Being in my thirties in the Bay Area has taught me one irrefutable truth about the world.
There is no such thing as security.
Security is born of purpose, and purpose is the white rabbit that we’re expected to have snared by adulthood. I’ve long since learned that purpose is something that everyone strives for, but cannot be handed. Most people who seem to have figured it out are the ones who find their purpose in religion, marriage, and/or parenthood, with few finding it in their work, if they’re lucky enough to be born knowing what they want.
So where does that leave me? I’ve long since abandoned religion as little more than spoon-fed ideology espoused by those who can’t or won’t think for themselves, and vis-a-vis marriage/parenthood, frankly, I’ve never seen the appeal of such crushing ordinariness (she says as someone who is hoping to get married within the next two years). I don’t consider myself special, but I do consider myself unordinary, or at least marginally unconventional. Unfortunately, that’s still a broad and meandering path to purpose, one with many different crossroads, and I’m still stumbling along with no map to navigate it. And I’m approaching middle age with no more certainty of myself than I had when I was leaving my teens.
I’ve been pursuing purpose for as long as I can remember with no sense of certainty of where I’m going or what I’m capable of, and as a result, I have no sense of security. I live and work in an area that has no sense of loyalty, that costs more to live in than the average English major can reasonably earn, and loves contracts and not contract workers. I basically spent the first two-thirds of my life building my home and foundations, with my family, friends, and memories, only to have the major tech companies of the world swoop in and knock it all down to build a new campus on it. I hear the food is excellent, but the parking is garbage.
I remember growing up with the expectation of a job I could start out in and grow up with as part of a company for 30+ years, the parameters set by the claims of my parents and grandparents. Instead, I wound up in a world where job security is afforded to the privileged and employee loyalty is a rare commodity thanks in no small part to the fact that employers who actually care about their employees’ livelihoods have become mythological creatures that you read about and hear stories about, but never actually see. Sailor’s yarns only to be woven after a long day of drudgery washed away in the comfort of liquor, which we all seem pretty dependent on these days. I cannot build a foundation. I can only chase after purpose, but it keeps escaping down a hole I don’t have the wherewithal to keep going down, especially knowing how those stories often end.
I also do an awful lot of complaining. I just don’t know what else to do with myself.
I’ve done this before, but hey. I have a bad habit of coming back to the same crossroads I’d already traversed.
So let’s reintroduce:
My name is Michelle. I’m 32, and I’m stuck in a rut. It’s the oldest story on Earth.
Like so many before me, I meandered down the prefab path of public education, armed with only my wits and the belief that college and a career would lead to success, stability, and happiness. And, also like so many others, I fell into the trap of security, or, rather, the desire for it.
My twenties were by and large unpredictable, down to my job, my finances, and my excursions. I was poor and terrified of the future, but I was also brave and aloof, unafraid to take chances, and with the energy to make an adventure out of my life. Poverty was temporary, I was convinced. I earned a Master’s degree in an overseas program I spontaneously applied to, I taught English as one of my eleven consecutive jobs, I jumped out of planes and walked across bridges and decided to jump on another plane the moment the one that took me home touched the ground. I came back to the states armed with an expensive piece of paper, and the bravery to take on the world.
And then I got a full-time job.
The stability of long-term employment was the one thing in my life I was convinced that I needed, to pull me out of poverty and into a life where I didn’t have to be afraid. After all, in college, I supported myself through jobs that gave me unpredictable schedules and even more unpredictable wages, supplementing where I could with loans and whatever my parents or my grandmother were willing to give me. Apart from the fact that I had very little financial education to start off with, I always managed to get myself into some sort of financial problem right after I’d spent whatever I’d managed to scrape on whatever excursion I could take to keep myself from going off the deep end. I spent three hundred bucks for a weekend in Disneyland, only to have my phone crap out the second I got home. I bought the video from my skydive twenty-four hours before my transmission would blow. I had savings, but they were gone almost as fast as I could put the money away, because there was no way I could save money, handle the onslaught of life, and do any actual living, short of becoming a robot. And because I was borderline suicidal throughout my twenties, living turned into an act of survival, as I would fall into depression with every tiny misstep, and whatever distraction I could get to mitigate the crushing onslaught of my mental illness was painfully and often shamefully necessary.
My parents were not well-off and my grandmother was retired, and more importantly, shelling out her hard-earned savings on her extremely childish adult sons, who couldn’t hold a job or a life outside of jail if their masculinity depended on it. So needless to say, I walked away from both with a heavy dose of guilt along with the money, and an increasing determination and belief that full-time employment would save me from the guilt and the fear of not being able to scrape together enough to keep a roof over my head without asking my family to bail me out.
