Doing the Work: If Most of the Time You Don’t Because It’s not “Good Enough”

FeaturedDoing the Work: If Most of the Time You Don’t Because It’s not “Good Enough”

I am a solid millennial.

When people complain and complain about the millennial generation I know if they’re being accurate based on just how much shame I am feeling about the topic at hand. I’m not on the border. I’m not kind of an x-er or really of a different category. I fit the bill. Guilty.

Oh, also I own a house, have 3 kids, and paid off my student debt years ago. Not that you have to have done those things to be a millennial, I’m just pointing out a place where the stereotype doesn’t hold up.

It doesn’t. Because I am solidly a millennial, I promise you. I love avocado toast. For reals. I mean have you HAD avocado toast?

But more than the avocado toast, I grew up thinking several things.

1. It was imperative that I be happy in whatever I was doing.
2. The world is broken and it is legitimately a thing I need to be directly fixing in my actual life.
3. I personally need to change the world in some way to have mattered.
4. I tend not to have automatic respect for my elders. I mean if it seems earned ok. But if I think I’m more skilled, I’m not good at waiting in line. So as far as those “kids these days” lines go, that one is true for me.
5. If all of the above did not make it clear, my expectations for life are a tad unrealistic.

But I was so sure I could be the one to actually do it! And unfortunately, I did well enough in school that my ego was not particularly deflated by the time that I left HS.

In college, I did just as well! But when I approached the finish line and no one was handing me the reigns to the world or even a job and the economy collapse of 2008 was not promising and turns out I am on occasion too shy for most people to take seriously as a leader of anything unless it is turning in assignments and understanding the minimum work required to get an A without any wasted effort–I started to look around me and all I saw was Illinois.

Whoops.

I spent the last year of my college career in therapy trying to understand where it all went wrong and being pretty sure I had been far too immature to get married and it turns out they don’t test you before they let you do it. (12 Years later we figured things out on the go but it’s a little like laying down tracks in front of a moving train).

So when my husband said he had a potential job offer in Saudi Arabia I laughed and said “You can apply if you know we’re not going.” And then I said with a do not cross me look on my face “because no way on earth are we going to Saudi Arabia.”

And about 3 months later after urine samples and pooping in cups and promising not to convert Muslims and having all our earthly possessions boxed up and shipped the wrong way before finally being shipped the right one we landed in in Jeddah Airport where I felt like I needed to wrap myself up for modesty because though my clothes were modest they were also hot pink and white and it turns out that the dress code for women is pretty strictly BLACK. (Did I mention I like to dress in clothes so bright they might burn your eyes out, especially if you’re one of those people who prefers blacks and neutrals?)

Because it turns out Saudi was hiring and paying when a lot of places in the world simply weren’t. It seemed patriotic at the time to make a lot of money in a Middle Eastern country and then take it all back home to pay off student debt and buy a house, so that’s what we did. And I became something known as a trailing spouse which meant it was actually illegal for me to be employed in our new home and my only job was to hang out while my husband worked.

And after about two weeks of thinking about going nowhere in my career for the next however many jobs I got an illegal job writing copy for the University PR department and they let me name a whole bunch of streets in our new city (they’re still there, the 60 or so names I picked out on bright green signs at the intersections of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology). Of course, after a few Saudis got wise that I was being allowed to do things basically everything else I did was black-balled from then on out and I attempted (and failed) to start social media for the University and attempted to write a University newspaper and failed (4 times mind you) and I attempted (and failed) a great number of other things before I crashed and burned into a hopeless pile of I don’t think I’m going to be changing the world anytime soon and I would settle at this point just to be allowed to change the heading on one stupid article.

So I quit. I quit that job in a flaming hailstorm so boisterous (which involved me crying like a baby in my boss’s office that I had no idea what I was doing in my life and by the way no one has paid me in months and since I’m an illegal immigrant employee complaining about it hasn’t gotten me very far) that 3 other people quit at the same time and invited me to a party to celebrate which is where I finally learned how to get a hair cut in Saudi (they HIDE the salons) and turned down smoking shi sha because it turns out I am still obsessed with that part of me that wants to be SO SO SO good and change the world.

