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Daily Challenge: Something difficult about your “lot in life” and how you’re working to overcome it.

Note: I guess this one kind of was inspired by this article.

The question will knock you off balance, a feeling comparable to looking at your current bank account balance, realizing you’ve locked yourself out of your house, or having your parents discuss the whereabouts and contents of your porn stash. You know that, deep down, it would always come from friends, family, and eventually strangers who have the best intentions in the world of getting to know you better.

“So… What’s going in your life?”

You fitz and fuddle and momentarily pray to a higher being that if you look off in the distance, take a call from a phone that’s not ringing, or even choke on the coffee you shouldn’t be able to afford, maybe they’ll instead move on to more pressing matters. In the end, no matter what you say and how much someone else tries to comfort you, you know the answer:

Nothing.

You mention how you’ve recently seen The Great Gatsby, and how much you loved the book and how long you’ve been waiting to see the movie. You talk about how you took a free rowing class, or how you’ve been taking free improv classes, or even about all the great food you’ve been eating with friends, but a look crosses their face that clearly says, That’s not what I meant. You foolishly wonder if they’ll settle for this answer, this measly excuse of a life update, and you begin to think about stories you’ve had with other friends. After all, friends are the spice of your life, and they’ve certainly given you many reasons to smile and laugh and live.

You once remember reading this wonderful quote about how

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

You understood this to be a measure of character, of how you’ve carefully chosen the people most important to you, and how these people will shape the choices you make in life. You pride yourself in the fact that while your friend circle is crazy, it does not include a heroin addict, a prostitute, a college dropout, a beggar, an alcoholic, nor a serial killer. The friends you have, in short, are successful.

You pause, and review the five, ten, fifteen people closest to you.

The friend with a stable job, longtime relationship, and loving doggie. The friend who just got into business school, where you know a steady income will flow from a career based on passion and interest. The friend who’s always known who she is, was, and will go with her job and relationships. The one who always landed on her feet, who so proactively pushed on past whatever handicaps life tried to throw her way. The adorably engaged couple who shared your college apartment with, and their travels across the country and around the world, together.

You look at your own life, its pathetic tendrils wriggling helplessly in your palm. Yes, you’ve heard the talks over and over again. Of course it’s hard to find any job in this economy. Relationships are so hard to come by with people your age. But nothing anyone says comforts you over the simple fact that everyone is doing better than you. Their happiness casts a shadow over your own, and it takes everything in you not to scream and shake a fist at whatever karma-dealing gods in frustration.

The friend who has already been accepted into medical school tries to comfort you with, “You just have to keep on trying, it’ll come eventually.”

The just married couple reassures you that, “Once you stop looking, love will find you.”

The more advice thrown in your direction, the more you feel like you’re being dragged deeper and deeper into some depth, some cold environment where all you’ll do is grow bitter with jealousy at all of your friends who have something going for them.

The friend in New York who has always believed that you undersold your talents and education pushes you to apply for dream entry-level jobs. “Of course you’re qualified,” she says, “You just have to make sure they realize it.”

Said job application appears, and for a shining moment, you believe a thread has finally descended and will pull you back up, that it will save you. You spend weeks writing cover letters, making connections, writing sample after sample, interviewing with the head copywriter, only to be rejected at the final round: We’ve decided to go along a different direction and hire a different candidate, and with that, the thread snaps.

“Of course you should keep on traveling and writing!” a chipper redhead who bears more resemblance to a leprechaun than you are willing to admit encourages you, and you apply for more travel contests and scholarships.

Those threads snap as soon as you find yourself amongst the finalists, only to have some unknown other candidate win.

“You would be such a great bartender slash server in Boystown. They would love you! How could they not want to hire you?” a trainer and recent friend at the gym eggs you on. How hard could serving be? You’re college educated in neuroscience, so of course you’re more than competent to lead people to their seats and serve them drinks.

The one-minute interview ends with a thread snapping in the distance, one that reminds you how much your education was worth and that it has led you to the literal point of being virtually unemployable.

OKCupid date after OKCupid date, your long-term relationship friends tell you to move onto the next one, that the next date will be better. Just keep on trying. So for a while you go on dates where you instinctively know that nothing good will come out of it, and you find yourself grasping for threads that never even existed as one night stands and unanswered texts and maybe laters and I’ve just been really busys flood your phone.

Something beneath pulls you deeper and deeper, and as your friends ascend towards that wonderful surface where all you can do is exist and breathe, you linger and wonder exactly what you did to be kicked in the balls by karma like this.

You hear of friends getting engaged, getting jobs, being promoted, finding people they really really like, and a part of you knows that you’re supposed to be happy for them. That’s what friends do – be happy for their good news. So you smile, jump up and down with them, throw them parties, eat dinner with them in celebration of this good time while a selfish part of you, the one you wish you could just take out with a good blow with a sledgehammer, thinks WHAT THE FUCK?!?!?!

You want to punch something, anything, everything in defiance of this cosmic unbalance. How is it possible that these successes came to your friends so easily when you struggle just to find something to hold onto, a clue, a hint, that you’re even remotely headed in the right direction? You try to learn to be happy for everyone else, because you know in your heart that everyone has had their trials and failures. You know that not everything comes as easily, and that yes, two months of being lost is nothing. You know that while other people have been unemployed and single for shorter and longer than you have, everyone moves in their own time.

You know that whatever it is you’re feeling from this descent, it’s not depression. It’s a funk. Whatever it is that pulls you even further into your descent while you road trip with these friends, it’s a normal feeling of every 20-something in this economy. You enjoy the cheeses and parties and drinks and laughs that temporarily come with traveling with great friends, but at 2:00 am, your descent leads you to freezing on a balcony while you try to write out this disappointment that won’t seem to let you free.

“I’m not worried about you,” someone, everyone, anyone says, “You’ll land on your feet.”

All you can do is nod, because it’s the expected response to expected words said. A hollow response, one that’ll fool almost everyone into thinking that you believe them, that you’ll be okay, that everything will work out in the end. It’s not until you sit outside at night, listening to nothing but cars pass by and feeling cold concrete against bare feet how discomforting those words actually are. You realize you want someone to worry about you, that you want help, that you want something more than just “nothing” as an answer.

Life has always been about experiencing that disorientation, that descent in your direction.

You wonder how much longer you can keep reaching for threads, how much longer you can keep descending before you just helplessly stop. You wait, you move, you do everything you can to become at least an average of your friends, but what if you were just meant to just be part of the lower percentile? There was a time when you would have done anything to not be average, but in a world as competitive and ruthless as this one, it’d be a miracle just to make it there.

You’re destined for great things, people warned you before.

If only they could see you now. Descending deeper and deeper.

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