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.
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.
As an unfortunate member of Generation Y, my biggest concern about life, and the choices that I’ve made, are where my choices will take me in the future. It goes without saying that my dreams and my income don’t particularly get along. My dream is to buy a beat up old Victorian house and fix it up, a dream that doesn’t exactly seem feasible with a teacher’s salary. In California, no less.
I have spent more than my fair share of time wondering if I’ve made the right decisions, from my choice of degree, to the paths I have walked with it. And in my musings, I’ve come to the understanding that we live in a world where salary is our only indicator of our success, and by extension, of our individual value.
I read a comic recently, penned by the incomparable Bill Watterson, that sums up the issue more succinctly than I can. About how we as a society measure our success by the amount of money we earn, by the number of our possessions, and by the value of them. And frankly, it’s difficult to not be discouraged by that blaring misinterpretation of what success is. Generation Y suffers from an affliction I lovingly refer to as “Entitle-itis,” in that we have the expectation that we go to college, graduate, and waltz right into a lucrative career; and then we’re positively flabbergasted when we don’t. To add insult to injury, there are plenty of people in our age group for whom that expectation has been fulfilled – I, for example, have a friend not much older than me who pulls in 180k a year as a software development engineer. Another, who graduated from USC at the age of 17, is the youngest person in history to raise a million dollars in startup funding for her tech company, and is only gaining momentum. And then there’s me. I have a degree in English, the only job I’ve managed to land is teaching part time, and I can barely keep my head above water. It’s easy to determine which ones are considered successful, and which one isn’t.
But here’s an important distinction, often overlooked, which equalizes the three of us. And it took me a while to really understand what that was, once I learned to dissuade my definition of success with the one that is so commonly accepted.
I’m pretty happy with my life. I love my job. My coworkers are great, I have a lot of freedom in which to pursue my other passions, I’m actually using my degree and the skills I had developed while pursuing it. Are there times when I wish for more? Of course there are. But I’m blessed in many ways already. My family, my friends, my prospects are always there – they’ll never go away. I make more per hour than my mother did at my age, and my job offers me experience that can only ever help me. I still get caught up in all of my material wants from time to time, but the trick is learning to disassociate material gain with success. I may not have a house or be able to travel as much as I want to, but no one can really argue that I haven’t accomplished a certain amount of success.
So will I ever fulfill my dream of that fixer upper house? Maybe, maybe not. I’d rather measure my success by the happiness that I’ve achieved, not the objects I’ve obtained. After all, as the great philosopher Jagger once said, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need.”