Jeffrey Peterson (’17) graduated with degrees in French and film & media studies. He plans on completing a dual PhD program at Yale, but they don’t know that yet. In the meantime, he teaches mostly Excel classes in the Grand Rapids area. Although he finds hobbies exhausting, he likes cooking, eating, reading about, and writing about food, and he was good at drawing last time he checked. He also loves talking about film and TV, but no, he doesn’t watch Parks and Rec or The Big Bang Theory, so please stop asking.
I have this really kinky fantasy where I graduate college feeling like I’m good at the things I studied and knowing what I want to do next.
A lot of new professionals and academics have to fight through imposter syndrome—this cackling anxiety that tells them they’re not qualified for their work and that they can only fake it for so long. But I didn’t have a job when I started feeling it in January of 2017. I had never applied myself in a French class because I was always good enough that I didn’t need to, so I was hardly improving, and I had just begun the film studies major I was cramming into my final year, so I missed out on valuable classes I would’ve taken had I known I was interested sooner. In other words, I realized I would be graduating pretty inept in both of my fields. I felt unqualified to even say I was studying them. And I couldn’t handle that. I loved both of them, and both had come very naturally to me initially, but in spite of that, I was ultimately going to be pretty average and pretty unemployable.
So I started searching for purpose. Here’s where it starts getting really titillating and lusty, so stop reading now if you’re worried you might be sinning. While browsing job postings and grad schools, I found that one of the oldest, most prestigious film schools in the world, the Film and TV School of Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (FAMU), offers free tuition to Czech speakers. If I couldn’t be exceptional without trying, I was going to have to force it.
For two weeks, whenever I walked to class, drove, or lay down to sleep, I would listen to this app read flashcards of common phrases like we have an apple and you are big girls. If you’re wondering what learning Czech entails, here’s the essence: Every single noun must be declined to indicate one of seven grammatical roles. In English, we only have three, and we only use them for pronouns. You also still have to conjugate verbs according to person and number, but also gender, of which there are three, as well as whether the subject or object is inanimate. Yes, really.
If you didn’t understand that, you probably don’t speak Czech. It’s okay—neither do I. Well, actually, I know a fair amount of vocab, and I can say I am a foreigner, and I do not understand much Czech with a nearly perfect accent because, for a short time, I tried that hard. Probably harder than I ever had in a French or film class.
But the most ridiculous part of this was that I really believed this was the path of least resistance. I knew even then I wasn’t doing it out of ambition—I started this all because I had only silhouettes of career goals. Trying to teach myself a notoriously difficult language, not to mention how to be a FAMU-worthy filmmaker, honestly sounded easier than not knowing what I was good at.
A year later, I can take or leave going to FAMU. It’s not really about film anymore—I’m not sure it ever was. I’m just drawn to the Czech Republic. Now it’s just a weird fetish. But I don’t want the energy I put into learning Czech to be worth nothing. Those two weeks are sacred to me because I started something nobody asked me to do, something just for me, something where no one could judge me if I failed. And I really tried until I got sick of it like everything else.
At this point, I would feel like I was accomplishing something just by going there and existing for a while. So now I’ve created this sort of speculative sanctum for myself in a city called Brno. Don’t look it up, though, and please don’t go there because then I won’t feel like it belongs to me. I need to have something that other people don’t. I need to go there myself so I can feel like I’ve done something noteworthy.
Imagine that becoming your definition of success.
Part of me has been stuck there even though I’ve never been. But it’s only been a year—there’s time to get over it. Maybe out of fear of disappointment or never being able to hold a conversation, I’ll never end up going. Maybe I’ll always want to, but I know it’s easier to fantasize about it if I don’t.
I have a feeling I’ll default to not trying, but I don’t know. If I ever lose everything I have keeping me here, look around the cafés on the east side, where bright pink elementary schools and apartments give way to the forest.