Friday, March 9, 2012

Panache and a Pokerface, OR "How discouragement is actually like a card game"

This past week has been a Discouraged Week. That in itself isn’t particularly noteworthy – anyone trying to break into a career is going to ride an inevitable rollercoaster of highs and lows, and discouragement is a regular emotion that we’ll all experience. I’m just a little bummed because this Discouraged Week feels a little different than the others; this time, I’m just so weary.

I’m weary of working 60-hour weeks. I’m weary of giving up my Saturdays. I’m weary of the constant pressure to search for jobs, the constant need to write cover letters and tweak resumes, the cruel cycle of the interview process. I’m weary of being patient. Of waiting for “the right thing to come along.”  Everything happens for a reason and blah de blah de blah, but you know what? I’m weary of feeling like a failure. 

I know, I have a fancy diploma and a resume and even a brain that tell me otherwise, but this doesn’t stop me from wanting to hang my hat up and become a professional waitress. At least waitresses get paid!

The biggest threat from discouragement is that we slowly start selling ourselves short.  We slowly convince ourselves that we’re no good. That we’re not smart. Not qualified. Not deserving. We can only do “administrative support” or conduct “miscellaneous tasks”, and all I’ll ever be is That Intern On The 6th Floor.

This is such a lie, and it’s so dangerous. For one, it makes us feel like shit. For another, it traps us in a box of our own making. This lie wants to keep me from applying for that editor position at Politico, hinder me from emailing my CEO for career advice. It makes me think ridiculous things like, Well, that would be an awesome job, but I’m clearly not qualified because all I know how to do is make copies and fetch donuts, or, I’m not gonna apply for this because I’m actually stupid, and the intern who sits next to me used to work for the UN in Jakarta – I bet someone like him has already applied.

Sometimes, it’s very important that we not listen to the things we tell ourselves.

Instead, we need to trust in our abilities. We need to trust in our potential. We need to bet on ourselves, and showcase our qualities in the best possible way, even if privately we doubt ourselves.  I think this could boil down to two words: panache and pokerface. Represent yourself with flair, individuality, and strength. That’s the panache part. And do it unflinchingly, even if the player next to you appears to have a full house.  That's the pokerface part. It’s up to you – er, up to me, since I guess I’m talking about myself here – up to me to sell my hand. After all, if I don’t demonstrate confidence in myself, why should I expect employers to?

Wow, who knew I would have such a great metaphor. I’m not even that much of a card player.

I’ll end this with a quote from a very wise woman.  It’s become something of a refrain of mine, so I hope it helps you, too, when you feel discouraged:

“You is smart. You is kind. You is important.”


  1. When I think about applying for a job I think, "Oh man, I bet Aftan has already applied for that, I have no hope..."

  2. I'm with ya! This midwifery thing is amazing, and feels so big (because it is) sometimes it's hard to see myself as capable. We can so this!

  3. Positive thinking: Through this weariness and discouragement you wrote an amazing blog entry that is encouraging to everyone who reads it.

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