• Destined for greatness, headed for mediocrity?

    My generation has a serious problem with self-image. Namely, our belief in ourselves outweighs our actual abilities. BBC News kicked off the new year by finding that, among America’s young adults, expectations have grown steadily while abilities have not necessarily grown along with them, resulting in what one scholar has coined, “ambition inflation.” Our parents raised us to believe that we can be whatever we want to be, but the reality is that many of us are not going to achieve our goals.

    I am writing this article because I’m terrified that I am among those who were raised to believe they are more special, more capable, than they actually are.

    No. I am writing this article because I have a confession to make. A confession I have shared with very few because I am afraid of letting down the ones I love, afraid of disappointing a vast group of people who have supported me and shared my belief that I am able to accomplish anything I set my mind to.

    I did not get the Fulbright.

    Hundreds of man hours, inestimable sacrifices, and an inconceivable amount of work went into applying for a Fulbright grant to conduct oral history research for the writing of How Joe Met Franka, a biographical memoir. However, despite my belief that I can be what I will to be, I was not among the chosen.

    In the wake of this news I took stock of my life. I am 32 years old. I have one very costly degree that I have no intention of using, and in May I will be graduating with a not-so-lucrative MFA in poetry. I refuse to earn a living with the former, and I am hesitant to travel down the typical path of the latter. Why? Because I believe I am destined for greatness.

    My best friend says that I think too big. She is among those who believes — whether she has been fooled or not I cannot yet say — that I am capable of anything. Yet she herself is practical enough to have a steady, high-paying job, and I am unwilling to trade in my dreams for the same.

    What not getting the Fulbright really means, for me, is that I am in the same camp as the rest of my fellow soon-to-be grads: I have to figure out what I am going to do with my life, namely how I am going to support myself.

    I can teach. I went to graduate school, in part, to do just that. However, making a living teaching college English is no easy feat. The average MFA graduate works as an Adjunct Lecturer, teaching one course per school per semester, and is paid around $3,500 for that course, no benefits. In order to make a living at this in the New York City area I’d need to work about four adjunct positions per semester just to make ends meet. If I don’t make a name for myself as a published author, I’ll continue along this path for about 10 years before I get an actual staff position. That is a rough barrel to be staring down when you are 32 years old and headed toward marriage and kids.

    About a week before I found out about the Fulbright a friend forwarded me a job listing from the Academy of American Poets, a position for which I am the perfect fit. But I hesitated to apply. I had the Fulbright to find out about, I reasoned. But the truth is, I can’t imagine myself working another office job. I can’t see myself going back to florescent lighting and nine-to-five hours. And I can’t see myself continuing what I am doing now, either — balancing a couple of low-paying adjunct jobs with some part-time personal assistant and contractor work. I just can’t shake the feeling that I am meant for something bigger.

    The truth is, I still believe I can accomplish whatever I set my mind to. I still dream big. Could I possibly, after all these years of slaving away to make my dreams come true, be destined for greatness but headed for mediocrity?

    The answer has to be no. No, I cannot see myself giving up on my dreams and settling for mediocrity. No, I cannot see myself simply “making it work” instead of making my dreams come true.

    Am I delusional? Perhaps. Do I suffer from ambition inflation? I very well may. But I am not prepared to give up and settle when it comes to something as important as what I do with my life. Perhaps I think too big, but those who achieve greatness are rarely accused of thinking too small.

    Since finding out I did not get the Fulbright, I have turned to the words of Goethe as my new mantra: “Then indecision brings its own delays, / And days are lost lamenting o’er lost days. / Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute; / What you can do, or dream you can, begin it; / Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

    I’ve dreamed of writing this book for over 10 years. I remember sitting in a fellow iPinionite’s kitchen a few years ago and telling her my vision. “Whatever you do,” she said, “you must write this book.” At a conference not long ago my teacher was a literary agent, and I had shared my book proposal with his class. When the conference was over he emailed me to say that when the book was finished he hoped I would contact him for representation.

