When Being Practical Goes Wrong

Joe and I have never owned a car together. We’re used to urban living and have existed off of Zipcar, rental cars, and borrowing cars from friends and family. But we’re finally starting to think about buying a car. So we sat down and discussed what kind of car we want:

  1. Not too expensive
  2. Great gas mileage
  3. Small enough to maneuver a city
  4. Big enough to fit a few friends

For simplicity’s sake, let’s refer to this car as a Honda Civic.

It’s not set in stone, but this is probably the kind of car we’ll buy one day.

Eventually (because Joe and I are both planners), we started talking about our second car down the line, and what it meant for the Civic. Joe wondered out loud if the Civic could become MY car, so that he could get his Dream Car: a vintage Volkswagen Beatle.

Joe’s dream car (well, one of them anyway)

He said this made sense because, let’s face it, my dream car would probably be a Civic anyway. Wait, what? That can’t be right. I ran down my list of what I would want in a Dream Car:

  1. Not too expensive
  2. Great gas mileage
  3. Small enough to maneuver a city
  4. Big enough to fit a few friends

This made me feel bristly, but he seemed to be right. I guess a Civic is my Dream Car. But why did this feel like I was getting such a bad deal?

Then it hit me. WAIT A MINUTE. The reason I’m bristling is because Joe’s Dream Car is not practical at all (Airbags? What are those?) while I still couldn’t let go of thinking of my Dream Car as something that was more functional than fun. So I took practicality out the equation and suddenly my Dream Car list looked more like this:

  1. Expensive as hell
  2. Two door
  3. Convertible
  4. Ability to talk? Negotiable.

Now I wasn’t looking at a Civic at all. I was looking at a Ferrari. Or possibly the Batmobile.

This isn’t quite it, either. But it’s a hell of a lot closer than the Civic.

I often get so lost in what’s practical that I forget to just let myself dream. Sometimes these two things get muddled, and I convince myself that the practical solution is what I really want. I miss the chance to jump into the more creative, risky, and romantic choices. And if I don’t stop this madness, I imagine myself kissing Joe goodbye as he drives off in his vintage car to go have an adventure while I stay home, convinced that what I really want is to spend the day dusting (*shudder*).

For me, remembering to dream starts with keeping the dream and the practical separated so I don’t blur the line between the things I really want (pizza, sleeping in, dance parties) and the things that get me there (pizza stones, blackout curtains, stereo). It also means being more clear with Joe when I want to buy or do something because it is practical, not because it’s what I “want.”

This same concept happened with cooking. Joe thought I cooked every day because I liked it. The truth is, I was cooking every day because it was practical: someone had to do it and he didn’t seem to be (This is also because I plan things out much further in advance, which was keeping Joe from having a chance to plan anything). When I told him, “You know, I don’t actually LIKE cooking every day,” it was news to him. Now he takes charge of meals all the time, and often checks in to make sure I’m comfortable with my share of cooking. And for my part, I’m trying to be more vocal about the things I want or need instead of waiting until I’m already frustrated: “I’ll plan meals for Monday and Thursday, and you can take the rest of the week.” or “I feel like I’ve planned a lot of meals lately, can you take charge of the next few days?” or “I don’t know what to do with this leftover chicken, can you help me think of some ideas?” It’s nice having a partner who can take over the practical stuff for me, because it opens up time to do more things I actually want to do.

I had never mentioned to Joe that the Civic is my practical choice and not my Dream Car, so how should he have known? All I’d ever mentioned were the practical aspects of car buying. If my partner is going to help me toward the things I want, I have to make sure he knows what those things are. Hopefully separating what I want practically from what I want idealistically will help us push each other to do something wild once in a while. Like drive the Batmobile (but maybe just the once).

My Battle With Impostor Syndrome

(EDIT: I can’t figure out a better way to show this, so just FYI, this is the post that was featured on Freshly Pressed!)


Dear Younger Emily,

It’s very possible that you’ve always struggled with Impostor Syndrome. According to the Ada Initiative, “Impostor Syndrome is the (incorrect) feeling that you’re a fraud, that you’re not skilled enough for your role, and that you will be found out and exposed as an impostor eventually.”

You are always bewildered when you get a good part in a play, and nearly every occupation you dream for yourself is eventually disregarded because you can’t imagine yourself being successful at it.

But it’s not until you are laid off twice in your twenties that Impostor Syndrome rears its ugly head.

Apparently many (if not most—dare I say almost all?) women struggle with Impostor Syndrome. Maybe for a man, being laid off twice would just be fodder for their determination to make it big. After all, Einstein got Fs in school, right? But for you, being laid off will become your greatest reason to doubt yourself.

Your first layoff will come in early 2009, when there are so many advertising layoffs, the big advertising rumor blog will create a separate Twitter account just to announce them all.

No one will hire you full-time for a while after that. Because no one hires anyone for a while after that. The world is waiting for the storm to pass. When a new agency hires you, you swallow your pride, let your Impostor Syndrome take the reins and decide it’s the best you can do. You accept the pay cut and the boring client.

Your second layoff will come after this new agency loses the boring client (along with its 800 million dollars). Yes, there are 100 people let go from the agency that day. But it will still sting, because they let you go and they don’t let other people go. And there had to be a reason, you decide. It must be because you’re not good enough, and they finally figured it out.

After the second layoff, a friend tells you that the agency is hiring again. You don’t even ask to be taken back because you’ve decided to move to San Francisco. But your friend says they asked for you already anyway. The agency refused to hire anyone back because they wanted fresh blood. You are only 26.

