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“I’d sooner chew my leg off, than be trapped in this.”
I graduated college in May 2001 and had no idea what I was going to do. I didn’t have any desire to go to graduate school, and didn’t have any job leads. I graduated much earlier than my friends — who were all still staring down two more years of undergraduate education (and graduate school).
I spent the summer of 2001 in vacation mode. I started playing in a bar band to make some money. I was still living with my parents, so there was no real need to frantically look for employment. I hooked back up with the local community college and started working part time in their writing center. I also went to the mall one day and got myself a job at a music store. Between those two part time gigs and the band, my life was full.
But I knew I needed more.
I was an English major and aspiring writer, so I started looking for writing jobs. I distinctly remember one interview for a staff writing gig at a rural newspaper — I drove an hour out to their office, and was shown to a conference room to wait for the hiring manager. I waited. And waited. I remember it being a warm autumn day. The drive out to the interview was lovely. The leaves were all brilliant colors shining in the midday sun. When the hiring manager finally came in, she apologized and said that they’d forgotten about me. I looked at the clock and realized I’d been sitting there for nearly an hour waiting for her. The interview itself was perfunctory. She wanted to know how I’d cover local town hall meetings about mundane things like sewer repair. My response was something like, “with humor.” She didn’t take too kindly to my own attempt at humor, and also didn’t like the fact that I wasn’t willing to uproot my life and move out to the area.
Needless to say, I didn’t hear anything back from them.
And then September 11th happened.
Like so many others, that day is imprinted in my memory. It was a sunny Tuesday morning. I woke up to the news of a plane hitting one of the towers. I remember crying. I had to work at the writing center that morning. By the time I made the short drive to the college, the college had made the decision to close the campus. I went home and watched the news and went with my mom to donate blood.
The days wore on. My band played a few gigs to muted crowds. The world slowly began to start up again.
At some point I applied for a manuscript editor position at a local legal publishing company. I don’t remember much about the interview, but I got the gig and started in December 2001.
I stayed there until January 2008.
My six years there were bittersweet. I’m bitter that I spent so much time there before finally moving to another employer. It was sweet in that I met many special people and had experiences that changed by life.
Brené Brown’s “Atlas of the Heart” is all about emotions and experiences. I recently listened to the part of the book where she unpacked “bittersweetness.” It’s in the “places we go when things aren’t what they seem” section.
Bittersweetness is an emotion that we naturally feel when things change. We might feel bitter that something is changing, yet sweet that we had the experience in the first place. We might feel bitter that a change took longer than we wanted, but sweet that we know it’s the right change. The dictionary defines bittersweet as “arousing pleasure tinged with sadness or pain.” In this definition, the sweet part comes first, bitter comes second. Regardless of the order in which it hits our emotional palette, bittersweet undoubtedly an appropriate emotional response to change.
R.E.M. — “Bittersweet Me”
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