    These are signs, and I am a believer in signs. I have a great idea, and, I believe, the ability to see that idea through to completion and success. Were I to sell that dream out now in favor of the easier path of mediocrity, I’d be doing a great disservice to myself, if not the world.

    My horoscope recently said, “Certain developments may not have been of your choosing, but they have actually begun a positive process that will lead to a most welcome destination. You and you alone have what it takes to do what must be done.” This recent development — not getting the Fulbright — was not of my choosing. But it happened this way for a reason, even if that reason is only to make me work hard to achieve my goals. I, and I alone, must take matters into my own hands and make this dream a reality.

    I’ve decided to go to Israel in the fall to research and write this book, with or without the Fulbright. Even if it is on my own dime. Even if I have to make great sacrifices to make it work. I believe that I can be what I will to be, that I am destined for a greatness of my own making.

    • I wish you well in following your dreams.

      • Dena

      • February 4, 2013 at 1:23 pm
      • Reply

      I enjoyed reading this. It is an interesting dilemma America’s young adults are immersed in. Choice of career is important. Over the next 10 to 15 years our retirement population will nearly double… (I am included). Who will fill the job vacancies?

      On another note, I find it interesting that I was raised by parents who had no ambitions for my future and were completely focused on their own needs…yet; I strive to prove them wrong by being successful at my profession. Reverse psychology? They were not so clever…just selfish.

      You definitely have the resources and charm to be quite successful. Let your heart be your guide as it is now…money is only money.

      Missing you. Dena

    • I am 56 years old. I have a little bit to say about this. I watched my friends raise their children in a society that was VERY child oriented. Giving a 6 year old a hi-five for eating their breakfast I found ridiculous. It has created a generation of young people, like yourself, who do believe that they can do anything, etc., and not only that, but they also believe they are entitled to succeed, make big bucks, and do it all while working at home in their pajamas. Everyone has dreams. Very few achieve them. Sometimes life takes precedence over dreams. I can only imagine your disappointment at not getting the Fulbright and I’m sorry. But sometimes, we don’t get what we want. And we have to deal with it. That is life. Maybe you do need to go back into an office working a 9 to 5 unfulfilled day. I would say that 78% of the population do not love their jobs but they have to eat and pay rent or a mortgage, pay for insurance, etc., et al. You can still write your book while working full time. I guess my point is that sometimes learning to accept reality can be a good thing. I think that is where your generation has the toughest time. Accepting the curve balls that life will continue to throw at you. You either learn to roll with it or you will always be disappointed and unhappy. Good luck.

      • David Lacy

      • February 5, 2013 at 9:16 am
      • Reply

      Debbie, while I agree with part of your comment and I certainly join you in expressing my regrets for Sivan not receiving the Fulbright, I must also add that I’m a bit perplexed by the remainder of your reply.
      As an instructor at three tiers of California higher education (the UC, CSU and community college systems) I have certainly seen the rampant entitlement and “ambition inflation” described by the BBC article above. (Although the research the BBC article is based on inaccurately skews the definition of “self-esteem.”) However, having followed Sivan’s career for more than three years — and simply reading her statements here — I don’t quite see why she may need to put her dreams on pause as you suggest, and possibly even find a 9 to 5 to pay the bills.
      The BBC article mentions inflated ambition, something that is certainly not applicable to Sivan. Sivan earned her law degree and practiced law before entering a prestigious MFA program. She is no stranger to hard work and she is far from apathetic. What we see in the research the BBC cites is students who do not produce adequate results (in quality or quantity) yet BELIEVE that they do, and act as if they do. They want rewards for sub-par completions and “high-fives” for doing what they are supposed to do, as you note.
      Yes, Sivan will certainly need to pay the bills and the other necessities of life. But this is something she concludes her column by stating: “I’ve decided to go to Israel in the fall to research and write this book, with or without the Fulbright. Even if it is on my own dime. Even if I have to make great sacrifices to make it work.”
      If Sivan is willing to make the financial arrangements necessary for this ambitious trip — and she has proven repeatedly that she is successful in academic and professional endeavors — why should she not pursue this adventure?
      Finally, I agree that if worse comes to worse Sivan could certainly pull off writing a book while working a traditional 8 to 5 job. But since it appears the research is IN ISRAEL and not the states, she may just need to take a period of time to work over there, full-time or not.


