Reframing Optimism

Not with a bang but a whimper. That’s how my first apprenticeship ended.

On my final Thursday at the office, my two supervisors took me to lunch. I could sense the regret, sheepishness, and disappointment hanging in the air — I think we all felt it. The end of my time there really snuck up on me, and I imagine it did for Robby and Mike too. Later that evening, my good friend Meagan and I joked that it was like getting closure after dating someone who was never quite right for you. Not an inaccurate description.

I have plenty of glowing things to say about my supervisors and the experience. For instance, Robby is a fun guy with creative ideas and a unique eye for design. Mike is incredibly nice and down-to-earth. Together they have done a good job so far, and I see so much potential for the company’s expansion. My time was sprinkled with many lessons, albeit unexpected ones, and I am so grateful for them all. But I want to let myself acknowledge that this experience didn’t go all that well, and be at peace with it.

What exactly happened?

Was there a turning point when things started to go wrong? Just like after a failed romantic relationship, I’ve been thinking about it a lot, mulling over the exact sequence of things, and reviewing the scattered but copious notes I took throughout the ten weeks.

My best analysis is this: though both parties came in with good intentions, we ended up mutually failing each other. This is hard for me to admit, for two reasons. The first is that I don’t want to give the wrong impression of my experience with Ei. It has been extremely valuable thus far, especially because of the challenges. The second is that as the biggest optimist I know, I tend to hesitate before making any negative statements.

But I’m learning that there’s a difference between being optimistic and being overly forgiving and idealistic — painting a perfect picture when the reality is not so pretty. Accepting life’s imperfection while still remaining hopeful is a much truer form of optimism.

From the beginning, I was eager to learn, but fairly directionless and less confident than I should have been. They were enthusiastic and quick to say yes, perhaps too quick, without having fully taken the time to understand my program and goals and their capacity to supervise me. We had vaguely discussed projects I could work on, but not the process or deadlines.

Because I had flexibility with my time, I tried to take advantage of everything else that was going on within the Ei community: conferences, classmates’ events, and curiosity-fueled coffee dates with people I wanted to learn from. Though these “extracurricular” experiences were so meaningful, they added to my feeling of disconnection from the apprenticeship. Without the guidance and acknowledgement I was hoping for, I stopped feeling like it mattered to my supervisors whether I showed up or not, and in turn, started to wonder whether my work was valued at all.

One morning, I arrived at the office for a meeting we had scheduled the previous week. Mike had even sent me a calendar invite, so I felt reassured that we were finally going to connect. Prepared for our conversation, I showed up to a locked office, and no sign of Robby or Mike. They arrived a little over an hour later, without apology or explanation. I wish I had been more assertive then, but I didn’t take the chance to stand up for myself. Instead I let it slide, wanting to be nice like I always am.

The situation left me feeling confused and disregarded, but I never did anything about it. Though they were the ones who missed the meeting, I recognize now that I too was guilty of disrespecting myself. By not bringing it up after the fact, I essentially consented and allowed them to disregard the meeting we had scheduled. I value myself much more than I showed that day, and I’m not proud of my silence.

Now that the second term has started, I’m taking my learnings and directing my energy towards the coming months. Though my first apprenticeship was full of challenges, I look back on it only through the lens of lessons learned. Here are a few:

  • Being nice doesn’t mean having to become smaller in any way. I hope to honor myself better in the future, and find the courage to speak up.
  • My year (and life) is in my hands - I can’t expect others to give me what I need if I’m not willing to take initiative and go get it for myself.
  • Honesty and optimism don’t have to be at odds with each other - it’s possible to speak your truth and still be a positive person. Thank you for allowing me to do so.

During our talk, Meagan and I also discussed prospects for my next apprenticeship. Like a good friend doing due diligence by checking out a potential lover, she reviewed the website of an organization I am excited about and said she had “a good feeling about it.” With her blessing in tow, I am now pursuing next steps to see if something will work out. Only time will tell. Well, time and optimism — with a healthy dose of realism.

 

Student BlogsStephanie Kang