When I was in high school, I convinced myself that I didn’t want some run-of-the-mill job. I wanted a job that would let me achieve some level of notoriety. I wanted a job that would impress other people; one that would make men envious and women swoon. I don’t know exactly why I thought radio announcer would be that job, but I did. So I went to Humber College to study radio broadcasting, dead set on the dream of becoming an announcer for a radio station – preferably a rock station.
I won an award for being the top announcing major in my 2005 graduating class. I loved doing my show on the college station, CKHC. I was proud of my breaks in between songs. I was proud of my demo. I was confident that I’d be able to land a job out of school as a DJ on a radio station somewhere.
That didn’t happen. Instead, I bounced between a couple of overnight board operator jobs and a weekend job reporting traffic. It wasn’t the announcing I envisioned, but I was on-air, and still pretty proud of it. During my on-air shifts, I would sign into MSN Messenger and change my status to “On air with CFRB from 12-6” to brag to my friends.
In the fall of 2005, I was offered the chance to be on-air full time as a traffic reporter in Halifax. When I accepted the offer, I did so with the belief that it would help me eventually become the music host I wanted to be. But I didn’t work to make that happen. I focused on my job and adjusting to living on my own for the first time in my life, in a new city no less. My DJ dreams waned, and waking up every morning at 3:30 left me feeling that a run-of-the-mill job wasn’t so bad after all.
After two years of working in Halifax, I decided I should go back to school so that I could know more than just how to announce accidents and construction. My dad came to help me move back to Toronto in August 2007. We rented a U-Haul trailer, hitched it to the back of his Honda CR-V, and loaded it with my meagre possessions.
As my dad pulled out of the parking lot of my apartment complex, I rolled I down the window on the passenger side and took one last look at the view of Halifax I had taken for granted. I could see the three red and white-striped chimney stacks from the power plant in Dartmouth. I could see the green top of the Macdonald Bridge. I could see the red tips of the shipping container cranes at the Halifax port. I could see hills of green trees and a grid of grey roads and the quaint little houses in the neighbourhood around me. I fought back tears and mouthed the words “I failed.”
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In my first-year philosophy class at the University of Toronto, I marveled at the fact that I was reading the essays of men who lived and died long ago: Descartes, Nietzsche, Kant, Locke, Aquinas, Hume, Rousseau. Their ideas remained intellectually stirring and their essays still essential reading long after their deaths. Throughout my coursework, I would cite other intellectuals and academics and researchers and feel a mix of gratitude for and envy of their work. I started to think how wonderful it would be if my ideas were to be read and studied years after I was gone. What if hundred years from now, university students quoted my writing in their essays? What a legacy that would be. What evidence of a life well lived. What proof of prominence.
While I was at university, I got into the habit of watching the news every night at 10 with my dad and uncle. The nightly bombardment of stories on terrorism and typhoons, illness and government infighting, famine and death, made me feel as though I had to do more to make things better for the people who had been so royally screwed. Maybe it wasn’t so bad that the radio DJ thing didn’t work out. Maybe I was on track for more meaningful work, which of course would come with its own level of impressiveness.
As I did at Humber, I worked hard at U of T. I did all the required readings. All of them. Every fucking page. I trekked to libraries beyond my campus. I read and highlighted articles on my 45-minute bus ride to school, and on my 45-minute bus ride home. I took a lot of pride in my work ethic, and in the grades it produced.
I felt as though I was making myself better, that I was working towards great things, but I realize now that I wasn’t. I was completing assignments and writing essays for the sake of getting them done and getting good grades. I was so engrossed in my schoolwork that I never really thought about how I would achieve something more notable than a glittering transcript. Graduation day came, and before I could even think about how to turn my degree into something of substance, I was sending resumes all over the place and not hearing back from anyone. My piss poor job search coincided with a decline in my health, and whatever sense of worth I had for myself during university became nothing more than nostalgia.
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I’ve always equated what I do with my self-worth. If I’m not doing something impactful, or something that renders me well-known on some level, or something that receives feedback in the form of good grades, or some mad combination of all those things, then I don’t feel very valuable. I feel replaceable. Life feels pointless. If I’m not recognized, what the hell’s the point? I’m just another face in a commonplace crowd, and that’s nothing to feel good about.
It’s that line of thinking that I’m trying to change. I’ve been seeing a counselor for the last couple of months in hopes that I wouldn’t feel so down so much of the time. It hasn’t really helped much so far, but changing how you think is no small job. What’s worse is that there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to change the way I think. I worry that if I become comfortable living a pedestrian existence, I’ll kill off any chance of being something more.
I’m a mess, I know.
A number of people have told me that I’m too hard on myself. But I think the deeper issue is that I’ve fooled myself into thinking that I could be something great. Maybe I’m just average and boring and replaceable. What a horrible thing to realize. But I suppose that’s better than continuing to kid myself into thinking I’m so brilliant and then sliding into sadness when I’m so hard on myself for not doing anything with that supposed brilliance.
Homer Simpson was once asked what it was like to be famous. “People know your name, but you don’t know theirs. It’s great,” he replied. I’ve always wanted to be in that position. It sucks having to face the possibility that will never happen, and that feeling less like shit every day means having to accept it.
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