I should have just smoked the freaking Shi Sha.

After that I immediately started sleeping basically all day and staying up all night to play video games and spiraling into an existential tailspin wondering what had become of me. Meanwhile, my husband had undramatically held down a steady good job THIS ENTIRE TIME GUYS. So I started running until I could run a half-marathon. I took kick boxing so I could beat the heck out of whatever I thought was standing in the way of my hopes and dreams. I traveled to Istanbul alone. I got lost in Istanbul alone. I managed to find someone in Istanbul I knew who had a map and found my way to a hostel alone where luckily a very capable friend was waiting so I was no longer alone. I took a road trip in the United States by myself and realized it was the most independent thing I’d ever ever done and wasn’t that sad and wasn’t it awesome anyway? And I took Arabic 3 times a week for two hours until I could speak about as well as a preschooler and at least tell the cabbies confidently to PLEASE SLOW DOWN BEFORE YOU KILL US ALL and then I got a new job which wasn’t as glamorous but at least they let me do things kind of and I could come in at noon and leave at 3 and no one cared so I did.

And then I started having mini panick attacks about how I was basically checking NONE of the to do items on my life list and so I got pregnant with my first kid because at least START A FAMILY was doable for me.

And that is how I had my first child as a result of a way-too-early midlife crisis because I was supposed to be changing the world and I WAS NOT even though from Saudi it was sure easy to let people believe that–because it turns out people start to think a lot of you if you go somewhere they see as dangerous even if where you went is really just full of restaurants and movie theaters and doing just as little as you ever did before but at least you can take the occasional scuba trip and get some nice pictures even though the truth is that your scuba buddy didn’t want to partner up with you anymore than those kids in 5th grade wanted you on their kick ball team and you had to learn what it was like to cry underwater because he went far lower than your license actually allowed you to go and you are still too much of a rule follower and also afraid of popping a lung to follow him.

Weird. It’s really weird. The crying underwater I mean. Probably everything else too, but especially the crying.

So had one kid two kids three kids and then I started this blog and giving people advice not so much because I have so much experience or wisdom but mostly it turns out because I like to give advice. It’s really quite fun but also be really careful who you take advice from–it turns out a lot of us do not know what we are doing. (Have you ever seen the movie 8th grade? Oh my goodness that girl and her video advice.)

And then before I knew it I found myself in a pandemic trying to remote teach (whatever that means) two children while entertaining the other career still un-started with no assurances that there will even be a career TO start before the whole world burns itself down. And murder hornets.

Also, ash is falling from the sky and then snow, and then ash again because apparently my town is stuck between the biggest wildfire Colorado has ever seen and the earliest blizzard Colorado has ever seen and the former is too hot to be put out by the latter.

I’m a millennial. I shot really really high. And every time I’m not happy I am tempted to think that I failed. Even with the paying off my debt and traveling the world and house and kid having. I’m always afraid that I failed. Or maybe that I am still supposed to somehow change the world with my three kids trailing behind and that is EXHAUSTING.

But.

I am changing the world. It’s a fact. I know that about every single person I meet. I see their individual place in the world so easily. I always have. I know just how the puzzle would break without a single person. But I can’t ever seem to look down and see myself. All I ever see is mess and what has to be the MOST exhausting person of life because I won’t stop trying and I won’t stop crying.

Hey, that rhymes.

But that has to apply to me too. And I know, deep down, that raising three boys to become three good men is a world changing thing. And who else could do that but a crazed, crying, trying, street naming, world traveling mom who likes to list of random facts like hamsters eat their young and everyone gets to be an entirely new person every 7 years at the cellular level. It’s a fact.

Maybe if this person doesn’t change the world, the next one will. Or maybe my kids will. Or maybe my stories.

Or maybe, my job was always just to be a normal person living the best life I can and I am not so much an amazing writer or advice giver as someone who adores telling the truth in whatever messy fashion it exists.

That’s not a thing everyone even CAN do let alone WANTS to do, you know. I’m going to write even when it’s not pretty, popular, and my Mom is the only person who ever comments (which is often true, but at least MY MAMA APPRECIATES ME).

