The Magic of What's not Meant for You

Nep· o· tism (noun): the practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs.

We’ve all benefited from it at one point or another in our lives as students, whether it was for the sake of an internship, admission into a prestigious club, or being accepted by a new friend group you wouldn’t have the ability to emerge into otherwise. College is all about making connections and building networks, all in hopes that the right handshake will get you a step closer to the life you want to live once you break out of the Rhodes gates. And who doesn’t love the chance to expedite that process by capitalizing off of the network you’re in? 

This past summer, I was in a, for lack of better word, emotional, disappointed, angry-at-the-world rut. I was in the midst of an existential crisis spurred by my college career being halfway over, my grandmother’s health was beginning to nosedive, and I was experiencing my real first heartbreak. While in years past summer felt like a familiar friend pulling me into a warm hug that I yearned for from fall to spring, this time around it was something I associated with overwhelming dread. The idea of summer, and being stuck in my hometown for three months, made me want to run away. 

As if the universe was answering my call, my parents gave me a job. Nepotism saved the day and gave me a direction to run, one that bobbed and weaved across the East coast of the United States. 

The job was simple. Ride along on a tour bus with an indie rock band, take cool photos and videos of them that their followers would like, post them on social media, and sell t-shirts and posters at shows. 

My initial response to the proposal was how painstakingly unqualified I was for the position. I am no photographer. I am no saleswoman. And perhaps the most obvious of all, I was nowhere near the level of cool required to be on tour with a band, one that’s been all over the world and rubs shoulders with people I read about on gossip websites and gush over with my friends.

But, according to my parents, who were managing the band and had been left with the task of putting said tour together, I liked music and Instagram, which meant I was perfect for the job. 

The idea of being able to see things I never had before, get away from the trainwreck of my life on the homefront, and make money while doing it was something that intrigued me. It made me feel excited, which was a feeling I had lost contact with in recent months. Besides that, it was an opportunity, one that would make my resume stand out above the rest, and although I hate “resume guys”, who was I to turn down a chance to make myself more marketable? 

Above all that, I was getting my out. A summer I could look forward to. The chance to run. So I laced up my boots, grabbed a suitcase, and went for it. 

There were lots of things I liked about tour life. Waking up in a new location every morning, payment outside of my wages that was strictly for food (yes, that’s a thing), and having a workday that consisted of going to a concert, one of my favorite pastimes, and talking to interesting people that were buying things from me. I got a sense of overwhelming power from being part of a “crew” and having a magic badge that granted me immunity from the obstacles of a regular audience member. I loved the jolt I got from elbowing my way through the sea of people outside of the venue waiting for autographs, whipping open the door to the bus, and stepping inside, before latching it closed zipping off to the next city. I loved nestling into my bunk after a long night, and being rocked to sleep by the tandem work of the engine’s vibration and bends in the interstate. 

In Columbus, Ohio, I overheard a group of girls talking as I walked past them, their words slurring from all the fruity cocktails they’d consumed through the night. 

“I wonder where they’re going.” 

I loved being someone that was wondered about. 

However, being on the bus, and spending time with the people I was being wondered about with, wasn’t something I loved as much. The band, who had millions of record sales and a few Grammy awards between them, spent the time they weren’t performing huddled together, smoking cigarettes, puffing Juul pens, and comparing notes on which Hollywood mansion had the best view of the city. They were your typical “Avocado People”, L.A. transplants who exclusively wore a trade-off between black leather and black denim, regardless of the season, and would ramble on about how eliminating gluten “changed their life”, but minutes later go into a painfully long anecdote about how Jennifer Anniston’s private chef makes the best sourdough rolls. 

They were in a constant state of preening their feathers, dealing stories that they thought would make them look more important like they were Uno cards. This specific quirk of said “Avocado” people, their name-dropping and imaginary allergies and non-climate-appropriate way of dress, was something I could look past, something that amused me, something I could sneak away from at a truck stop and laugh about with my friends over the phone. 

The thing I couldn’t look past, however, was the way this quirk, this way of existing, made them interact with the outside world. The way they treated servers at restaurants, our driver, or anybody who wasn’t in their gluten-free-leather club, made me recoil, the way you do when you swallow a shot of cheap Vodka and don’t want to look like a total loser, so you pass on the chaser. 

I struggled to assimilate, to find points of connection with the group that made me feel like I was genuinely a part of “it”, whatever that was. I fumbled around their attempts at social boundary-making and looked internally by brainstorming ways I could make myself look cooler, or worthy of acceptance into their club. I delved into my work, spending hours with editing software to make masterpieces of the photos I took, meticulously setting up the merch table display show after show, and laughing at their jokes, even when I didn’t think they were that funny. No matter how “good” I was at my job, it didn’t give me any semblance of the feeling that I belonged. 

