Monthly Archives: August 2013

Ambition’s Shadow

When I was in high school, I wore my MIT sweatshirt on the day of important exams– SATs, ACTs, APs, and Honors Physics.

I considered it the academic equivalent of the guys who do pushups every time the football team scores and the girls with their boyfriends’ numbers painted on their tank tops and faces.

On one hand, for nerds like myself, I suppose this is terribly arrogant behavior.  Wearing the MIT sweatshirt on the steps outside Southside High School meant something.   Clustered among a small group of overachievers, all of us nervously clutching our graphing calculators and car keys, the sweatshirt served as nonverbal intimidation– to the SAT, to my friends, but mostly to myself, as it was a willful proclamation that I was good enough for that kind of school.

Because everything rode on getting into that kind of school.

It really did help though.  Not in some crazy good luck charm kinda way, but in a real way.  It was a visual way of saying what I believed I was capable of.  That’s a mindset shift, and while the intimidation end of it might have been a little intense, the starting premise was good.

Yesterday, I read about a girl who, as an entry-level analyst, courted a major new client for Merrill Lynch when she was 22.  By the time she was 25, she was COO of an industry revolutionizing activewear company in Sweden.   Suddenly, I felt like such a major underachiever, but not in a green-headed jealous kind of way.

I kept reading and nearly every story I came across, I was like “Shoot, I could do that,” “I’d make that decision,” or “OOhhh, for the opportunity.”  In some cases, I was like, “I’ve done that already.” 

Yesterday, I wore a pair of pointed-toe, bright red, patent leather stilettos.  I’d literally been searching for this particular pair of shoes for seven years, and I finally found them about a month ago.

Granted, I went by myself and no where important, but the shoes still fit a little bit like my old MIT sweatshirt.

The only difference between then in now is that there’s no admissions counselor standing in the way.  I’ve “arrived” and am free to do whatever I like; I just need a platform to do it.

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The Annotated Nightstand

When I moved out of Wesleyan, I salvaged my old $12 particle board nightstand from Walmart and bought a pack of 30 sharpies.

Now, on this nightstand, between the short stack of books I flip through at night, is the careful calligraphy of a girl who grew up in the digital age (read: well-intentioned, scribbly cursive).  Sprawled across its white surface are colorful quotations from my favorite books, graphical renditions of my prayers and dreams, and what is pretty much the only surviving record of any attempt at poetry that I’ve ever made.

While my personal library rivals that of my two roommates combined, the stack of books on my nightstand occupy a coveted and elect space.  They’re the only ones within arms reach of my bed and thereby serve as the books I’m most likely to actually read on a quiet night.

One’s on entrepreneurship, another on deception and morality.  The others include a short how-to on leadership training from the perspective of a former Russian communist and a healthy collection of thinking theological texts.

Sometimes I go to the grocery store, and I become overwhelmed by capitalism.  The possibilities are practically endless, and yet, I just ate crackers and cheese for dinner.  Worse yet, it was the third time I’ve done that this week.

Something similar happens when I read.  Overwhelmed by how much I don’t know and understand, I read five chapters of everything and change books.  It’s like saying I’ve put munster, gouda, and cheddar cheese on my crackers this week, but still haven’t figured out that if you add deli meat, two slices of bread, and a pan you get a panini.  It’s also why my nightstand collection includes communist commentary, pop non-fiction, and Oswald Chambers.

This can be really bad.

I almost always did almost all of the reading for class.  One particular week in a post-imperial history tutorial, I got a paper back, one in which I had called a certain unnamed political transition “peaceable” in the introduction.  The professor circled the word and wrote, “Millions of people died.”

Yep, I’d missed an entire genocide.

That’s really terrible.

I say all this to say–I really miss my thesis research.  It provided focus, scope, and perspective on everything I read.  It also provided an insanely small nano-universe in which I was the so-called “expert” and served as the primary argument-maker.

My annotated nightstand speaks nothing about my research, but it says everything about a will to articulate, understand, and a life that meters progress by months and years instead of semesters.