Why Do We Need to Always Explain Why?

 

I have recently been struck with a realization that we find ourselves feeling like we need to justify gaps in our own lives to other people. Similarly, we feel compelled to explain “why” to people when really, it just is not their concern. It is like if we deviate from a plan or from what other people expect of us (even what we expect of ourselves), we feel like we need to rationalize it. I do believe though that our culture, our society, has the capacity to overcome this.

I know, you are thinking, “Tell me more, Missy.” I was having a conversation recently with a friend who is looking for her next career move. She took some time off from her last job, and so I asked her, “What will you tell companies if they ask why there is a gap in your resume?” She said simply, “I will tell them I took some personal time. The end.”  I pondered this for a moment as my brain usually wants more concrete answers. As we chatted more, I fully understood and agreed with her point. Why does she owe anyone an explanation? We are so used to always having to tell people a story when in actuality, it is not any of their business. For someone who is smart, accomplished, competent, likeable, savvy, why does she owe to anyone to explain a mere gap on her resume? Because  the truth is, LIFE happened. And specifically what that means, well that is really nobody’s business.

Throughout my career, I have always been cognizant of not having a gap on my resume. The truth is, I took some time off to do short term jobs a few years after college (and working my first real job in finance) because well frankly, I was 25 years old. I was unsure what I wanted to do.  I was young. I was disenchanted. And I wanted time to figure out where to go and what to do next. But no way in hell was I going to tell any potential employer that. I was far too worried they would view me as someone who was not motivated or ambitious or worse yet, a total flaky scatterbrain. Instead, I stretched the truth a tad and said that I worked for a family business for a year.

I remember going to interviews with my standard story. “I was living in Pittsburgh and I really wanted to move back home to New Jersey. The timing worked out as our family business was in need of some extra help.” That always satisfied the interviewer, and I did get a “real’ job once again when I was ready.

Looking back, as this was probably around 2004, maybe at that time, it was still expected that no gap go unexplained. Today though, I would like to think that our culture has changed.  I do believe there is a higher acceptance of understanding that just because someone went off course does not mean they have less to offer. I wonder if I were to interview for a job tomorrow with a revised resume that does not reflect a year of working at a family business (and oh my, instead has a gap!) that I could be blunt and just say, “Well I was 25. I was not really loving my job anymore.  My boyfriend moved to West Virginia. I didn’t want to be in Pittsburgh anymore and so I moved back home.”  I would  be surprised if at this point in my life  that my 25 year old self would really work against me. I have a few years (ok fine shut up, more than a decade) of experience since then that would more than make up for it.

What if I actually gave no explanation of the gap and simply said, “I took some personal time off. The end.” Would anyone would even blink an eye? And really why should  it matter if someone takes time off at 25 or 35 or 55? People have their reasons, which there is no limit to what those reasons could be. It is their reasons, their stories. Why should getting a job depend on them providing personal details to a complete stranger? People’s character and ambition should speak for themselves and overcome a gap.

And it isn’t  just jobs where we have this expectation of having to explain ourselves. It goes beyond that. Look at dating.  How many times have you felt (or heard friends express) the dread of having to explain why you haven’t dated in FOREVER? Why do we feel compelled to rationalize our single lives? Maybe instead of blaming it on long work hours or the city you live in is just the WORST for dating., you simply just say, “It just hasn’t happened yet.”  That is the truth and so is saying, “Because I am awesome and have yet to meet someone as awesome as I am.” You get my point. We have such a tendency to feel like less of a person when we feel as if we fall short of expectations, and that simply should not be the case.

The gaps and “need’ to explain go on and on. Why did you take time off before going to college? Why did you wait 5 years after you got married before you had a baby? Why did you wait 4 years before you had your second baby? Why did you wait so long to get married?

The reality is people feel compelled to explain themselves or their situation because of the fear of being judged. And another reality is that, we all want to know “why” because we actually do want to judge, bad or good. We want to know WHY because we are trying to assess if there is something shady that we must uncover. Did you not work for a year because you nobody wanted to hire you? Have you not dated in a while because you are bat shit crazy?  Did you not go to the happy hour because you are trying to make some kind of statement?  My point is it all feels very cynical. We make judgments and assumptions based on very little information.

