An Anthem for Charmless Hard Workers

Maybe you flubbed your interview. Maybe you were too shy to cold-call an HR representative. Maybe you landed a position, but still feel overshadowed by the seemingly greater successes of your peers. Maybe you’re someone who lands interviews but never hears back: someone who feels qualified yet uncertain where her talents lie, frustrated with a system that seems to reward those with privileges on which to lean, burnt out by it all yet unable to escape from the gripping adrenaline-rush of submitting just one more application on Handshake.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Musings aside, as spring semester ebbs from memory and the summer heat sets in, those of us who flourish throughout the school year but fall just shy of landing our first-choice summer positions grapple with a sense of insecurity and failure as we migrate home to spend the next 90-some days in social isolation. It feels like a regression; time stands still for us as we fall into old routines of younger days. It doesn’t help that we are constantly inundated by LinkedIn or Instagram updates on the part of our classmates, well-deservingly sharing their latest accomplishments at their impressive new jobs. Yes, it is possible to feel simultaneously ecstatic for our successful peers while harboring that same sense of defeat. Simply put, it pains to feel proud of someone else without feeling proud of oneself.

If this sounds like you, know that you are not alone. I, for one, am currently sitting alone in my childhood living room, save for the company of a fluffy companion. While I am proud to have secured a local temp position, my success feels somewhat overshadowed by the incredible journeys some of my peers are embarking on. I struggle to feel productive with the sudden onslaught of free-time by which I find myself besieged. As I prepare for my first day at work, I cannot help but inquire as to whether I am committing enough time: if there is something else still available to fill this lag.

For me, much of the frustration surrounding the internship application process is my lack of natural ability to immediately relate to another human being. I find it challenging to remain comfortable in the space between formality and casualness, to the point where I come across as tense or disinterested in positions. In short, I lack charm. This shortcoming translates into other parts of my life as well, including informal office culture, student-run organizations and family social gatherings.

Awareness of my lack of charm did not come to me easily, to some degree due to pride, and, to another, because for a while I was landing my dream jobs (I know, I know, come flame me). But those positions were solidly one way or the other: incredibly formal or remote, lacking any sort of human interaction. Instead, I learned this by taking countless interviews at a variety of companies with contemporary cultures: the sorts of places at which you wear casual clothes on Fridays, refer to your boss by their first name (“It’s Chad”) and enjoy free yoga classes in the breakroom. True to my collared shirts and inflexible joints, I was turned down by every potential Chad out there. I learned by observing the types of candidates who were selected: impressive, highly qualified people with a little something extra. That personality needed to cross the finish line. They had the “it” factor, the relatable, company-culture-aligning charm. This is a valuable lesson, and I admire and thank the people who revealed it to me.

But I digress. If this helps you reach a similar self-awareness, I am glad to have been of service. For this summer—for this seemingly endless stretch of humid, empty weeks ahead of us—I invite you to embark on similar acts of critical, educational, yet forgiving personal reflection. Allow yourself to have taken a wrong approach, but do not vilify yourself as a failure for having done so.

Remember this: perceptions of personal success wax and wane like a round cheese in the night sky. It’s unfortunate that self-worth is often contingent on external conditions, such as harboring a fancy title or earning a particular wage. But nothing you have ever accomplished or ever will accomplish is reversed by anything you believe you have failed to gain currently. In other words, you are not unraveled by lacking something someone else has.

This is to say that sometimes, we get a big break. That’s fantastic—you are deserving. But sometimes, we don’t. That’s also fantastic—use this extra time to congratulate your peers and consider what you have yet to learn.

With that, here’s to you, charmless hard-workers, and to all of the skills, accomplishments and potential you tote. Don’t lose sight of them.

…And if you’ve graduated, but you didn’t receive any fancy awards? Here’s your anthem.

Image courtesy of Duke University Archives via Flickr.

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