And I’m going to be proud of that even if lots of people never wanted to know this much about me. Or maybe only a few people ever read it. Even if I retell the stories a hundred times from a hundred different angles only so that someone else will KNOW without a doubt that their own story isn’t so abnormally messy or weird or broken after all.

You are a piece of the puzzle whether you live to rule kingdoms or just to make sure people get their groceries every day.

It’s a plain fact. If one piece is missing, it almost doesn’t matter what the whole picture is–that piece will dominate your thinking until you’ve looked under every rug and every table and every foot and inside every household register and even behind the bookshelf where it COULD NOT POSSIBLY be (but somehow was).

We need you. I need you. And it’s ok if we’re not happy or even if we’re swimming in anxiety and kids and pandemics and protests and mistakes up to our eyeballs. One person matters forever and always.

That means me. That means you.

So the next 7 years of me I am going to trust that my place matters in the world whether I find the next job, the next adventure, the next world crisis, the next beautiful thought, or just my next good book to read. And so does yours.

I promise.

If You’ve Never Been an Immigrant (When you need a Human Life Preserver)

If You’ve Never Been an Immigrant (When you need a Human Life Preserver)

Immigrants are some of the bravest people I can think of in this world. And if you have never been one, there is just almost no way to explain how incredibly terrifying and difficult it is to step into a new place where you not only don’t know the rules, but you don’t even know that there are rules you don’t know. I have been an immigrant in another country, and that was tough for sure. But I was somewhat prepared for it as an adult. It doesn’t hold a candle in difficulty to the first time I ever immigrated within my own country.

The first time I stepped foot into the cafeteria at Doudna Elementary, I had no idea where I was supposed to sit. No one had told me where to sit, or how seats were assigned in the cafeteria. At every school I’d ever been in, seating was assigned. At the previous elementary school I attended, it was not only assigned, but done by class in alphabetical order. For four years I had always sat next to the kids whose names were nearest mine in the alphabet. Four years is practically an eternity for a 9 year old.

So with great anxiety, I looked for the kids who my cubby was next to in my new 4th grade class: Daniel H. and Beau H. And I was in luck! They were sitting together! They must do alphabetical too. Not wanting to stand there looking stupid any longer I hurried over to sit with them.

They looked at me like I was some kind of cockroach. Something was definitely wrong. My calculations were definitely off. But not knowing what else to do I ate my lunch as fast as I could and left. I walked out onto the playground where all my new classmates were playing. None of the games looked familiar. No one invited me. I really had no idea where to start and I had already tripped up pretty badly in guessing, so I just sat alone.

Later on I would find notes that my 4th grade teacher made about me and wrote to my mother. “Does not play with the other children. Does not get along with classmates. Spends too much time alone.” Not once had my teacher EVER asked me what was going on or why I wasn’t playing with my peers. What I DO remember was being told soundly that trying to talk to my teachers at recess was inappropriate and I needed to stop. (I had tried to start there because I was generally comfortable in the world of adults. Or at least had been before that.)

A couple days in, I realized something that seemed totally overwhelming about the cafeteria debacle. Kids sat wherever they wanted to. That had just not been the culture of the blue collar school I had come from where such enormous choice might be dangerous. It had not even occurred to me ONCE that the reason the cafeteria was indecipherable was because there were no rules at all to where one sat.

I finally settled on sitting at a table which was mostly occupied by girls from my class. They didn’t seem too thrilled about my presence either, but it was at least getting less of a shocked reaction than the boys I tried. I had no idea that I was sitting at the “popular” table. I just quietly sat at one end, and tried to put as much of my body as I could into the hole that the tables were folded back into when the cafeteria once again became a gym. I listened to what people said, and mostly didn’t talk.

Once I made the mistake of engaging in a game from my old school and tried to “match” boys and girls from my class as couples–but mostly based on putting people with the same color of hair together, the same height, same nose shape, and so on. Kids at my old school weren’t really seriously pairing off yet, so the game was pretty innocuous. But at my new school, couples were already serious business and one of my first couplings was one of the cool girls with a less than cool boy. She immediately told me she would put me with the very large kid in class and started to tell other people about it. I was horrified. I wasn’t trying to mean, but she clearly was.

