Those of you who have read my site over the past year know that I am a little unsatisfied with my job, and where I'm at in life. Those of you who have spoken to me in person are sick of hearing about it.
Every time I go to home to America, I have two must visit destinations. A big bookstore, and a brew-pub. Thanks to tornados, a delayed flight, and an unexpected layover in Minneapolis, I made it to the brew-pub. It was good, but there are some things a cask conditioned IPA can't wash away. For these I visited the bookstore.
Before I left, I knew I was going to buy Po Bronson's What Should I Do With My Life. I had read (and wrote) about it a few months back. Excited that someone had written a book with all the answers I have been looking for, I wasted no time ordering it from Amazon.... it ever came. I bought the book on day two of the business trip, and it spoke to me so loudly I considered sneaking it into the meetings to read beneath the table like I used to do with pornos in Algebra class.
The book is great. It's not so much filled with the answers, in fact there are no answers. What it does have are stories of some regular (and a lot of Harvard-law-school-grad-not-so-regular) people who faced the same question I am facing. It doesn't hold them up as examples of the ideal, it simply tells how they are attempting to answer those questions, and what the results were.
Po draws on these people's stories to point out patterns that run through all of them. Some of these similarities are questions, and some are misconceptions. They all turn into fears that are incredibly difficult to overcome. Reading about other people who have faced the same fears, and overcome them, for better or worse, goes a long way to helping others to overcome them... I'm not alone!!! (It's this direction which I would really like to see blogs move... but that'S for another time)
Clear your schedule for the next hour or two, because I find that each of these points related directly to me, and I am going to address each and every one of them.
Is it supposed to feel like destiny? If not, is (experienced-derived) self-created "meaning" legitimate? About a year and a half ago, I started to grow dissatisfied with my life. Since my job takes up the majority of my time, it's naturally to blame. I began to look around at other people to see what kept them going. I didn't like what I found. Of the people I knew on a personal level, most seemed satisfied with their job. Maybe they didn't love it, but hay, it's a living none seemed to dread waking up as much as I did.
The other group of people I could compare myself to were the people interviewed on NPR talk shows. These people are all extra-ordinary go getters, who, for the most part have had a deep love for their craft since childhood. They still loved their job. I wanted to be them. The only problem is, no matter how hard I thought about it, no matter how many graphs and charts and destiny defining algorithms I made, I couldn't discover something that I was so passionate about that I could be satisfied to work as hard as these people obviously had.
I am a destiny orphan. I was born without a destiny. What's worse, I was born with too much desire to live for more than just daily life. If you read back about a year ago, you will find posts where I lamented the fact that I can't be satisfied just going to work, putting in time, and coming home as so many other people seem to be.
I never really thought about "self-creating" meaning. Though having read about it, I realize that I tried to. I have tried to be passionate about issues that I see are important, and that I am in a position to follow up on, but really have not special meaning to me. It worked for a couple weeks, maybe even a month or two, but all the while I knew I didn't really care. It fizzled out quickly.
Currently, I have come to no resolution on this issue. I think I am still waiting to find something that feels like destiny. My opportunity to be a child prodigy are gone, I just hope it's not too late to at least get started.
Should I accept my lot, make peace with my ambition, and stop stressing out? I tried this too. About a year ago I had created two plans, I was moving forward in both with the expectation that at least one of them would become a reality... and I didn't care which, so long as I was able to move on from where I was. Plan A was to quit and go free-lance with my web-work. I was confident that I would not starve, and the work would be much more satisfying. Plan B was to go back to School. I had the application filled out for University of Michigan School of Library Science (Information Architecture).
When it came time to actually make the move though, I chickened out. I wasn't afraid of failing. I was afraid of succeeding. When faced with that prospect, I finally began to ask myself not, "Do I want to change what I am doing?" but "What do I want to do?". I felt that if I tried to make a successful bid at free-lance, I would have to become more engrossed in web-related crap than I was now. It's fun and all, but I don't feel any passion for it. Frankly, I don't care. Of all the sites and programs I have made, the only one that I see as having value (besides being fun to build), that I would use myself, if this web site, and other peoples blogs. Ecommerce is a load of crap. The only thing I buy online are books from Amazon because it's cheaper than Kinokuniya.