      • Trinity Sambolin

      • February 5, 2013 at 10:31 am
      • Reply

      While I’m sad to hear about the Fullbright let down, I’m much happier to see that it hasn’t broken that Sivvy spirit. If anything it’s made you a literary monster!!! Love!!

      • Sivan

      • February 5, 2013 at 10:34 am
      • Reply

      Thank you, Madge and Dena for your kind words, wishes, and support.

      Thank you, Debbie, for your engagement and point of view. And thank you, David, for defending my position from a place of knowledge and understanding.

      As David pointed out, the research for this book–a dream that has been many years in the making–has to be done in Israel. Furthermore, the women who are to be interviewed for the book ate among the last generation of Holocaust survivors and this is the last moment that I can record their stories before it is too late. That played no small part in my decision to follow this dream despite not being supported by Fulbright.

      Debbie, had your response to my article been, “Don’t quit your day job,” based on my writing, your point would be one I might more seriously consider. However, the very fact that my writing stirred a response in you, that I inspired you to join a conversation, shows me that I should continue to dedicate myself to my dreams.

      When I return for a semester in Israel–where I am seeking work as a teacher to fund this endeavor–I will quite likely write this book in my spare time while working a “real job.” I can’t imagine I will go back to an office job–I can support myself teaching and am far more passionate about it–but I am, as David has pointed out, no stranger to hard work.

      What your comment made me wonder, Debbie, is whether you have been happy in your career. I have traveled a rough road to understand that happiness–not money–is my goal in life, and that if I do not love what I do I will not be happy. You note that the majority of people work long hours at careers they do not love. I wonder if that is a good thing. If you have been happy in your career then bless you. You have found what I am seeking, and I am happy for you that you were able to find it. But if you settled for less than happiness I wonder how you can counsel others to do the same.

    • Have you read “Sacred Economics” by Charles Eisenstein? It is only slightly related to your article but it came up for me because Eisenstein outlines how our economic mechanisms perpetuate a system of values that overlooks our true human potential, the stuff our souls are made of. We may all be headed for mediocrity but I believe that so many of us are destined for greatness. Like you, I’ve abandoned the 9-5. I refuse to participate. My partner and I live below the poverty line because there are things more important than money. And so many people our age are doing the same. They are “tuning in and dropping out.” It is not that we have inflated self-esteem. It is that our values are no longer congruent with the recent traditions of society. And I think that’s okay. Your decision to go to Israel is is amazing. Our collective decisions to do what awakes our souls will be what makes the difference in this world.

    • Some of the best things that happened in my life were the result of disappointments that turned out to yield amazingly positive results. Sometimes we aren't able to see what's down the road, and what appears to be a short term setback or failure turns out to be a key stepping stone to a better place than you ever imagined.

      I know this much about you, Sivan – WHATEVER you do… it will be spectacular. You will be the very best you can be, at that moment. You may look back on this “disappointment” and be exceedingly grateful that the Universe knew better than you which path to take.

      • Jay Rotholz

      • February 5, 2013 at 11:12 am
      • Reply

      I thought that Joe met Haviva and Isaac met Franka.

        • Sivan

        • February 7, 2013 at 8:23 pm
        • Reply

        An excellent observation, Jay. The title refers to the story my Aba used to tell me when I was growing up about how Joe met Franka after the war, befriended her, and brought her home with him to Israel to become his brother Itzhaak’s wife. A story that has inspired me to collect the family stories, with all of their differing versions as they have been remembered and retold in Rotholz family legend.

      • Laura

      • February 5, 2013 at 12:38 pm
      • Reply

      Why is it that people who are “following their dreams” are so often met with hostility? Is it jealously? Is it that they feel judged by the dreamer? Is it concern?

