‘The post millennial mid-life crisis isn’t buying a red sports car. It’s realizing you can’t have that career you now want. It’s realizing you can’t have that child you now want, or you can’t give your child a sibling.’ – Dr Meg Jay, ’30 Is Not The New 20′ (TED).
My friend Emma wrote a blog post a few months back about the stereotype of Publishing Girl. She wears pretty dresses, keeps a book blog, bakes scones and cakes, retweets Bookseller news, and travels to France on holiday. I’ve spent the past two years Trying To Be Publishing Girl: doing everything I can to get a job as an editorial assistant for a literary publisher. Trying to fit into what I believed was expected of me as Publishing Girl didn’t work and I didn’t land an editorial job (or even an interview for one). I landed interviews with scouts and literary agents, but they turned me down because they felt that my heart and my talents were better suited to editorial.
I struggled through teaching and journalism for years before I finally found my professional identity, and now I can’t have the career that I’ve discerned is best for me. I chose the most in-demand and sought-after publishing sector, and I’ve been told repeatedly that, even if I do get a traditional in-house publishing position, it will be made redundant within a few years and I will have no choice but to work as a freelance editor. It’s not a bad thing to be a freelance editor. It just hurts to know that I can’t have what I want and to have had every door slammed in my face.
In London, I did everything I could to Try To Be Publishing Girl and I was unsuccessful. I networked; I tried to find the right people, do and say the right things, and be the right person, but it didn’t work. I don’t think I necessarily changed myself or my personality to try to fit into a particular expectation or stereotype, but I certainly had a picture in my head of not only the person I tried to be, but the person I wanted to be. That person was Publishing Girl. It still is.
That girl lives in Putney. She wears Kate Spade dresses, Christian Louboutin shoes, and Dior sunglasses. She eats macaroons and drinks cinnamon coffee. She bakes lemon bars and reads Donna Tartt while sheltering under an umbrella at a rainy café. She has a wonderfully arty and metrosexual boyfriend who greets her at the train station with lilies and kisses. She practices yoga. She works in editorial for a literary publisher, developing and editing manuscripts and managing authors and their work. She’s a Rising Star. She’s easy to work with, fun to be with, and she looks like she has the most effortlessly magical life.
It’s a beautiful, crazy, and completely impossible dream.
I read for agency, I work for a magazine publisher, and I freelance edit. I’m not ungrateful. I just dream about London. I dream about London publishing, London bookshops, London boys, London yoga, London life. I have serious regrets about choosing to study literature after my undergraduate degree. I wish I had worked in publishing straight away, gained as much experience as I could, and started working as an editorial assistant five or six years ago. I would be into the career trajectory I’ve only just found. My hair stylist Rene said that, in his industry, if you don’t get in when you’re very young – unless you’re exceptionally talented – you miss the boat. I feel the same way about the industry into which I’ve tried to break for two years.
I changed my social personality and behaviour – out of my own choosing – after I faced life-altering criticism that forced me to reevaluate how I interacted with other people and conducted myself in the world. I chose to work on the same when I moved to England: to snuff out and close down my once-effusive and loquacious way of being and adopt a more private and reserved personality. The effort has paid off in terms of maturity and professionalism within the environments where I’ve managed to secure work, but being mindful of the Publishing Girl way never helped me get the work that I wanted or become the woman I wanted (and still want) to be.
I will build my freelance editing portfolio, branch out from blogging about disability to blogging more about other things that matter to me – like literature, beauty products, travel, and fashion – and look for other London work. I might even make a shift from publishing and return to school to become a trauma therapist or massage therapist. When every barrier is insurmountable, I have no choice but to take a different route. It’s just something extremely difficult and painful to face.
As I write this, I can’t help but think of that Everclear song that goes, ‘You always try to be everything to everyone.’ I’ve always been like this – in every aspect of my life and personality – because I am physically impaired. I feel unsafe and like I am not whole, so I always overcompensate (sometimes consciously and mostly unconsciously). It’s just now spilled even more into my professional life than ever before, and it’s something I am acutely aware of all the time. It just hurts to feel like I’ve ended up letting myself down.