Well, I was wrong. I’m employed, but I’m poor, and worse than that, I’m bored. Now my fear is a slow death by apathy, wasting away the best years of my life behind a screen, with nothing to show for it but a stack of (barely) paid bills, just like everyone else. And of course, the looming shadow of my depression skulking in the recesses of my mind, quietly reminding me that in the silence of boredom, its voice is much louder and clearer.
This is certainly not what I signed up for. And I still need to ask my parents for money.
So now, my every day involves sitting in a chair, staring blankly at a screen, and wondering what life would be like if I could pack up my boyfriend, my cats, and a few meager belongings into my hatchback, and drive off into the horizon, seeking fulfillment in the mystical land of Somewhere Else.
I heard it’s something called destination addiction – the belief that happiness is in the next location, or the next, or the next. No matter how far you go or how hard you try, your princess is always in another castle.
Destination addiction, whether you believe it exists or not, is why I started this blog, because a blog is a journey that has no destination. Most addictions, in any case, need treatment, and since there is no practical rehabilitation program or even a pill to take to treat the sudden onset of wanderlust, needless to say, I’ve had to improvise.
So I can promise you this blog isn’t going to be a whirlwind of my self-deprecation, because I’ve already spent over a decade doing that. Rather, it’s the travel journal I’ve decided to keep as I navigate my way through both the world, and adulthood. In the case of the former, I’ve decided to keep it deliberately as unplanned as possible, picking only a direction and not a destination. In the case of the latter, well, let’s just say my roadmap is out of date. So I’m working on creating a new one.
Once upon a time, I wrote about the difficulties of purpose, particularly if you don’t lead a religious life. Every day for me since I was 18, or probably even before that, has been an odyssey of figuring out what it is that I want to do with my life, and tragically, nearing the end of my twenties, I’m no more sure now of what I want to do as opposed to then. I’ve sort of jumped from one situation to the next with no real sense of permanence, and while I was one of the lucky few to snag a decent job after I returned from England, one with full-time pay and some benefits, I’m still not feeling particularly fulfilled. What the hell, world? Why does adulting suck so goddamned always?
So I got a job last month (hence the more or less radio silence) working as a copy editor at a small marketing firm in Belmont. It ticked off the list of criteria I was looking for – it’s a livable income, it pertains to my major, and it is actually the sort of job I knew I could be good at. So what the hell is the problem? The problem is, it’s soulless. I’m not doing anything that is even remotely meaningful on any scale. Hell, when I was making coffee at Peet’s, at least I was doing something creative, something that people enjoyed as well as got use out of. In even a tiny way, I was contributing something marginally meaningful. At this job, I do a gigantic heap of nothing important. I help millionaires sell big, gaudy homes to other millionaires. I don’t write. I don’t create. I check facts and spelling. I’m constantly insulted, stifled, and/or left with nothing to do at all because my boss refuses to teach me anything beyond that. I also get paid almost 10k less per year than what a copy editor makes on average in the Bay Area. So that’s cool!
My dear friend’s older brother is one of the brilliant writers behind The Lizzie Bennett Diaries, a webseries that has been critically acclaimed, and whose accolades include, you know, an Emmy or two. But the thing is, five years ago, he was stuck where I am now – working a job that didn’t give him any joy or satisfaction, so he took the risk, quit that job, and devoted himself to his passion, to great success. I know that that isn’t typical of most people who quit their jobs to become writers, but JFC, what do I have to do to push myself to take that kind of risk?
My best friend and I were discussing yesterday that one of the problems I have in my life is that I don’t do well with routine – having a predictable, day-to-day schedule doesn’t fit me particularly well, a side-effect, no doubt, of 9 years in the coffee industry, where no one day was the same as the day before. Today, I read the words “fabulous,” “contemporary,” “chic,” and “wonderful” so often that they’ve lost all goddamned meaning – you’d think every house in the Peninsula was a fabulous, chic, contemporary masterpiece with a wonderful master suite. And none of these are houses that I’ll ever see, let alone own. So what’s the friggin’ point?
It’s clear that I need to do more, or at least different. My biggest penis-envy inspiration are people like Ryan Sohmer, the guy behind Blind Ferret Entertainment and Least I Could Do, Bernie Su, the aforementioned writer of The Lizzie Bennett Diaries, and, of course, the incomparable and dearly missed Monty Oum, the brilliant writer behind RWBY, as well as the founders and contributors of Rooster Teeth Productions. Not just because they’re all monstrously creative people, but because they took risks and brought something great to the world. That’s the sort of life I want to live. That’s what I feel like my purpose is. It’s like the sun – bright, shining, and so close, but equally difficult to touch.
