The interview passes quickly as I rock it on a fear-induced energy high, laughing like the most confident girl in the room.
The boss calls a few days later, informing me I won; my first real job. “We were blown away,” he says. “You’re in. You’re perfect for us.”
Coming in post-interview is a whole different creature, my insides falling out and my truth sticking out there for everyone to see.
The first big event is a concert for high school students. “What better way to prove myself,” I think. Get in good with the high schoolers and show off my dance moves.
I groove in the stands, throwing my body this way and that.
“You really let loose!” Boss grins afterwards, trying to make light of it. “Nice moves!”
My ears burn firecracker red, but I lock away the memory and banish it to the back of my mind. “No dancing in front of high school students,” I repeat to myself. “Rule number one. Got it.”
The rules of professional life aren’t simple deductions. At 23 years old, I still look sixteen. Without any college class on Acting My Age or Creating Healthy Boundaries in the Workplace, I grasp at straws and the sand sifts out.
One fateful day, I receive an email from my boss, including me by accident.
“I am IRATE,” he says in all caps to another supervisor. “I just spoke with a teacher who works with Rivka. She has no professional acumen whatsoever.”
I suck in my breath sharply, the room spinning. This is horrible, the worst thing ever.
I slap my computer shut and run out the office door into the streets.
The sky is blinding, bright, beautiful blue, but I can’t breathe. Tears cover my face and I’m horrified, but most of all ashamed.
After the tears stop, I take a deep breath and find myself still standing. Recharged with a new strength, I enter the office again, a changed woman.
I print out and bring the letter to my boss and he sets it down, apologizing. “We say things we don’t mean when we’re angry,” he smiles warmly, inviting me to move on.
I, however, don’t recover as easily. The truth is burned into my small frame. I’m horribly, embarrassingly, irreversibly, confirmed unprofessional.
I watch myself, from then on, over my shoulder, uncertain and critical.
“I’m not polished,” I think often. “I’m too shaky. I’m full of half-completed project ideas and whole stacks of ‘another time, please’.”
People offer advice on improvement. Inside, I’m a twig about to break. I chastise myself for my missteps, my clumsiness, and my forever lack of professional acumen.
After three years, the job ends and we move to Israel. The constant heat of an office setting subsides and my brain regenerates from its working overtime at paranoid analyzation.
Instead, I spend my time focusing on myself and self growth. I settle comfortably into a non-competitive setting. I begin a family.
But the inner twitch to create and build never subsides. My creative voice roars with ideas, banking on the belief that they will shine great lights and prove my professional acumen for all to see along with it.
I cannot ignore the roar. Despite the challenges of raising children and city living, I take my itching hands and I build.
I coordinate people and materials. I build primitive ideas into small castles, reminding myself that it’s okay if it’s not perfect, just doing is what’s important.
When the idea is fully operational, I cringe. It’s not polished or successful enough.
I fall. I shrink away from the projects when they end or crumble, and I hid in a hole.
I am nothing. Please, no one look at or think of me.
Yet the voice reemerges, months later, craving to build again.
“This time it will be different,” it coaxes. “You will succeed. If not, imperfection is okay. The important thing is creating. “
I dutifully try again, only to run away in shame at the product.
And then, one day, after years of such unprofessional taunts, it happens.
In the midst of a mistake from a project, I see it.
I see the mistake for what it is: separate from me. It doesn’t burn. It’s not a blinding red light I need to run away from and hide from. It’s just a small part of my inner heart breaking down, breaking open, and reforming. It is just a simple guided lesson instead of a painful whip of disdain.
“It’s true,” I find myself acknowledging. “I was not born with professional acumen. I can be messy and awkward, and socially, professionally out of sync.
“But it is not me,” I also understand that day. “I am malleable. I can learn, and become anew. The structures within me can shift. One day, I will know more. One day, I will be different. Today I am, just a tiny, minuscule bit, better, further, faster.”
Despite how puny these shifts are, inside the effect feels profound, enormous.
It must be what Gd craves, His sustenance. It most probably is what powers the universe.
If only I could continue to open myself up as an unfinished book, to be humbly directed, how good it would feel.
To wholeheartedly embrace my flaws and slowly build them up, to power His world.