Making It Out: When Coming Home Feels Like Failure
I have a soft spot for TV series about struggling twenty-somethings trying to make it in the big city: Broad City, Insecure,—dare I say it?—Girls. Over the past couple weeks, I have found myself binging all three late at night, lying awake in my childhood bedroom, often with my phone in hand as I study the “career” section of their creators’ Wikipedia pages.
These shows, along with many others, embody a phase of life I have not yet reached: a turbulent era defined by the simple words “post grad.” As senior year and the end of my college career creep closer, I find myself equally excited to jump ahead to the next chapter and anxious that I won’t be able to shape my impending reality to meet my current expectations. To me, these series and my background research serve as preparation; maybe if I learn from other womxn’s real and imagined missteps, I can make less of my own.
Getting out of the small, Delaware town I grew up in was always on the agenda for me. I have planned to move to New York since I first visited Manhattan as a four-year-old. As I’ve gotten older and set my sites on a career in media, this want has morphed into something of a professional necessity. The harsh reality is that I can’t build my future by going back home and that’s why I spent this past semester manically applying for every relevant New York City summer internship I could find. The months rolled on, the cover letters piled up, the rejection emails trickled in, and my LinkedIn feed, saturated with internship announcements, became a constant reminder of how much better everyone else was doing.
Suddenly, it was April and the panic had fully set in. Sure, there were still plenty of publications I hadn’t heard back from (and plenty I never would), but even if I did land a gig, there were so many factors to consider. For one, how the hell was I going to pay my rent? In my obsessive effort to not go home this summer, I lost sight of the fact that the-all-too-common “unpaid internship” was not something I was at liberty to take. The dual burden of collegiate employment reared its ugly head. In a time when many entry level positions require prior experience and 43 percent of internships at for-profit companies are unpaid, millions of young people struggle to afford employment. As rent continues to soar, those of us without hefty financial support (on top of the already immense burden of tuition) are set back in our careers before we even begin. This especially limits those of us whose family does not live in or in commuting distance of a city and those who do not have a family home to return to.
So, one reality-check-phone-call-with-my-mom and subsequent-emotional-breakdown later, I came to terms with my harrowing reality: I might be going home to work at a golf course all summer. Again.
If I’m being honest with myself, I know that my burning desire for a summer internship was about more than getting a leg-up professionally. Going home for the summer not only feels like a personal failure to meet a goal, it feels embarrassing. Here I am, little miss high school cum laude, small town roots with big city plans, and I can’t even make it out for three months?! Cue existential crisis.
Of course, this overly dramatic self victimization is amplified by the fact that I go to a private liberal arts university in a major city, the kind of school where small town kids like me are in the minority. Over the past three years, I’ve had several difficult conversations in which I had to explain that where I come from isn’t the suburbs, but—unimaginably—somewhere even more remote. I’ve had classmates think I was joking when I said I drove by cornfields and chicken coops on my way to high school, and I’ve come to the realization that no one around me growing up did what I want to do. And so, the pressure to prove myself, and the feeling of defeat when I fall short, continue to heighten.
How could you not feel the need to prove yourself, when reminders of other’s success are plastered across your phone screen everytime you mindlessly scroll through your Instagram feed? College summers are stockpiled with exciting internships, trips abroad and FOMO. The view from one’s childhood bedroom makes it easy to feel left behind.
But what good does that do?!
One of my best friends is constantly reminding me that my worth is not dependent upon my professional success. Each time it feels like a revelation. She’s right! There are so many ways to grow, create, and learn (and save money) beyond what can be typed out on a resume.
But... I did end up getting an internship. Not in New York, but in D.C. I had to lobby for pay and I’m going to be bouncing around between friend’s couches and guest rooms for a bit, but I made it happen once I swallowed my pride and asked my friends, family, and professors for help. The position and the circumstances aren’t the dream scenario I had etched into my five year plan, but I’ve begun to believe that the ability to be open to possibilities is an underappreciated skill.
When I accepted the job offer, I encountered the inverse of going home embarrassment: leaving home guilt. As bad as it can be to feel like you’re not moving forward, feeling like you’re leaving people and things behind can feel pretty bad, too. It is important to know that things will not always go your way, but it is also important to not let yourself feel guilty when they do.
It is okay to want something more than what your hometown has to offer. It is okay to go after what you want. It is okay to fail along the way. And it is okay to go home. A homecoming can be complicated, but it is not a regression or a reflection of one’s drive or productivity. Despite social pressure, it might just be the best option.
And isn’t it lovely to have a familiar place to land?
About the Author
Victoria Middleton (she/her) is a third year student at The George Washington University studying journalism and mass communication with a minor in women’s, gender and sexuality studies. She discovered her love for writing as a little girl, typing fairytale stories on her parents old Dell and printing them out before taping them into glitter-glue-encrusted cardboard covers. These days, she thinks honest and fully developed stories about women are even better than fairy tales. When she’s not scheming against the male hegemony of the media industry, she can be found thrifting, watching cult films and TV and badly dancing to good music. She has been known to get overly excited about intersectional feminism, astrology and David Lynch.