Before you start playing the world’s smallest violin, no I’m not throwing a pity party or feeling sorry for myself. Instead, I am attempting to do what often seems so foreign and alien to men, being vulnerable.
I remember the day I was rejected for a graduate role at a company I thought I would be perfect for. It wasn’t my first rejection ever, it wasn’t even my first rejection that day (it was my third) but it cut me deep. I was at a leadership event run by the same company and trying to make a good impression as there was a group event which included a team pitch with the best one winning some prize I’ve long forgotten about. Not long before my team was due to present our idea to a judging panel and crowd I was taken to a side room by a member of HR to talk to me about my application. I remember feeling happy as my application had been sponsored by an employee that had taken a shining to me and I assumed she was telling me about the next steps or perhaps even informing me of the assessment centre date.
I was wrong, I had failed the psychometric test. I could reapply in a year if I wanted.
I heard these words, but they didn’t sink in (that would be later). I remember nodding and doing the whole stiff upper lip thing but inside I was falling apart. I resolved to give the best presentation they had ever seen, to show them they had made a mistake. Forever an optimist I assumed if I killed this, they might reverse their decision.
I then proceeded to give the worst presentation of my life. Truth be told it was a team effort but being brutally honest I was the weak link. I completely screwed up. I forgot my words, I froze up, I remember just wanting in that moment to disappear or be swallowed up by the earth. We didn’t win, I tried to open up a little to a friend about how I felt but I couldn’t fully, I didn’t have the language or capacity. So instead I made the long journey home where after I finally arrived and parked, I broke down. I wept uncontrollably for what seemed like hours. I honestly couldn’t move and had to call my mum and wait for her to physically help me out of the car.
I now know it was the weight of expectation and not meeting it that ultimately crippled me that day. You see I assumed after university that I would have to get a job and move out. On its own, it can seem a simple enough goal but as an expectation, it can be debilitating. I assumed not that I could but that I HAD to be self-sufficient after university. This was an expectation I had placed on myself after hearing this in so many words my whole life. Things like;
‘At your age, I had left home’
‘You have it easy, I had to work when I was your age’
‘I know you’re at uni but you should think about getting a job’
‘Your mates are working while you’re chilling here at home’
These messages mainly came from my dad who I suppose heard them from his dad as part of the vicious circle known as patriarchy. Almost unknowingly I internalized the norm that men have to be breadwinners and this resulted in a physical reaction when I thought this wasn’t going to be the case.
I remember waking up the next day and to my great surprise the sun still came up and the world had not ended. It sounds like hyperbole but I honestly couldn’t imagine graduating without a job so these normal occurrences seemed magical to me. I eventually realized it wasn’t about the job and I didn’t really want to leave home. It was just suffocating against self-imposed and unnecessary pressure to provide for a theoretical and imaginary future family.
Self-reflection gave me this clarity, feminism made me understand I don’t have to do it all alone and neither do you. I say this because suicide is the most common cause of death for men between 20-49 in the England and Wales and I would hazard a guess that some of that is due to keeping things bottled up inside. I get it, part of being a man is supposedly ‘manning up’ but that is bullshit and it is killing us.
If you take one thing away from this let it be this, don’t just keep it inside. If you are going through something talk to someone about it. Opening up isn’t weak, it’s actually one of the bravest things you can do.
And of course Happy International Women’s day!
Peace and Love,
Aharoun the Author