• Wed, Sep 28 2011

Chasing Thirty: On Disappointments

Andrea is on a quest to check off a bucket list of items in her 29th year. You can read more about her adventures at her blog, Thirty-Things.

You know what I hate? When something bad has just happened to you and some well-meaning soul reassures you that it will all work because “everything happens for a reason.’

Really? I suppose this phrase is contingent on the aforementioned reason being so vast and unknowable that we’re never meant to figure out what it is, only to trust that it exists and that the bad thing that happened to you will ultimately be for the best. I had a wonderful, insane-in-the-best-possible-way writing professor in college who went on a rant about this and it has always stuck with me. According to him, one of the reasons fiction is so satisfying, so necessary is that the kind of logic that we wish existed in life can be applied on the page. Because, as he said, in life ‘what goes around, does not come around, bad things do happen to good people and cheaters do prosper, they get away with it, they win, they party!’

So true.

However, looking back on my twenties I can see what might drive people to this kind of skewed, convenient logic because some of the biggest disappointments in my life have turned out to be blessings in disguise. And when I say disguise, I mean deep CIA-style cover.

When I was applying for colleges, I really wanted to go to a big school. I grew up in a small town and was sure that bigger was better.  Teeny tiny University of Redlands was recruiting me hard for their tennis team but I wanted with all my heart (for reasons I can’t even quite remember, probably something really sensible like the fact that it was on the beach) to go to comparatively gigantic UC San Diego. I ended up not getting in because I didn’t meet one of the history requirements and so I went to Redlands. My junior doubles partner did end up going to UCSD and was the very last person cut from the tennis team during tryouts. I was in the starting lineup at Redlands all four years and I loved being at a small school. I also met Pat Geary there who would become my writing mentor and change my life.

When I moved to New York, I was convinced that I wanted to work for a magazine. I interviewed for a bunch of assistant positions where I tried to convince myself and my potential employers that I was looking forward to spending my career writing about lip gloss.  This culminated with an exciting/terrifying interview with the Managing Editor at Vogue where I found myself talking about nothing but books. I didn’t get the job but a couple of days later I got a temp position at Random House where I would end up working the entire time I lived in New York.

When I left the city, I had every intention of heading off to an MFA program the following September. When I didn’t get into a single one of the programs I really wanted, I was devastated. But as I sulked around Seattle trying to figure out what to do next, I discovered how much I loved my hometown and eventually found a job that was better than anything I even realized existed when I left Random House.

So what am I to glean from this trend? Are the Pollyannas right? Did all of these things happen for a reason? Of course not. Sometimes things happen that suck. The best thing we can do is acknowledge this and move right along to doing something amazing to counteract the suck. Future You isn’t going to care so much about that let-down if you’ve done something awesome in the meantime. It also helps to remember that nothing is a cure-all: it’s easy to think that if you’d just gotten that job/ acceptance letter/ guy/ book deal that your life would now be perfect but this is never the case. Never. You’d just have different problems.

What are some of your big disappointments that turned out to be for the best?

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