The strange nature of success

By Madelene Nieman

This issue marks my last week at the Beacon. Once I submit my thesis next week I will also experience my last week as an undergraduate student. It’s been a busy three and a half years at Emerson, between studying abroad and internships and housing fiascos. Though hectic, I always told myself that this messiness, this feeling of being lost, this all-consuming anxiety, would all pay off. If I had a good GPA and took on as many internships as I possibly could, I would be fine.

That is not how things have turned out. Though I’ve been applying since mid-September, I find myself a week away from completing my degree without a full-time job lined up. Though I’ve been to countless interviews and forged multiple professional relationships, nothing has quite panned out. This is incredibly difficult for me because my whole life up to this point has been based around strict markers of success.

Life beyond academia is a bit more nebulous than the routine of classes. There are no deadlines aside from bills, no one to warn you when you’re about to flunk out. There is a certain weightlessness attached to graduation, and being untethered is unnerving. I’ve found myself growing more depressed and lethargic as the semester has rolled on. My life is not turning out how I thought it would, and more often than not, that is overwhelming.

Empirically, I know that everything will turn out fine. But it’s hard to tell myself that when students younger than me are nominated for Pushcart Prizes and friends are offered full-time gigs at studios where they interned. My self-assurances, at times, feel more like self-delusion.

There is no single answer, no one thing that will make the terror of the future go away. Yes, Toni Morrison published her novel at 40. But the fact of the matter is that I’m not Toni Morrison. Very few of us will be, and that’s difficult to accept. Still, we must. At a certain point, we must accept the uncertainty of our careers, our art, our loves. Aside from hard work and persistence, very little else we do has a direct impact on our futures. Luck is our sun, chance our north star.

As a 17-year-old heading to college, I could not foresee the ways in which my life would change. I could not know that I’d transfers schools and change majors, that I’d make friends who would save my life and fall out of touch with many more. Though I’m old enough to stop sneaking vodka from my parents’ fridge, I am still the same person who sat in the backseat of my mom’s Subaru, holding back tears and waving to my dogs.

I am trying to remind myself to be patient, even now. I squint my eyes tightly, scrunch up my nose, and pray for the winds to change. I think they will, eventually. I believe that there are brighter things coming down the line.