Hard work, ambition and “what am I here for?”

I would say for the last. . . 10 years, at least, I have had a more or less ongoing monologue in my head about what i’m really supposed to be doing with my life. Because I get little or no satisfaction from the job I have (sorry, corporate masters, if you’re reading this, but it’s true), aside from an income and health insurance. While a halfway decent income and health insurance are nothing to sneeze at, I would also like to ENJOY what I’m doing, or least think it serves some kind of purpose in the world, or makes someone’s life easier. I can’t check off any of of those boxes at my current job.

But in the course of this ongoing monologue I can never quite pinpoint what it is that I should be or want to be doing instead. I rule out lots of things right off the bat — like teaching, for instance, which more than one person has suggested to me — because I think I am fundamentally unsuited to it. While it would be beneficial for the world (theoretically), it would cause me untold amounts of stress and anxiety and I’d prefer not to do that. I have no patience and kids aren’t my bag. I am not opposed to working hard, or going back to school to learn new things, but at 46 I’m aware of a lot of my strengths and weaknesses and I’m not super-keen on completely upsetting my emotional applecart conquering various fears right now.

Lately I’ve become interested in knowing more about the creative/working processes of people I admire, and being fully immersed in the social networking world, and a reader of books, I’ve been able to get some sense of how they ended up doing this thing that they love and being reasonably or extremely successful at it. The one common denominator they all seem to have is that THEY WORK REALLY GODDAMN HARD. Like, always. They are working long hours and sometimes traveling a lot. They are generally really busy people.

I read Mindy Kaling’s book a few weeks ago, and at one point she says, “I basically have two full-time jobs. I often work 16-hour days.” My first thought was, “Fucking hell, I don’t want to work 16-hour days.” But then I realized that I was thinking of a 16-hour day in terms of MY job, a job I really do not like or place much value in. Mindy Kaling LOVES her job. She’s probably really tired and frustrated sometimes, but in the end this is what she loves doing and always wanted to do. So a 16-hour work day for her probably feels a lot different than it would to me, because the end product is something she cares a lot about.

Tina Fey, same thing. Working long hours all the time, writing, directing and acting in a weekly series, while maintaining a marriage and a family. You have REALLY got to be driven to do what you’re doing because otherwise why would you do that? I’m not saying I want to work in TV or need to achieve that level of success, but it seems like an obvious idea: things do not generally fall fully-formed into one’s lap at the moment they are wished for.

What I really wish is that I’d had a very specific and concrete dream of what I wanted to do when I was a kid. That’s one of my eternal regrets. I had vague dreamy-dreams of being a ballerina or a figure skater or a musician or an artist of some kind (generic creative-kid stuff), but I only treated them as dreams and not something that could actually be achieved in my future life. I was a fat, awkward kid and so any dream that required a level of physical skill was immediately ruled out in my own head. I was tremendously shy and the idea of being a performer was also too terrifying to contemplate, so singer/musician was off the table too. And I wasn’t gifted with enough ambition to say, “Well fuck you, paralyzing stage fright, I’m doing it anyway!” I also didn’t know enough to know that there were other ways to work in those fields that wouldn’t require me to overcome my horrible personality flaws.

For whatever reason, I was unable to take my imagination and focus it on any particular thing, and I was never really encouraged to do so, either (at least not until my artistic skills began to show up around age 12/13). I guess I kind of thought you either had “it” or you didn’t and I oh so clearly did not have “it,” (whatever “it” was). In my head, talent was a bolt from the blue, it was “a gift.” And don’t gifts just show up in pretty boxes? (I always neglect to notice the “some assembly required” in small print.)

Combine that headspace with my insanely practical parents whose only criteria for any future job I might have was that it have “good benefits.” Which yes, have proven extremely valuable and important, but . . . sigh. When you’re an artistic kid being raised by a government bureaucrat and a nurse turned bank employee, eccentricity isn’t highly valued.

I’m getting off track.

I guess I need to ask myself the Mindy Kaling question: what job could I do for 16 hours a day and not feel exhausted and resentful?

What is the answer? (Pretty sure I can’t get paid for blogging about Duran Duran for 16 hours a day. Those jobs are already filled.)

The clock is ticking. I need to figure this out. Because I’m sure my friends are tired of hearing me complain about it.

This post was inspired by Mindy Kaling, Neil Gaiman, Tina Fey and Chris Hardwick. Also partially inspired by this post:  http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/12/14/how-to-avoid-work/

Hard work, ambition and “what am I here for?”

2013 Reading List

Currently reading:
My Wars Are Laid Away in Books: The Life of Emily Dickinson by Alfred Habegger
Banquet at Delmonico’s: Great Minds, the Gilded Age, and the Triumph of Evolution in America by Barry Werth
The Nerdist Way by Chris Hardwick

The Battle for God by Karen Armstrong
Is Everyone Hanging Out With Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division by Peter Hook

2013 Reading List