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To Those in the Arena...

May 27, 2018 Tony Hammack

I have been asked a lot recently about whether I am or am not excited for having graduated with my Master’s. I have to say that it has not been that exciting or enlightening. It has been a trying time. One where each day is a fight.

This present journey started in January. I started applying for jobs online, knowing full well that finding a job will be a long, laborious process. Each month, I have applied to more and more jobs. At this moment, I guess that I have applied to over 150 jobs.

I keep up with current economic news. (It is one of my interests outside math) I know that the labor market has tightened, so businesses are taking more candidates that do not meet all their listed criterion. I, also, know that with the recent tax cut, businesses have hired more jobs. What I am trying to say, I thought I had luck on my side.

I know the odds should tilt my way, so I just need to find the right opportunity. But, the odds seem to not be in my favor. I only got a handful of rejection letters from the companies I applied to, and many more just have ignored me. It seems this is due to a lack of experience or so it is inferred by the few letters I do receive. Even the entry level and new grad jobs require one to three years experience.

So what am I to do? I have no experience because I was studying for my Master’s. How can I convince companies to just look at my job application? I want a shot to prove myself worthy of the opportunity.

There is nothing I can do but to hold on to hope and keep applying.

There has been a lot of change recently. I left UAB, I have no schedule, and I am jobless. At first, I gave it my all. The first two weeks I applied to every position I could find, read many books and articles, and learned more about machine learning and data science. So basically, I kept busy. But with each day having heard no response from potential employers, I started to breakdown. I stopped working out and eating well. I stopped reading. I could not even get myself to leave the house and go to my favorite coffee place 3 minutes from my house.

Being bipolar sucks, and the stress from the job hunt is like adding gasoline onto a flame. This past month I have had high highs and low lows. It comes with the territory of being bipolar. There have been nights where my mind was so active that I could not fall asleep until 4 and get up at 7 with energy. (This happened last night.) Then there are days where it takes all the strength I have to get up and take a shower.

It is miserable to go on this journey of fluctuating moods. It causes me to ponder whether I am a fool, a fool for thinking my life would ever be easier. I strive for mental clarity and peace, and it seems that they allude me. In the times that I feel well, I presume that all will be well. I feel that I have made progress, and I feel that I am cured. But when I am at my wit’s end, I feel that life has played this sick joke and I am completely unaware.

And on this past Tuesday for the first time, I was just done. I was done trying to overcome my illness, I was done trying to have hope, and I was tired of fighting, fighting for survival in this crazy world.

Thankfully, I had a good friend who took time out of her schedule to sit and talk. She told me about a speech that Teddy Roosevelt gave at the Sorbonne in Paris, France on April 23, 1910. This speech is formally titled “Citizenship in a Republic,” but it is colloquially known as “The Man in the Arena.” She showed me an incredibly impactful quote:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Roosevelt talks about those who try; it is not those who sit on the sidelines and are cynical that live a worthy life, and it is those who strive endlessly with disregard of ultimate success. My friend shared that I am not a fool for being unsuccessful at my attempts of normalcy and mental peace. Life has its ups and downs, and each person has their individual troubles.

His speech reminds me of gladiators. I imagine myself as one of the gladiators fighting in the Roman arena. There are these beasts that encircle me waiting to rip apart my flesh, but it is my job to survive. I seek no glory; I seek freedom. And although I may be continually wounded by battles, I will stay in the arena and fight. Even if I die, I will have stayed true to the cause.

Each one of us are in an arena; we are all gladiators. Each day there are ghosts that haunt us, people who try to hurt us, and circumstances that cripple us. It is not about reaching the goal, but it is about fighting for it. And if we were to fail, we will fail while daring greatly.

I may never achieve my true dream, I may still these debilitating lows, but I will keep fighting. Angela Duckworth is a psychologist who studies this idea of grit who says:

In all those very different contexts, one characteristic emerged as the best predictor of success. And it wasn’t social intelligence, it wasn’t good looks, physical health, it wasn’t IQ. It was grit. Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future day in day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years. And working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon; not a sprint.

Her assessment on grit matches up with Roosevelt’s take on living. My friend encouraged me to stay in the fight, to persevere when no progress is eminent.

I will stay in the arena.

I will fight for my freedom from bipolar disorder.

And if I am a fool who never reaches his dream, then I will fail while daring greatly.

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