/1/post/2014/10/lets-be-real.html).

    Working in higher education, I’ve seen MANY underqualified people get jobs because they were already working in the department as a student worker, intern, etc. As you mentioned in an earlier post, networking is one of the most important things you can do to get yourself a job!

    I need an update! What’s going on with your academic advising job search now?!


    • Jess Philo says:

      Hi Jill! Unfortunately where I am right now (Pittsburgh) the job openings are few and far between. Next in the works is a trip to another region’s annual conference to expand my network. I just started crunching the numbers yesterday and I’m excited to get to know people in advising from other cities and states :)


  2. Jessica Brown (@jessbrown) says:

    I love that you wrote about this! I know you told me on Twitter that you’re a regular anxiety sufferer, like me, and I cant totally relate to what you write here. They say expectation is the root of all evil and I feel like your 20’s are definitely a time of expectation. You think life is “supposed” to be one way and when it isn’t, you freak out. I created a private Facebook group called anxietshe for women dealing with anxiety and you should check it out if you like!


    There are a little over 40 of us now that kind of serve as an online support group, and we chat about anything from stress before a test or interview to major mental health issues. Anyone is welcome to join and many of us are from the Pittsburgh area!

    – Jess @ http://www.inpursuitofsimple.com


  3. Lindsay Coffin says:

    I just found your blog by Googling ‘how to get a job in higher education,’ and, while I was looking for advice on whether or not I should cold call a recruiter for an admin job I’ve applied to, finding this post turned out to be way more helpful. Just wanted to let you know your insight has reached a fellow anxiety sufferer in need. Key connection moment: “I haven’t felt that I deserve it.” It’s so disgustingly easy to fall into a pit of self-hate during a job search, and that sure don’t help the struggle. Thanks for this post, and keep fighting the good fight!


    • Jess Philo says:

      Your comment alone has made this post worth posting! :) I always feel a bit odd baring my soul like this to the internet but if I’ve helped one person, it was worth it. Higher education is such a tough industry to break into (sometimes I feel like I have a better chance at moving to L.A. and becoming an actor. And we all know those odds…) and it’s been a really trying time for me because I’m learning all of the things that I really wish I’d known before, well after I’ve gotten my degree. Hang in there! It can’t be this tough forever, and each positive thing we do creates forward momentum and confidence, even if it doesn’t pan out the way we want it to.


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