The question I ask myself every day

Am I a failure?

It’s a constant thought in the back of my head. This one question that floats around in the background during the day and then hits me full force at night. It might explain why I have such trouble sleeping. I toss and turn every night. Asleep and awake at the same time.

I remember the first time I asked myself this question almost two decades ago. I was 7 years old and it was Mother’s Day. The Warrior, Li and I went to dinner. Nothing fancy, just Pizza Express. For us, that was fancy though. Money was tight. She was a single mother with two little girls, working two jobs. We didn’t often go out to eat so it was a special treat. I loved it.

Until the bill came to the table.

And the Warrior paid.

That broke my heart. I felt so embarrassed and ashamed of myself. How could I, the eldest child, have not thought of such a thing? How could I let my own mother pay for her Mother’s Day meal?

How could I do that? I was the oldest. I felt it was my responsibility to have ensured she didn’t have to pay. It didn’t register with me that I was only 7 years old. It sounds totally irrational but it still upsets me even today.

I cried myself to sleep that night thinking I was a horrible daughter and that I had failed. I had failed to be a good daughter. I had failed to fulfil my role as the eldest child. I had failed to be the perfect daughter. I wanted to be the best daughter. I still want to be the best. So I promised myself that someday I would have a good career and I would buy the Warrior a house with a nice kitchen.

I worked hard at school. I had some hiccups along the way. And to this very day I really don’t test well at all. But I think, in general, I have common sense and am academically ok. I enjoy learning, so academia has always given me something to take hold of and relish. I got a 1st in my BA and a Distinction in my MA. I worked hard for those degrees and I have always gone by the idea that if you work hard, you can achieve pretty much anything.

It’s hard though, at 25, to realise that this isn’t quite true.

I’ve been working since graduating from my Masters, taking advantage of lots of different opportunities that have come up and have built up a somewhat extensive portfolio of various different things. But I’m still a receptionist/office manager/PA. It’s great being the go to person in a company, to be the one who has the answers. But it’s not a specialist area. And it’s not a career. I can’t build on any part of this.

I sound so ungrateful. Particularly now because I am working at a place I really like. The people are amazing and my bosses are the sweetest, patient and most relaxed people I have ever come across. After having a nightmare boss last year in a job that became totally untenable, I’m lucky to have found this place. I know that.

But it really was supposed to be temporary. I thought that I would stay here, whilst getting my Law degree part-time. I can work hard. And, I thought – I can do it. I was excited. I made several enquiries, went to law open days and talks, I attended an open evening at a prestigious university, I’ve been keeping abreast of current events in law and commercial/business areas and have spent hours researching vacation schemes and training contracts. I’ve borderline stalked HR contacts for various law firms, emailed current trainees at some.

I am a mixed Asian, raised on a council estate in Camden by a single mother. It goes without saying that I have zero contacts in the industry. I lucked out that my former boss has an office within the legal department at her current job and knows the team pretty well. She was kind enough to arrange a very short work experience post for me last year, while I struggled to find a job. But this yielded very little in contacts but more in experience, which I was, and still am, grateful for.

I can’t afford the fees for a GDL either. I have the lowest salary at my company and I live in London in the little flat I grew up in. The Scholarship opportunities were recently revised at my chosen school. Now there is only one that provides full payment of the course fees and I am no longer eligible for it since the Warrior earned her degree while I was growing up. The best thing to have happened to us is now the thing that makes me ineligible for full funding.

I don’t feel sorry for myself. I feel resigned. Resigned to the fact that working hard can only take you so far in life. It’s also about luck and about who you know. It makes it much harder, therefore, for social mobility to become an actual thing in this country. Not always. There are lots of amazing opportunities for young people from all kinds of different backgrounds. But sometimes you hit a wall. And I think I’ve hit mine.

I guess it’s time for a rethink on my career choice. I don’t know that I have any options left to me but to accept the fact that I make a pretty good PA and try to make a career out of this as best I can. If I put my mind to it I can be one of the best and earn a decent enough salary too. It won’t get the Warrior the house I don’t think though.

Am I failure?

I guess I’ll still be asking myself that question for a long while yet.

Smurf x




One thought on “The question I ask myself every day

  1. I thoroughly understand what you are writing about, Smurf. I was there. But even in a slightly more miserable position. But then I decided to make myself see something positive in every single day. Seriously. At the beginning it was hard, really hard, then a little easier and easier. Later on, I realized it worked the way the snowball effect does. A tiny positive thing attracted another, but bigger one, that in turn attracted another one and so on. But I will tell you what made my day today. Hoda Kotb’s words! Please, watch her commencement speech at Tulane University
    It will be the most inspiring 20 minutes in your life. I promise.


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