Attack of the Panic!

There is a great story about Derek Jeter, that when he was six years old, he told his parents ‘I am going to be the shortstop for the New York Yankees.’ You can picture this little boy, face set with determination, announcing with absolute certainty that he is going do something that millions of other little kids want to do. 30+ years later, and he’s a future Hall of Famer and all-time great Yankee.

When I heard that story, when I was about six or seven, I decided I was going to play for the Yankees. It made perfect sense at the time. I loved the Yankees. I loved baseball. I watched every game I could and devoured as much information as possible. I would play and we would the World Series every year and I would live happily ever after.

Unfortunately, despite being named to the All Star Team of the Peter Stuyvesant Little League in my rookie season in the league, that dream quickly died. And none replaced it.

I graduate college in 4 months. Some day in the middle of May, 2011, I will walk across a stage, accept a diploma from Nancy Cantor and walk off the other side. I will have written my last paper, taken my last exam, slept through my last class, and handed in my last assignment. I will be finished with academia. I won’t be going to graduate school because my particular major doesn’t need it, and I have more than enough debt as it is.

I will graduate Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Science in magazine journalism, with a minor in English and Textual Studies. But that doesn’t mean anything. My 2+ years spent learning about journalism has soured me towards it, rather than excite me. Newhouse has taught me that writing ability, creative thinking and wordplay have absolutely no place in modern-day journalism. Rather, a successful journalist is persistent and possesses a tremendous work ethic.

The issue isn’t that I won’t have a job when I graduate or I’ll be poor or anything like that. I’m sure I can find some random job to get some money, pay off loans and pay my bills. The issue is that I don’t know what I want to do. I don’t have a calling. I don’t have something that I am entranced by, nothing that excites me. I love sports, but you can’t make a career out of being a sports fan. I don’t want to write about sports, at least in the way that you need to to make a career and a life out of it. I don’t want to interview athletes and stay up all night on a cross-continental flight writing a 1000 word article that will be tossed in the trashcan the next morning by my editor. Unless you’re Bill Simmons, you can’t live solely on writing 5000 words essays on what you think about current events in sports.

So journalism has quietly been ruled out. And just like when I realized that I was not going to be a Major League baseball player, nothing has replaced it. I have nothing that rouses me. I don’t have an activity, a hobby, anything that inflames my soul. When am I at my happiest? In the five minutes after my team has won, basking in the glow of their victory. Computer on my lap, I am joyfully watching interviews and press conferences and Twitter-ing about the game. Sportscenter is flickering in the background. Alas, you can’t make a job out of that. And even that fades out quickly, as the glow of winning disappears as I look to the next game.

A lot of the stress of it comes from a lack of self-confidence on my part. When I think of a possible job or even a seed of an idea that could lead to something, I immediately think as to reasons why I shouldn’t or can’t do it. So when I learn about journalism needing hard work and interview skills, all I immediately think is that I have a stutter that makes interviews an awful experience, and I have a history of cutting corners and doing just enough.

A friend I am talking to as I write this suggested getting a job with the Yankees, or some other sports entity. Even if the job itself is nothing special, at least it’s involved with something I clearly care about. Just some entry-level position that requires no special experience or degree. I will be filing papers, or making copies, or getting coffee for the secretary of a secretary of a secretary. My self-confidence fails me there as well: I immediately think that there are so many people gunning for these positions. The same things that make these jobs somewhat realistic for me make them realistic for every other person out there who needs a job. What makes me stand out? And how often do you hear that those jobs are grabbed because some guy has an uncle who went to college with the boss?

Therein lies the part of the problem. I am a pessimist, but in sneaky, subtle way. I don’t see the glass half-empty, but I do worry that as soon as I go to drink, the glass is immediately going to be tipped over and smashed. Where others see a potential opportunity: a job, a life change, a girl; I see potential failure. I see all the ways in which I might screw it up. All the ways in which I might let someone down. Which I consciously know is stupid, and not productive and frankly self-destructive. But I can’t help it. It’s just a flaw of mine. I could go on for days analyzing how my dad’s narcissism and delusion led to me being determined to never delude myself in to thinking I had no flaws, which then caused me to overcompensate by seeing my flaws in too glaring a light. (My entire family works in psychology or philosophy. We think like this.)

So I get these random moods, which prompted this writing. They can randomly hit, or be caused by something small and insignificant. In this case, I thought of an idea that might lead to something while I was in the shower, and when I asked for some feedback afterwards, it was quickly and utterly shot down. It wasn’t done in a malicious way. Far from it, it was just pointed out that my idea had somewhat already been done.

So here I am. Idea-less, goal-less, direction-less. As much as I know everyone goes through this, I can’t help but to worry. I feel that nagging edge of doubt. The monster in my stomach that makes me nauseous. That flash forward of myself in 15 years, living in some cramped apartment, coming home miserable from a day’s work. I flick on the TV before I warm up a microwaveable dinner. I turn on my computer and check news before the microwave dings. The Yankee game is delayed a few minutes while the Stadium thunders with applause as Derek Jeter’s number takes it’s rightful place among the greats. All I can do is watch.

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