That very night when you get home, you’ll get this email from a Creative Director in San Francisco:

“I’m honestly looking for much stronger executions for someone who’s been in the business for a few years like yourself…My recommendation is to pair up with a strong AD [Art Director] on the side, and do a few really solid spec campaigns before you venture to the west coast.”

It’s not really the Creative Director’s fault. Maybe he’s never had Impostor Syndrome, so he thinks his strong opinions are helpful. But you will look around at your packed boxes and cry. Loudly. You will question nearly every decision you have ever made. You will still tell yourself that the two layoffs are not your fault, but it won’t do any good. You will question whether you will ever get a job again, and you will question whether you really deserve one anyway.

And then in less than a year, you’ll find yourself in San Francisco, doing a different kind of writing (one you like much better) at The Best Place To Work. Literally. It wins awards.

So maybe you aren’t really a fraud after all. Maybe there really is talent there, despite what that one guy said.

You will still struggle with your Impostor Syndrome in San Francisco. Chicago is a great city, but Chicago also made it fairly clear it didn’t want you there. Your success in San Francisco feels undeserved. It feels lucky. It feels like you’ve tricked people into thinking you could do the work, and one day they’ll figure out that you shouldn’t be there, just like the Advertising agencies figured out that you shouldn’t be there. But so far, San Francisco has wrapped you in its arms and quietly shushed you until those worries have quieted to a purr.

Still, every time you don’t get a lot of work done, every day you feel distracted, every time someone comes up with an idea that you hadn’t thought of, you feel like a fraud, one step closer to being found out.

But despite the negative voices, your twenties are full of accomplishments–great stuff that takes work. You land a kickass advertising job right out of undergrad when most people have to go to grad school. You turn an internship into a full-time job when HR says they aren’t hiring. You make things that people love. You write your little writer butt off.

Sure, there is luck involved. You get that first kickass advertising job after you pull the right name from a hat. But you create the life you live. You still move to San Francisco, despite the soul-crushing email. And a lot of people since then will be very happy with the work you do for them. So, while it takes you a long time to learn to just say “thank you” and accept the praise that other people give, you will do it. It will feel uncomfortable to smile and nod instead of shaking your head and protesting that you really didn’t do that much. But you will do it, because you realize it’s important to stick up for the things you do accomplish. It’s you who waded through all the negativity to a place that makes you happy. And the guy who wrote that email is stuck hocking other people’s lame products for a living.

Music Isn’t Marriage

From Mumford & Son’s music video, “Hopeless Wanderer”

A friend recently posted this article on Facebook and then all their friends piled on the Mumford Hatred Train toward Angrytown.

The gist of the article was: “The music Mumford & Sons makes is very bad…It’s so calculated that there’s absolutely nothing unexpected, organic, or progressive that comes from the music. The sound is so bland and average that it’s offensive.”

All I can really say is: Who cares? Go sit by an open window. Play with a puppy. Do whatever it is you need to do in order to calm down about other people listening to music that you don’t like.

I grew up on the Beatles, Styx, and the soundtrack to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I think it’s safe to say that while I was raised to enjoy music, I wasn’t raised with the knowledge of what was supposed to make it objectively “good.”

In elementary school I was encouraged to play a musical instrument, and I chose the trumpet out of rebellion (“The trumpet is for boys, you say? Step aside, please.”) Then I spent five years only enjoying the damn thing when I got a solo. So basically, the Apollo 13 Main Title.

All this to say, I never bothered to learn how to hear intricacies, and I don’t really care if a chord progression is particularly difficult. I don’t share your criteria for what makes music “good.” I only have two criteria for music:

  1. Can I dance to it?
  2. Does it make me feel emotions?

If the answer to either of these is yes, I like it. Does that make it “good”? No. But who cares?

Sure, Avril rhymed the word “dead” with “dead.” But I listened to that album nonstop anyway, despite the soul-crushing lyric. Who cares? Who have I hurt? Assuming that I listened to Avril “Let’s talk this over/it’s not like we’re dead” Lavigne on my own time, in my own headphones, purchased with my own babysitting money, what harm is there in the world? Four minutes wasted, at worst. Or maybe one more wealthy person who doesn’t deserve wealth. And if that’s what has your undies in a bundle, your efforts could be better spent on social change elsewhere, my friend.

Music isn’t marriage. There isn’t a finite number of songs you can like. Music is like friendships, and each one is great at certain times. Sure, some are best friends, some are acquaintances. But each friend has a time and place. Do I bring my quiet, bookish friend to a dance club? No, I bring the friend who buys tequila shots without asking.

The problem that maybe ultimately irks you is that I can like “terrible” music and still like Dr. Dre or Vampire Weekend or Metallica or whoever you think qualifies. You can’t stop me from liking both.

Sometimes bad music is fun. Sometimes I need a song that does nothing but tell me to put my hands in the air. You know why? Because I love being in a crowd doing synchronized dance like I’m in a teen movie from 1999. And the easiest synchronized dance move (even easier than Cha Cha Slide) is raising your hands above your head and then keeping them there for an extended period of time. Don’t take that away from me. Don’t take away my Ke$ha just because you need more substance in your music.

Some people like ICP. Some people like Nickelback. Some people like music that doesn’t do anything for you, Mr. Music Snob. Who cares? “Bad” music isn’t going to go away, so go sit in a corner, turn your Led Zeppelin up to 11, and quietly rock back and forth until the pain goes away. Quit putting your negative music vibes out in the world and let people love things you don’t agree with.

If you want to judge me for liking Mumford and Sons, I can’t stop you. I judge people, too. We all do. But I don’t go around screaming my judgments from the mountaintop. I keep them hidden behind eye rolls and passive aggressive sighing, like the WASP I was raised to be. The WASP who was raised on Rolling Stones and Raffi, and doesn’t care who knows it.