I was trying to play by the rules I knew. And it did not work.

One day I showed up to sit in my spot at lunch, and the queen bee of the table was already sitting in it.

“Look Andi!” she called out mockingly “I’m sitting in your spot! Are you going to cry? Are you going to try and make me move?”It felt like she saw me drowning and decided that it was high time she took my life jacket, and maybe gave me a good push under as well. I stared at her for a moment. People weren’t perfect at my last school. I knew that when someone was getting made fun of it always got worse when they fought back. So I just picked another spot and I said nothing. I intentionally never sat in my favored spot again.

That was the beginning of a lot of days where I said absolutely nothing. When kids stomped on my feet, I got Mom to buy me steel toed shoes and never explained why. When someone punched me at school and the teacher took his side, I swallowed it. I didn’t want my parents trying to fix it or defend me. When a teacher decided she HATED me because of my Dad’s politics, I just went about my day and tried to dodge her accusations and back biting as much as I could.

Do you know what eventually happened? You should.

I started cracking. The kid who had once kept her head down and really really tried to make the best of things and put a positive spin on everything died. Sometime in Middle School I started arguing. I threw things back at the bullies. I even hit a few kids (careful not to get caught mind you.) I got in food fights. I snarled when people even sounded like they might be thinking of being mean. By the time I graduated with those kids I was known as abrasive and opinionated and definitely oversensitive.

I know this can come off as a long oh poor me kids were mean to me once blog. I hate that. Please know I hate that. Because what I’m really trying to point out is NOT that those kids were bad and I was good. I’m not trying to make any statements about the relative pain of my own school experience compared to anyone else. I’m saying that because of my different culture and expectations for how things worked, I got off to the wrong foot in my new home–and I really never got back on totally. I made new friends, but I never recovered with those first people and I had a very very hard time trusting people in my community.

I was from Kansas, friends. I moved to another state in the same country. The people in that town were not bad, so much as completely unequipped to deal with someone who did not know what they knew. And it did not have to be much. I spoke the same language. I looked quite a lot like them. But it was still enough difference to make a mess of things before I had hardly even gotten started.

I now work with immigrants and people who don’t speak English well because every time I look in their eyes I feel like I just get a little of where they are in life. They are doing everything they can to fit in and blend just like people want them to. And they work so hard to do just that. But what do you do when you have no idea how to pay your rent or that putting garbage out at regular scheduled intervals is a thing? What if you have no idea most Americans aren’t really into a kiss on the cheek and that pointing with your middle fingers is not a good idea, even if that’s how you pointed back home? The only thing that fixes that is if someone comes along and is 1. Kind enough to tell them 2. Understanding enough to forgive them for any previous mistakes.

And even stupid little mistakes in a brand new community can set you up to fail basically forever.

You know what DID eventually help me find a place to belong, and enough to survive, so that thank the good Lord, food fights and a few kicks to the shins were the worst things I actually did? The people who adopted me. The friends I had until the end of high school who were gracious to me and who filled me in on what I was missing (and forgave me for being a bit grumpy and oversensitive at times.)

Friends save lives people.

Friends save immigrants who don’t know how to do very basic things to function in their communities.

Friends save minorities swimming against a sea of people who want them to be just like themselves.

Friends save silly lost girls in grade-school cafeterias.

Friends save anyone who by no fault of their own is a little off the right path and doesn’t know how to get back to a safe place.

Always ask yourself if someone did something rude because they ARE rude, or if there is some piece of culture or personal history you might be missing. And you know what? You can always always ask. Often, almost always, people have reasons for what they do.

I think standing in the gap for someone is one of the most enriching and empowering things I have ever ever been blessed to be able to do. Because in some small way, I feel like I am getting to reach a hand of comfort back to my child self, who didn’t even know where to sit in the freaking cafeteria. And all it really takes is friendship freely offered with room to understand someone with a different story than my own.

So I’m pleading with you. Wherever possible, figure out where people are drowning in culture or even just in life and throw them a life vest. Heck, go and be a damn human life preserver. Because one day, if you are very lucky, you will need a human life preserver and someone will be that for YOU.

And you will never ever forget that person.