As you look at your name at the top of the list, you feel a heavy weight in your gut. You should be happy – thrilled, in fact – that you’ve made it, you’ve achieved highest honors. There’s your name at the top of the dean’s list, where you’ve proven that you are the best. But… the best at what? Achieving the highest test scores, impressing the teachers, being admired by your peers… it used to drive you to be the best, but suddenly, getting an A+ in “Meets Expectations” gives you a sinking feeling.
You turn away from the list, suddenly seeing it for what it is — a piece of paper tacked to the canvas wall of a circus tent – and look around the tent. The voices of all of the “experts” and “teachers” in the many classrooms you’ve devoted years to, now devolve into an unintelligible cacophony, sounding more like the “wah wah wa wa wonnng wahhh” of Charlie Brown’s teacher than the highly-educated academics who’ve shaped and honed your intellectual prowess.
You just want to get away from the noise, and to shake this feeling.
What’s wrong with me, you wonder. I should be grateful and happy about how far I’ve come, not feeling shitty for no reason.
You look around the tent, and see that the Dean of the College of Expectations is taking the stage, about to announce your name to the waiting crowd. Fuck. Should you fake it and pretend to be all honored and proud, shaking his hand and smiling so that nobody sees the hot mess you feel like inside? Normally you would “put on your happy face” and get on the stage. After all, you’ve earned this. You should accept the honor and appreciate it, dammit.
But today, something is different. You cannot fake it one more second. You take one last look at the sea of faces, the rows of classrooms, the certificates hung all over the walls of the tent… and you flee.
Rushing out of the canvas tent, you look around for a place where you can just be left alone for a minute. As far as your eye can see, row after row of tents fills the landscape, each one emitting the music and announcements of the circus act within. The pit in your stomach feels worse.
Maybe you need to find the pharmacy – surely they’ll have something that will help. Or maybe you just need to relax with a glass of wine and forget all of this for a little bit. You wander among the tents, outwardly appearing to be a successful professional who’s got their shit together, but wishing you could just vanish.
To your left, you see a canvas tent with an enormous vinyl sign flapping from the roof: FEEL BETTER NOW! The sign shows a picture of a smiling woman with perfect skin and impeccable makeup who has clearly mastered the skill of feeling better, next to the word “Pharmacy” and a neon orange assurance: “Get Instant Relief Here!”
As you’re wondering if the smiling woman on the sign has ever dealt with this particular flavor of feeling shitty, you’re distracted by the sound of Tom Petty blaring from a circus tent off to your right. From the entertainment tent, the speakers screech “’Cause I’m freeeeeeeeeeeeeeee, free fallinnnnn”, throngs of people lining up at the bar next to the entrance and a dance party vibe exuding from the crowd.
Maybe this is just the pick-me-up that you need. You lean your head to the side, trying to get a better view so you can at least check out the bartender.