And the ironic thing is, often when we have these gaps or chose to go against the grain, contrary to popular belief, we come back from them as better humans. We often learn so much about ourselves and about others that we never would  have gained had we stayed on a straight path. We gain knowledge and insight, even if the gap or break we took was due to something tragic or sad, we come back stronger and better. I encourage people to stop viewing gaps as something damaging. Start looking at them with respect and admiration.  Start appreciating what they can do for a person, for a soul. There is something to be said for life experience when we deviate from the expected.

 

Boundaries: We All Have Them

I recently attended a Lit Walk in North Hollywood and absolutely loved it. I was so exhilarated hearing writers tell their stories so openly, candidly and without filters. There was something really relatable about how raw it was. They were sharing their most intimate feelings and personal details without apologies that I was genuinely impressed, moved… and a tad bit jealous.

They wrote and spoke without apology. Their stories ranged from abuse to rape to racism to politics to love to heartbreak. They were extremely personal, full of truth and extremely passionate.  I loved that they had the courage to tell stories that were not all about sunshine and rainbows. I loved that they spoke sometimes less than diplomatically yet still respectfully. I loved that they did not apologize for their words. Their words are their feelings, their frustrations, their passions. They are theirs to say and for us to listen or to not listen to. (Ok, I digress before I get all freedom-of-speech on you).

Since this eye-opening night, I have been thinking a lot about the breadth of writers’ boundaries.  Some writers are more bold than others.  Some are more crass than others. Some are more delicate than others. Perhaps the more unfiltered someone is, the more risk there is for backlash. The thing is though, whether they intentionally or unintentionally ruffle some feathers, I am realizing that is what is so unique to having a creative outlet. People can pick their voice and others can choose to pay it any mind or not.

When I think about life (outside of writing), there are some similarities around boundaries yet some very stark differences. Boundaries. ­­We all have them. They are different from one person to the next. They may baffle us. We may not agree with them. We may be intrigued by them. We may try to change them. I ask though, regardless of what we think about someone else’s boundaries, is it for us to do anything else beyond accepting them?

I truly believe boundaries are what keep us thriving. They are almost like rules of engagement which are quite different from creative expression. I have nothing but respect for people who establish and make their boundaries known, whether I agree with them or not.  I realize that acceptance means that I may have to tailor what I say or suppress certain sides of me in certain situations. I also recognize that anyone can argue “But you should be who you are at all times.” I think I am who I am at all times, but I pick and choose sides of me at the appropriate times. If I were to be the same person at all times, I would inevitably cross someone else’s boundaries, and personally, I do not want to go through life feeling like I am stepping on people along the way.

There plainly is an element of censorship when it comes to boundaries.  It is not to say it is a bad thing, it is to say it’s a juggling act. Being aware of people’s boundaries is a game of sorts that we all play. We learn to understand them and abide by them, not because we are complacent passive people, but because we are taught to treat others with respect and acceptance.

We have emotional, spatial, physical and mental boundaries.  Sometimes we may find it uncomfortable to be around someone who has more lax boundaries, or the opposite, much more rigid boundaries. Sometimes we like being around people with such drastically different boundaries as it may even push us out of our comfort zones.  When it comes to someone else’s boundaries, ultimately it is for us to accept or walk away.

When it comes to my writing mantra, I try to be as cognizant as I can of the tone.  I strive to be creditable without being self-­­­ righteous. I strive to be open without being offensive. ­­ Being at the Lit Walk did challenge my mantra and thinking, both when it comes to my approach in life and my style of writing. There was something freeing not just in hearing what others were reading, but in the choice I had to go from venue to venue as I pleased. It reminds me of the constant ebbs and flows of friendships and relationships. Often they fade and flourish depending on boundaries. Sometimes I have to analyze my boundaries or those of others. Do they mesh? Do they clash? Do they even matter? Do I need to reevaluate my own from time to time? Absolutely.

I still stand by that boundaries are extremely important to set, but I also recognize that what may work one day may not work the next. Perhaps there is something to be said for being more open, vulnerable and even less filtered. I tend to write “safely”. I have set my own writing boundaries and I do balance that with those boundaries of other people.

I leave you with this… yes, boundaries are important. Actually they are necessary.  When though do boundaries get in the way of what could be?

 

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