I guess step one is stop being afraid. Step two? Figure out how to make it happen.
Wish me luck.
I’ve noticed lately that I’m channeling Princeton from Avenue Q – not only because I’ve maxed out my credit cards, I was two months behind in rent, and I’ve messed up my personal life, but primarily because I don’t know what to do with a BA (or even an MA) in English. And, more importantly, I still haven’t found my purpose. At least, not entirely.
To clear up any misconceptions, as if there are any, I’m an atheist, and I have been one since I was a teenager, and that can mean a fair few things to different people. But the one thing that remains universal is that religion carries the implication that everything is created or occurs for a reason, and being an atheist means that that is taken away – you stop believing in some grand master plan, and you no longer hand your life over to fate. This means that you live life as if it has no purpose – you simply are. Things simply happen because they do. There is no rhyme or reason to chaos. It gives greater meaning to life because our importance as individuals is no longer handed to us – we are charged with seeking it out instead, if we want our lives to be meaningful. Of course, one of the biggest difficulties of transitioning from a theistic life to an atheistic one (I was raised Catholic) is accepting that my life is no different or more special than anyone else’s, and for most people, that’s a really difficult thing to accept. I certainly had some issue with accepting that I would be doomed to a meaningless life if I didn’t determine my purpose, and I still feel that way now, because I’m 29 and I haven’t found it yet.
Most women determine the purpose of their life is to be married and have children, and that’s absolutely fine. That’s a worthwhile choice and a very worthy life, if it’s what you choose to be. It’s just not necessarily what I consider to be my own destiny. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to be married (eventually) and I’d love to have children, but I don’t want being a wife and mother to be my only contribution to the world. It’s just that I know that those two things would not be enough to fulfill me (or at least I suspect they wouldn’t. I can’t pretend to know for certain, as I am neither a wife nor a mother). But the problem is, I have no idea what my purpose is supposed to be, and that is the detriment of those who actively seek to create meaning for their lives. There are no roadsigns or maps to purpose. I can’t type into Google “what is my purpose” and come up with a response that makes sense to me. It quite frankly blows.
I have nothing but envy for those who are so certain of their place in the world, and those who are keenly unaffected by the prospect of a purpose-driven life. There are people who just sit back and let life unfold on its own, and that’s a personal choice that I simply can’t afford myself. I’m not the type to relinquish control of my fate to someone or something else. There are three things in life that I’ve never been able to tolerate: being told how to act, how to feel, or how to think. So you can imagine that I have serious control issues with every aspect of my life, including, and most importantly, what I want to do with it. Finding purpose has become my obsession, because it will dictate the entirety of my life. It will determine whether or not I find a career that is fulfilling and makes me happy. It will determine the richness of my life, and the number of regrets I would have when I shed this mortal coil. And ironically enough, I’m finding myself resenting the fact that people can’t tell me what my purpose is. They can make suggestions, but even if I were the type to be told what to do, the ultimate decision would be based on what I felt in my heart, what seems logical in my mind, and nothing else. This is why I’m so in awe of those who just seem to know what they want to do with their lives right off the get-go – either they know something that I don’t, or they’re battling with their own sense of purpose in ways that I simply don’t see.
Being in England and out of my comfort zone has helped me sort things out as far as what I want for myself, but not as much as I’d hoped it would. I’ve made progress in my ongoing quest for purpose, but I still haven’t any real idea on what it is. I know that I want to create, but I don’t know what. I know that I want to make people laugh. I know that I want to inform others in a way that encourages them to question the world and what they believe in. I know that I want to walk around the world, but I still want to have a home to come back to. And that’s great. But what does that translate to as far as purpose? What does this mean I need to do? What medium can I use to achieve that? This blog is a great start, I guess, but I wonder if it’s really enough. I grew up as a storyteller with a big mouth and a lot of opinions and no motivation to do much with it because I wasn’t sure how to utilize it. Maybe I’m hoping that figuring out my purpose will automatically endow me with the motivation to see it through to the end. Who knows?
It does not help that job-hunting has been sucking the ever-loving joy out of me lately, because I feel utterly inadequate for what the world has available as far as employment. Practicality is sometimes the antithesis of purpose, because what is the point of knowing what you want to do with your life if it doesn’t help you get rid of the thousands of dollars worth of student loans you’ve piled up? Where is the line between the two, and when is it safe to cross? Or am I doomed to have to choose one side over the other?
Reality blows. Amirite?