I felt the same way about grad-school. Did I really want to spend so much time and money to get deeper into a field I don't care about? It's worse than selling my soul... it'd be like paying someone to take it.
It was also around this time that I went with a friend to her Friday night nudie-sketch session. I had always loved drawing when I was a kid, and I wanted to try something that was not computer related, lest I get sucked further down that path. I started painting, and drawing, and decided to make peace with the fact that I had to do a job I don't care about. I decided to use my day job to pay the bills and work on my hobbies at night. I left work at six (or as close to as possible) regardless of deadlines. I didn't set the deadline, and if it can't be met in working hours, it signaled bad management. Either hire someone to help, someone who can get it done on company time, or someone who doesn't mind giving away their life.
That felt OK for about a month and a half. Then I was back to sleepless nights, this time filled with anxiety from not doing the bang-up job that I used to when I averaged 10 more hours per week and worked on Saturdays. I still have to feel proud of my work. My plan to make work simply work, and disconnect it from my real life was supposed to relieve stress...
Why do I feel guilty for thinking about this? This is a big one. I feel somewhat guilty. People ask me what makes me think that I should have a job I love when so many other people don't. It's life, live with it, don't be greedy. Be thankful that I have a job.
Luckily, despite some guilt pangs every now and then, these peoples argument never made any logical sense to me. Basically they are saying, other people don't have the opportunity to try to change their life, so you should not exercise your own opportunity. It's crap.
Should I make money first, to fund my dream? Po points out that when people try to make the money first, they get caught and find it harder and harder to get out the more money they make. His point seems to be that your best off just living it and not worrying about where the money will come from until after you have begun. Again, it's interesting to note that most of the people in his book decided to live their dream after leaving such jobs as Lawyers and big time Bankers.
I suppose if I had a job that could conceivably pay for a dream if I was there long enough, I may be tempted to make the money first. Luckily, I'm not in that position. I used to make more as an English teacher doing side jobs with editing and translation.
How do I tell the difference between curiosity and passion? I think I have already answered this. Although I "enjoy" aspects of my job, and programming is fun and making a cool site is fun. When faced with dedicating more of my life to it, I realized that I don't care. It was curiosity, not passion.
When do I need to change my situation, and when is it me that needs to change? This is probably the number one thing that has held me back in the past. Is my unhappiness the fault of my job, my career path, Tokyo? Or, is the unhappiness coming from inside of me?
Many times when I came ever so close to quitting, I was just so terrified that no matter where I go, and what I do, I will feel the same. If this is true, the best thing to do would be to try my darndest to change whatever it is about myself that causes me to dislike my job. If I can change that, the problem is solved, and no matter where I go and what I do I will be happy.
I'm sure I will waver on this again in the future, and I still can't make up my mind now. For as many times as I think I am sure that a different environment could change things for me, I feel that I am unfairly laying blame. One thing that I have noticed however, and that helps me to see clearly, is that ther is something dreadfully wrong with the environment. When I went away for vacation and business last month, I had personal projects, and work projects. I felt no anxiety whatsoever asking people I hardly know, but can tell are trustworthy and skillful to handle my personal projects, yet I was scared to death leaving the work projects in the hands of my co-workers. I think a major reason is that in my personal life, I didn't have to leave anything to anyone who depends on me. Yet at work, everyone is completely de@endant on me. If they can't do it, they ask me... but who will they ask if I'm not there?
I didn't plan to complain about work... the point is, it ain't a good environment to motivate and satisfy me. I'm pretty sure the problem is not in me (at least less than 50% of the problem is in me).
What should I tell my parents, who worry about me? That's pretty easy. I'd tell them to be prepared to lend me some cash if I need it. Although my dad didn't seem to thrilled about my idea to come to Japan the first time in '95, hinting that studying Japanese had not real future, they never tried to stop me, and even encouraged me when I was this close to quitting and going freelance.
