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THE BREAKDOWN | Neither/Nor

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I have a lot to be thankful for, but one blessing I rarely think about is that I have always been fortunate/lazy enough that I haven’t had to apply for anything other than school. I just feel a little bit dirty trying to sell myself to people – exaggerating my successes, overlooking my failures, and trying to pretend that I have some master plan. I really don’t. But this past Sunday I took my best shot at applying for a resident advisor position, and that required putting together a résumé. I’m a student, not a networker, so I had to throw together what I imagine Dyson students spend half of their curriculum perfecting. Luckily, Cornell has a career guide, because in the end we’re all just here to get this bread.

“The goal of your résumé is usually to land an interview.”

I’m fully aware of how whiny this sounds, but at what point do I get to drop my pickaxe, sit back, and enjoy my ride on the privilege train? People from where I come from just don’t go here, and it may have cost me my soul, but I made it. Now I have to compete with the most qualified kids in the nation just to get an RA interview? I think I’ll just take my social capital and go.

“It helps you tell your unique story and presents evidence that you have the experiences and  competencies that the person reading it needs.”

The only problem is that no matter my outcome, the ending will never be “earned,” as my creative writing professor says. My mom was telling me she wouldn’t pay for my college before I knew what loans were, and I had to decide where I wanted to go before I knew anything about the subjects that have become my majors. The result is more optimum trajectory than five-year plan. What am I supposed to say? “I didn’t realize my desire to study Performing and Media Arts until I spent a summer plumbing with convicted meth dealers, burglars, and one guy that committed a vehicular homicide.” “Some of my skills that will transfer well to being an RA are the basic marksmanship, gas chamber, and infantry tactics training I have received through ROTC.”

Let’s take as our hypothesis the idea that the goal of young adulthood is to establish a coherent narrative of experience that will propel us into adulthood as productive members of society. It’s a simple idea, but for myself and many others, it’s complicated by backgrounds that often feel incompatible. It’s the feeling that here, a thousand miles from home, I am an outsider, paired with the feeling that I have lost some important part of myself every time I go home. It is part guilt, part envy. It is the out-of-placeness of studying theater in an ROTC program full of engineering, government, and bio kids, or the awkwardness of going to an audition in a combat uniform. Basically, that the whole of me is less than the sum of my parts, and that instead of being one thing or the other, I end up somewhere in the middle. If parts of my résumé seem to nullify others, are they even worth it?


This weekend there was a concert at the Seal and Serpent house. Maybe it’s just because I haven’t been home all this semester, but when the band played Sweet Home Alabama, I felt the happiest I’ve been in a long time. I mean, it’s an amazing song, and everyone loved it, but I knew that no one else felt it like I did. It made me hopeful that even if I did lose some pride and power in my experiences, I would gain some nuance. And I felt a little better about it all.

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