Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Scraping by, an IWSG

It’s time for another IWSG. If you haven’t had the privilege of heading over to Alex’s blog and jumping onto Mr. Linky, I can highly recommend doing so. First off, the posts people put out there are fantastic, and second, I’ve met some really great people, so hop on and check it out.

Today, I’d like to tell you about another way that I’m absolutely going to drive myself insane: bottom of the barrel/alternate/snuck in/wasn’t a real contender, but we had some extra spots syndrome.

I’m now going to dispense with embarrassing facts, feel free to run screaming for the hills. See, when I first applied to grad schools, my top school turned me down flat. I went and got a masters degree, and since that school didn’t have a PhD program, I applied to my top pick again. I got in as an alternate. Someone else took a different funding source so they took me.

When I was in high school, I didn’t really make the varsity team in soccer. They would often have me sit out games so they could field me on the JV team because I was young enough. They took me to all the varsity events, but I was never good enough for prime time.

On the swim team, they had a bunch of spots to fill for the team, and they didn’t have enough distance swimmers so they told me I could swim varsity if I would specialize in the 500 meter.

In band, we had a ton of saxophonists, but not enough trumpets. Would I be interested in brass? The next year it was trombone (btw, I loved trombone so much that I stayed with it all the way through college and even made districts later that first year, turned out I absolutely loved it).

I auditioned for a play and got cast… as an extra.

I entered a writing contest, and I didn’t get picked as a principle player, but then I got in as an alternate…

Do you see where I’m going with this? I’ve had this feeling for most of my life that I’m not good enough. I’m close to competing, just not all the way there. I’ve talked about not being the beauty queen of queries, but the truth is, life is like that. All of life. Some people get to win the query race, and run through the ribbon like a superstar, but if you look at the Boston Marathon, you know there aren’t nearly as many people who get to run through the ribbon as there are people just happy to cross the finish line.

Almost/alternate/scraping my way into grad school and everything else in my life has one thing in common that I usually forget: I was still in the band, I competed, I made the team, I was on stage. Sure it wasn’t the unmitigated success of my dreams, but there were other people who would have killed to be in my place (though seriously, that swim team was hard ass work, so I don’t know how many of those people would have made it more than a couple of practices).

I’ve been thinking a lot about perspective lately. I think that if I were to step into other peoples shoes they’d all feel about the same. See, I have this fear. You probably have it too. I fear that because I just scraped my way in, that it was more grit than grace, that someday—any second now really—some government official is going to walk up to me and say “Ms. Rocford, you’re a fraud. It was all a mistake. We shouldn’t have let you on the team. You shouldn’t have made the play. You were not meant to go to graduate school. We are sorry for the inconvenience, but even you have to admit you don’t really belong here.” I’d admit to the truth of the matter and go back to whatever reality I was supposed to belong to.

And the scary thing is I’m not the only person who has ever felt that way. Even Neil Gaiman admitted that he has felt like that, and he felt like that while also being very successful.

Which means this feeling has no bearing on truth or reality.

Yeah, some people get to run through the ribbon at the end of the marathon. Some people finish last. Some people get injured and don’t finish. Some people just quit. Some people are taken out by circumstances they could have never imagined when they started. And some people make it look easy, and I envy them something fierce.

I try to look at success as a mountain. There are no degrees of success, there is made it or not. The scraping by of my life has no bearing. It doesn’t matter if I crawled hand over hand from the bottom to the top, or if I free climbed up a shear face like a rock star. If you make it to the top of the mountain, you’ve made it to the top of the mountain. In the end, it’s always going to feel like we snuck on the train, or just barely made the team (but not really). That’s life. That’s publishing too. Sure there are some people who get to run through the ribbon, but it’s always going to feel like we bled our way there (even if we’re running through the ribbon).

And if you’re suffering from scraping-by-itis, just remember this: Einstein never failed any math classes in high school as popular culture has asserted, but when he went to defend his dissertation, they wouldn’t even let him try*. Imagine how he must have felt when he finally got them to allow him to defend. Did he feel like a fraud?

Regardless of how he felt, by the definitions I impose on myself, if I’d been Einstein, I would have felt like I’d just scraped by, grit not grace, orneriness not gensius. Einstein was only ever almost good enough for the team, the alternate. I try to take comfort in that.

*Germany has some interesting structures for conferring degrees, and this is an anglicized oversimplification, but one that is based in fact, they did turn him down the first time. Utterly. Bet they felt silly ten years later.


  1. Great post Rena!

    Interesting fact about Einstein.

  2. Fabulous post, and I agree with every word. Keep climbing that mountain - I bet you are closer to the top than you think! :D

  3. I love this post, because you're right. I think we all feel like imposters. Also, I would like to point out that if certain doors aren't closed, we would never find other opportunities (like you with the trombone).

    Stephan Blackmoore has a post that helps me with this. He says to be awesome, not perfect. http://stephenblackmoore.com/2012/06/05/fail-often-be-awesome-sooner/

    Also, I think I would rather have orneriness over genius. I wouldn't mind both, but orneriness is a skill I could use over and over. :D

  4. Great post, Rena. I think we all feel that way some times, and it's great for us to remind ourselves of what we accomplished, not how we almost didn't.

  5. ps. I love your new profile picture!!

  6. Sometimes if things are too easy, you take them for granted. If you've just scraped in, for whatever reason, you appreciate it all the more (which you obviously do). It's character building :-)

  7. boy, do i get that!
    not good enough. and at something i really want to be good at. i see it all the time when kids try out for sports. look at american idol.

    not many people achieve the trifecta- talent -> job -> happiness
    i'd settle for 2 of 3

  8. I kind of prefer grit over grace, because i feel like i can control my amount of grit, whereas grace is kind of out of my hand

  9. What an amazing post. I love it. I want to print it out and tape it to my desk, my workout dvds, and my car (cuz, you know, I often think the only way to get from point A to point B is at 120 mph. I want that blue-ribbon in speeding!)

    Seriously. LOVE this post.

  10. Good post Rena. You sound like me :) Jack of many trades, Master of None ;) haha

  11. FYI: I nominated you for a blog award over on my blog!

  12. Plan to, just haven't het. Maybe I need a roundtuit?


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