The summer after I graduated from college, I worked as a camp counselor. It wasn’t my dream job- the camp was at the swimming pool that I’d worked at as a lifeguard during my teenage/college years, and while it had been the perfect summer job growing up, I’d hoped that by the time I graduated, I’d have a “real” job.
I got the call for an interview for a teaching job in the late summer, and was thrilled when the principal called me to let me know that I’d gotten the job. I was going to teach fifth grade and middle school history. I’d gone to school to be an art teacher, and hadn’t taken a (non-art related) history class in over four years at that time, but at that point, I would have happily agreed to teach anything if it meant that I’d be joining what felt like all of my friends who had “real” jobs (not that there is ANYTHING wrong with being a camp counselor- this was just my outlook at that point, and summer camp is only three months out of the year).
During teacher week, I planned and listened to my helpful colleagues as they explained different school routines, what my schedule would look like, and how to set up my classroom. I felt prepared for greatness.
After two or three days of school, it became abundantly clear to me that I had no idea what I was doing. I’d learned how to teach art during my student teaching internship, but I had no idea how to teach elementary school reading and writing, let alone the history of Ancient China. Managing a classroom is one thing when you’re reading about it in a textbook (after all, they’re just kids- I was one at one point, I’d thought), and a completely different thing when you’re actually doing it yourself. I was extremely lucky, however- I had an amazing mentor and professional support system, and finished out my first year successfully. It wasn’t a perfect school year, but I loved it- I learned more than I thought possible, and worked harder than I thought possible. By the time I started my second year (when I switched to teach art), I felt much more comfortable with teaching in general, but there were still moments (and this continued for the next five years) every day where I had no idea what I was doing.
I think that as adults, we learn somewhere that even if we don’t know what we’re doing, it’s best to pretend that we are. Even as I’m writing this, I’m worried about what potential readers/clients/etc. will think about me when they read this- but I feel like it’s important to write, because I’ve had this nagging suspicion lately that I’m not alone in this-
I have no idea what I’m doing.
It seems silly now (actually, scratch that-not silly, embarrassing) but when I got the idea to start a blog (which I obviously didn’t keep up) this past summer, I thought that I would write a post about taking my business full-time, where I shared the ins-and-outs on time and schedule management, branding/marketing, pricing, etc. Ha! I am now six months into doing this full-time, and while I love this job and would not trade it for the world, I still have moments at least five times a day where I mentally throw up my hands because I have no idea what I’m doing. I make mistakes daily (at least)- and send texts to my family and friends each day asking for their input on different project proposals/pricing inquiries/etc. I stare blankly at my computer screen while trying to make sense of health insurance premiums and wondering if/how I’ll be able to afford it in the new year. My Google search history is full of questions- “how do I create a vector image?” (and what exactly is a vector image?) “when should I file my taxes” (and how do I do that, exactly?) I cancel plans with friends and family when I over-schedule myself for a certain/day week, and I am constantly wondering whether I will ever be able to reach that balance between fear that I’ve taken on too much or not enough.
Social media is an amazing tool for business growth and a way to keep in touch with people and see (to an extent, but I’ll get there) what’s going on in their lives/share what’s going on with yours. I am definitely not knocking social media- I use Instagram daily, and have it to thank for many of the professional (and some social) connections that I’ve made (slowly, ha!) over the past couple of years. That being said- and I know I’m not the first to make this point, but it is an important one- it’s difficult not to use what we see on social media as a gage for how we’re doing. I do it constantly, both personally and professionally- I look at other artists’ work and collaborations, and admit to sometimes jealous and wondering how I size up in comparison. I look at the profiles of college acquaintances, and have the same feelings when I see their houses/families/vacations. I’m not saying that I’m this awful jealous person who sits around wanting people to all fail so that I can look more successful in comparison- I am happy for these people and their successes, but there is definitely a twinge of jealousy that creeps up from time to time.
This is normal- I know this much because I’ve heard friends admit to feeling the same way, and have read blog posts and articles citing the same feelings. But it’s important not to take social media at face value- it’s basically a highlights reel, the filtered “greatest moments” of our careers/lives. No one (myself included) wants to post photos of their speeding tickets or messy apartments or dinner of Cheez-its and wine.
Finally- this brings me to why I felt the need to write this. I got one of the kindest messages that I’ve received last night saying that everything on my Instagram and stories looks organized and consistent and asking me if I ever have bad days. I read it in total and complete disbelief, and am still kind of in shock. I had no idea that I could possibly come across that way to anyone- my friends and family can vouch for me that I am neither organized nor consistent, and while I have built a job for myself that I am proud of, I make at least ten mistakes a day (not an exaggeration), work off of a waterlogged IKEA dining room table (our only dining room table, which I moved to the center of our tiny apartment in June), and go weeks without going to the grocery store (probably seems irrelevant, but I always feel better about myself as a human when there’s more than condiments in the fridge).
I love my job- and I am insanely grateful every day for the fact that I can do what I do, and for my support system, and for my customers. But in the end- I still don’t have any idea what I’m doing- and that’s not a bad thing. Not knowing what you’re doing, I think, means that you’re in a career where you are challenging yourself and learning something new every day. I have no idea what I’m doing, and if I’m lucky, I never will.