I like to think I enjoyed school throughout my life, but what I really liked was what school did for me. I know I was never the smartest student in the class, but my grades were good enough to get recognition. I used my academic accomplishments to validate that I was not just smart or successful, but that I was good and worthy. Year after year, I buried my insecurities and anxieties in A’s and academic excellence awards.
It’s been over a year since I graduated from my university, and I still struggle with the loss of my academic identity. Academics always provided a great distraction from my insecurities. It gave me a certain amount of control over how people viewed me. I used my grades to prove my worthiness, my capability, and my intelligence; and I was pretty good at it.
Upon graduation, however, that identity quickly slipped through my fingers. I finished school and decided not to pursue higher education (for now). Instead, I did something I never thought I would and moved across the world to get a part-time teaching job. In this role, I was average.
I was average, and I was okay with it because I saw it as a gap year-–a break from proving myself. It didn’t matter what my job was because I had a different focus; living and learning about a new country and culture. It didn’t matter if my job was impressive because the simple fact that I was living here was. And it was only supposed to be temporary.
Now that I made aliyah, however, I’m searching for a “real job” in the “real world,” and those feelings of inadequacy and anxiety have started to resurface–but this time, I don’t have academics to hide behind.
Instead, I’m facing these feelings head-on as I navigate my way into the Israeli workforce.
It’s both frustrating and humbling looking for a job when I’m not fluent (or even intermediate) in Hebrew. My options are limited to mostly entry-level positions in specific fields where they want English speakers. It’s difficult to accept that the positions I thought I would go for post-college simply aren’t available to a non-Hebrew speaker here.
I feel my anxiety beginning to resurface, but this time it’s zeroing in on job titles instead of grades. I keep searching for a position that seems impressive and proves my intelligence to others. I’ve worked hard my entire life to build this identity, and clearly I’m having trouble letting it go.
It’s hard to let go, but I’m working on it.
The first step is recognizing when these insecurities start to surface. Next, I try to really think about why a job title feels so important to me (and it usually has something to do with wanting recognition from others). At this point in my life, I know wanting recognition from others comes from the deep-rooted belief that I’m not good enough–or worthy enough–without it. I try to gently remind myself that I am good and worthy and smart no matter what title I hold, or what recognition I receive. I recognize that I am only trying to gain external validation to heal internal wounds.
I’m also trying to focus on how losing my academic identity created space for something new. Maybe this rigid identity isn’t meant to be replaced by another temporary solution (like an impressive job title). Maybe it’s actually meant to simply be freedom–freedom to let myself wander and grow and experience life for what it is, rather than what I think it should be. I am trying to build a life for myself with meaning and fulfillment, and I have to accept that it just might not look like the conventional vision of success.
I’m trying to give myself some grace (and have some humility). I just moved to a foreign country where I don’t speak the language very well. I’m trying to accept that it’s going to take patience and hard work to find a job that brings meaning and joy to my life in the way that I’m looking for.
Until I get there though, I’m working on filling this space with more things that heal my heart. I’m going to keep writing, painting, watching the sunset, practicing Hebrew, reading, doing yoga, and developing my relationships with people that bring light and goodness into my life. It won’t magically fix all of my insecurities or fears, but I think slowly, piece by piece, it will show me who I am behind the grades and accolades. Who I am when I am just as good and worthy and intelligent as I was when I was a student. Who I am when I am just myself.
My hope is for this blog to become a place where we grow together–instead of me simply writing into a void. In order to create that community, I invite you to scroll to the bottom of this page and comment any reflections you have (commenting and liking on here helps my website grow and reach a wider audience, which is really cool!).
If you don’t feel comfortable sharing publicly, of course, you can also message me privately as usual.
So, in the comments, I’d love to hear more about what identity(s) you are holding on to. How might it be holding you back (or pushing you forward)?
Written by Jessica Bard.