I didn’t want to admit I wasn’t happy, that I didn’t like what I was doing. I didn’t want to disappoint my friends, with whom I was sharing day-to-day updates, or my parents, whose livelihoods were tied to the project. After all, the magic wand of nepotism had granted me this opportunity, one that on paper looked like the adventure of a lifetime. How could I not be enjoying it? How could I not be “good” at it? 

In response, I did what I had done at the start of summer. I ran. Every day off, every stop we made, every time the bus driver clicked on the brakes, I’d peel off from the group and go do my own thing. While they were getting acai bowls or playing pool, I would go to museums, sit in coffee shops, or find a local antique mall to explore. I didn’t want to spend any more time than I had to feeling like the outsider, the non-Avocado person, who had an ample amount of gluten in their diet and didn’t play any instruments. The truth of the matter was that these were the moments I cherished most on the whole tour, the time I had to be with myself, to do what I wanted, to be me, and not some version of me that I had to put on so that I would be well-liked. The thing that I was initially running towards, was quickly becoming the thing I felt like I needed to run from

I am someone who doesn’t respond well to failure. And before you say it, I know that it’s a toxic trait and that I should be patient with myself. I’ve heard all that self-help jargon since I was a wee fourth grader having panic attacks over losing the class spelling bee. I am fully aware that failure is unavoidable, but I do my best to prolong the amount of time before I face it by refusing to quit. I view quitting as surrender, that if I no longer want to do something, it means that I wasn’t good at it, or didn’t succeed. 

It was this same fear that kept me from wanting to speak up about how miserable I was on the road. It was the expectation I had set for myself, that I would be some type of roadie-explorer-lady-goddess, that kept me from facing the truth, which was that this simply wasn’t meant for me. 

My favorite stop on the tour was the day we got to spend in Rhode Island. I fell in love with the brisk salty air, and the way each of the houses looked like little pastel shoe boxes, with its own unique landscaping and porch decor that set it apart from the others. Our driver took us on a mini tour of the town, concentrating all the tourist hot spots into one day. We stopped at a waterfront inn that was a popular wedding location. Its appeal was no mystery, the back lawn opened up to a cliff that overlooked the grey ocean, waves crushing up against brown rocks and mingling with the yellow-green brush that grew in between them. He let me step out of the car so that I could take a better look (and snap some selfies for good measure), and I immediately felt a calmness I hadn’t been acquainted with in a long time. Maybe it was the overcast weather putting me in my feelings, or the chilly air getting to my head, but I couldn’t help but think to myself, if this moment is the whole reason I’m meant to do this, to be here, with these weird gluten free people, I’ll be content. 

Beyond its beautiful views and aggressive quaintness, Rhode Island inspired me to cement my life plan. I now fully intend on making my fortune, selling all my belongings, and moving to Newport, where I will live in a cottage on a self-sustaining farm, exclusively wear caftans, and become the town recluse that school children make up local folklore about. If anything, the tour allowed me to re-center my focus on this long term goal. For that, I am forever grateful. 

Coming to terms with the fact that I had to quit was difficult, but it was a conversation that was necessary and relieving. Once again, I had broken off from the band and found a gift shop in Ann Arbor that had free wifi. I called my stepmom and explained to her the truth, which was that I was miserable, that this life wasn’t meant for me, and that I wanted to hop off at the show in Lexington, the one nearest to my hometown that would allow me to easily get back. The fear I had built up about saying no, about being done, pleasantly surprised me by granting me power. I quit. For one of the first times in my life, the words that I had considered synonymous with failure came to mean something quite the opposite. They were magic, they were freedom, if you could see them spill out of my mouth, I can almost promise they’d sparkle with fairy dust. 

Also a pleasant surprise, my parents weren’t disappointed in me, but glad I had given it a try, happy that I had said yes in the first place. They were understanding, and so were the Avocado People, although I’m sure they never gave me a second thought after I stepped off of that bus. Even if I didn’t end up taking to road life like I had hoped, I was still thankful I welcomed it with a yes. After all, it gave me Rhode Island, and the cradle of a rolling bunk, and the awareness that I have the power to walk away. 

These days, I much prefer being in the audience. I like to be pushed, to wait in line, to view the artists I admire as nothing more than artists, blissfully unaware of the quirks that make them asshole divas. I like to wonder where they’re going as they get onto their own bus after the show, and also appreciate the time I had with them, right where I'm at.