      What would failure even look like in this case? She doesn’t sell the book for millions? Nope. It would only be not writing the book at all. Why should she write the book while juggling a 9-5 office job? Why is ‘good for her’? I’m having a hard time understanding that comment. Sivan has the love and support of her family, friends, and colleagues. She has this support because she is a demonstrated hard worker with a plan. The world we all love, the one with music, art, medicine and so on, is only possible because of the dreamers. Yes, most of us must keep the wheels turning with our 9-5 jobs, but if someone has it in them to make our world more beautiful, more interesting, safer or easier, then we need to support that person, encourage that person and wish them the best.

      Good luck, Sivan!!

        • Sivan

        • February 7, 2013 at 8:26 pm
        • Reply

        Thank you, Laura. I totally agree that failure, in this case, would be not writing the book at all. Your comment was really beautiful and it inspires me.

      • Joe

      • February 5, 2013 at 4:52 pm
      • Reply

      Follow your path for as long as you can….I did till I was 39 with a wife and a child on the way….that’s when I started law school with you….I had a twenty year ride of playing music and shooting movies before I went to law school….I lived off of 20k a year before law school….You’ve got a law degree….when you need to make money you’ll do what you have to….Kids will change everything if that ever happens for you and money will become more important, but until then who cares….Thankfully, I love my law practice now so no regrets!!

        • Sivan

        • February 7, 2013 at 8:31 pm
        • Reply

        Wise words. To everything there is a season. I’m glad you love your practice. Career fulfillment AND living a comfortable, happy life, is the dream!

      • Jerry Garcia

      • February 6, 2013 at 4:15 am
      • Reply

      Sivan – keep on truckin, you will arrive at the right destination.

    • I think there are several generations talking here and each person has a different perspective. I am 64 and now after many years of many types of jobs, I have found even more bliss. Responsibilities demand choices and as I see it Sivan supports herself and has chosen a path that fits her and her needs. When things change as some have said she will change if needed. When I was her age I had two kids, a full time job and a long term marriage. Now I have grown kids, grandchildren, a great divorce under my belt many years ago and own my home, no financial responsibilities and can travel on the largess of savings and a parent who passed and planned well. My mom is dying and she is well taken care of so my life revolves around me as I have always taken care of others. Responsibility is no longer the top priority. I say do what you love or just a job to reach whatever it is you need. I was always happy in my jobs because they were guiding me to a future of greatness. Sometimes it takes longer to get there but when you do it is so well worth the sacrifices.

        • Sivan

        • February 7, 2013 at 8:29 pm
        • Reply

        You have such a great perspective. I am sorry that your father has passed and your mother is passing, but as you know, that is the cycle and nature of life. Your life sounds bright and full of joy, and it sounds like you deserve it!

    • […] I didn’t get the Fulbright.  It didn’t break me.  I’m going to Israel to work on my project anyway.  Dreams aren’t free. […]

      • Val

      • August 3, 2013 at 8:20 pm
      • Reply

      I completed my first 3 year BA in education for my dignified intelligence . I liked it. I start studying English for just to spend an educated time with my friends. I learned some. I start using it and I made good money interpreting for American and European Congressmen(of course not millions). Well I made the salary of 3 month of the other job I had as a Teacher in just one day work for those Diplomats and Congressmen. I came in NY and I worked in different schools as substitute para, in a store on weekend, in the hospital as a medical coding & billing and studying at Hunter College for psychology and Economics at the same time. I opened a deli & grocery store letter on. I kept it for 9 months i couldn’t see my self in that dummy business.I sold the business. I went back to CUNY college to study psychology. I am proud for what I do. I spoke about business and everything with a professor from Business department. He thought I had a PHD.Hahaha!. Following your passion is a justification of you with yourself. If you love what you do you don’t work. I love what I am doing. I wrote this Ms.Rotholz to make a parallelism of you and me. It seams that’s we are working hard to make it and it is valuable. It is the value of our identity and dignity. You can’t leave without dignity and without identity in life. If you don’t have those you are a loser or not just that but invisible in life.

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