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Avoid the tyranny of polite consensus

I sit in the Prayer Room surrounded by plants and open windows, pale sunlight filtering through a double layer of blinds and cloud-scattered sky. I have my cap on but not my gown because frankly, the gown material is weird and it doesn’t fit quite right, and I also like the dress I’m wearing. So there.

It’s an…odd day…full of odd feelings, and in attempting to articulate them I feel like I’m floundering in a tangle of words that each mean something and yet mean nothing if not strung together properly, and I can’t quite seem to be able to find the correctly sized needle, or the right color of thread to begin that journey of creation. Of weaving a tapestry of words to show and tell what this day is supposed to bring and feel and be.

What am I supposed to bring, feel, be?

A college graduate, freshly scrubbed, shiny and new, ready to tackle the world and its challenges with a passion and a diploma and a hefty sum of student loans in my back pocket that I’m trying not to think about. That is the expectation. Here is my reality; I graduated in December of 2019. I have not technically been a student for five months, but I never had a ceremonial stamp of approval for my job well done. Today, as I sit through virtual ceremonies with my cap on in a room by myself (my housemates are in their respective rooms watching their own graduation videos) I wonder why I don’t feel something more. The closure I yearn for is, in all honesty, not there to be found. I don’t…FEEL graduated. And I should feel more graduated than everyone else! I already have a physical paper diploma (it is outrageously large) still rolled up in the tube it came in, patiently waiting in my bedroom to be framed and hung for the world to ogle and admire.

But I don’t want to hang it up, precisely because of how idiotically grand it is, but also because…somehow, I don’t feel worthy of celebration.

Does that sound weird?

It feels a little weird.

Why wouldn’t I be worthy? I’ve done all the things. I studied. Hard. And I made new friends and I created beautiful art with them in the form of musicals, plays, halftime shows, performances, photographs, videos and songs. I read interesting books and studied fascinating topics and learned to think about the world and the people in it in new and engaging ways. But I don’t have a job, nor do I have many job prospects. All I have is debt and a big piece of paper.

There’s the rub, methinks.

Instead of basing my personal idea of “success” on the growth I’ve undergone as a woman and student, I’m trying to base it on external, societal classifications of success. I have several bachelors of arts and am not currently employed in any of the fields I majored in, living in a grubby (albeit well-loved) home with five other women, and am waiting to hear back from exactly one job interview…that can’t give me an answer until July.

I currently don’t have a “real” job. Cue anticipated feelings of pity because, by unspoken polite consensus, I’m not very successful at the moment.


I’m nannying part time and working as a freelance copy editor and website consultant (it sounds fancier when I write it down, but trust me it’s not nearly as lucrative as it sounds). And I’m trying to pursue my career as an actor! I’m investing money in equipment like microphones and lights so I can record high-quality self-tapes from home to send to castings. I’m investing time into watching videos, taking free online classes, auditioning for different projects and stretching myself creatively by writing poetry, reading books and learning a new musical instrument.

When I look at the previous paragraph, I do se someone who is successful. I’m doing my best in a world that isn’t making anyone’s lives easy right now, especially for someone seeking employment in a nonessential field like entertainment.

Though graduation wasn’t all it was cracked up to be … the real highlight of my day was grabbing Cookout milkshakes with my housemates … one prerecorded line spoken by a professor I never even had still echoes in my brain; “Avoid the tyranny of polite consensus.”

For some reason this collection of words hit home, and spurred me to find the perfect color of thread to begin weaving my tapestry; by avoiding the tyranny of polite consensus, I can embrace the liberation of defining and creating my own success, and being empowered by what that word means to me.

I recommend you stop for a second and think about how you are being successful. How you are being true to yourself in this time of self-reflection and building potential energy. Ask yourself how you can better serve yourself and your goals. One thing I’m learning is that life is not a get-rich-quick scheme. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something. It’s a plod through mud and brambles to an end that isn’t always visible through the mist, but each step forward is it's own little success. You did a thing! You should be proud of that thing!

I also did a thing. I guess I’m proud of that, too.

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