I hit bottom the summer I turned 36. Part-way through grad school, I took a break to work as managing editor of an outdoor magazine, Colorado Outdoor Journal. (You’ve never heard of it. I needed a job.) In May, the publisher pulled the plug on the magazine, but I had already registered for the June annual conference of the Outdoor Writers Association of America, so M. and I packed up our VW camper and — unemployed — drove to that year’s site, Kalispell, Montana.
At a reception, this guy — call him T. — came up and introduced himself. I did not know his face, but I knew his name: he had written several books I admired and was on the masthead of one of the leading magazines.
As freshmen at Reed College, he said, we had been in the same creative writing class. He remembered me. I had totally forgotten his being there. (He dropped out, started writing. I stayed.)
It wasn’t T’s fault, but in the wee hours one morning on that trip I woke up in the camper and had the nearest thing to a nervous breakdown that I ever had experienced. Everything that I thought I was or would be turned to dust and ashes. I was not suicidal, but I was crushed by an overwhelming sense of failure. No job. Maybe no career. Bills to pay. Taking the wrong path . . .
Someone should have given me this to read: “Run Your Own Race.”
The best advice I’ve received about surviving in the competitive world of grad school was passed down from a colleague: “Kaitlin, make sure to run your own race.” . . . . Looking around at your colleagues, there will be people publishing more, teaching more, and people who have more extracurricular activities, or more funding. It can be easy to think you don’t measure up. This self-deprecating thinking ignores strategies that can help make you successful and instead fixates on what others are doing.
I learned that lesson as writer, too: Be happy about your friends’ successes, and don’t measure yourself against them. Run your own race.