I do worry about what to tell Tomoe though. Not because she is worried about me, but she is a real go-getter, having spent her life at the best schools, and being signed with (and later dumping) the best companies before getting her ultra-competitive job now. She has pretty strong ideas about what constitutes "a looser". I am afraid of that.
If I have a child, will my frustration in work go away? What?
What will it feel like when I get there? (How will I know I'm there?) This is a trick question. I don't ever want to "be there". I do wonder how I will know if I find something that I am "passionate" about, or like enough to pursue it. As I said earlier, I always loved to draw when I was a kid, and would have most likely studied art in University had I never met the Swedish girl who sparked my interest in foreign languages, and made my single most important goal to live in a foreign country.
Just remembering that now, I realize that then I did feel passion about what I was doing. I loved to study languages. Everything I did, right up to working in the Sushi restaurant in Ann Arbor, and commuting four hours to school and back for a semester just so I could be in an environment which would help me learn, was all about my passion at that time.
Now, although I would like to improve, I don't care so much about it. Four years ago I was consumed by ideas about marketing, reading marketing and branding books, considering B-School, quitting my job to get a marketing job. That was my passion at that time.
Three years ago, I was stepping up to fill in for the tech guy who quit our Internet company. I devoured every book I could find about programming, Apache, MySql, Linux, etc... I drove our company in a direction that has made them more reliant on me than I would like... because web-development was my passion at that time.
I don't ever want to feel like I have arrived at my one true passion... it sounds boring, but I want to have a passion all the time. I did not realize until I started writing these last few paragraphs, that I have never been without a passion... until last year.
Wait, that's not true at all. I have a budding passion now... painting (I really love my new camera too). A passion that has been suppressed for over ten years now. Why am I so afraid to pursue it? Why did I suppress it in the first place?
This sounds like a good place to stop for tonight... next time I tackle the misconceptions and fears...
Ok, I just wrote a long, amazingly motivating comment but it was deleted before i could post it. so this is the jist in about 5 minutes...
You said that your biggest question is not "Do I want to change what I am doing?" but "What do I want to do?". So assuming that this means that you want to change what you are doing, you just have to decide what...
Why don't you just go into free-lance web design. then you could work on your hobbies/passions on the side. You could even find a way to use your web-designs as a forum for your 'artistic passions', (e.g. panting, photography, languages).
I know you said that "I felt that if I tried to make a successful bid at free-lance, I would have to become more engrossed in web-related crap" But can I point out that the point behind 'free-lancing' is that you are free to do what you want, when you want, as much as you want. Assuming that you are not out to get rich, you could probably be satisfied doing that...for the time being. and, who knows, maybe through free-lancing you could get your foot in the door of another field/passion that you have never even considered.
Then you asked "Is my unhappiness the fault of my job, my career path, Tokyo? Or, is the unhappiness coming from inside of me?"
Yes to all of the above. You sure don't seem to enjoy your job. You don't seem to like living in Tokyo. You are probably MOST unhappy because you are annoyed with your indicisiveness and feel like your are not being enough of a go-getter. I'd think you'd rather DO something about it instead of writing and reading about what you could be doing?
Then again, maybe you had a point when you said, "Many times when I came ever so close to quitting, I was just so terrified that no matter where I go, and what I do, I will feel the same." I mean, maybe your right...why bother trying to find out?
Ok, that's it...I've never claimed to be a motivational speaker (although I just watched RUDY and am feeling pretty inspired) My previous, deleted comment was much more thought-out and organized. it's a shame.
i'd just like to leave you with one more thought. Have you ever taken a chance and really regretted it later on? Take Maine for example. It didn't appear to be the 'right' decision but if you had it to over again, would you give up the experience and the things you learned from it? Also, have you ever noticed that things almost always work out for the best? Face it, you've been living a pretty 'lucky' life--although, i don't really believe in luck.