I’ve been imagining my life differently lately. It’s scary to be in my almost-mid-40s and realizing that maybe I have to start over. Again. This is born of the realization I had recently that, despite doing everything in my power to succeed, this path that derived from a path I thought was right, is not. It’s wrong. All wrong. Yet here I am, making a scorecard of abilities that I have and don’t want–one of the clear perils of being a Renaissance woman. I can do a lot of things and do them fairly well, enough so that I often stray from those things that I love and take joy in doing. This current stray is now going 15 years strong and I work hard to feel like it has been worth at least some very little thing.
For a very long time, I’ve held as a hope and mantra:
I have always felt the pressure of having to make a decision. What do I want to be? Who do I want to be? What shoes should I wear? What’s for lunch? When I was a kid, I’d infamously drive my mom crazy by changing outfits, easily, five times a day. It wasn’t indecision. It was changing my mind. Now, 35 years later, I’m doing the same thing but now it’s with jobs, apartments, maybe even friends. I don’t do it flippantly but I do wander.
What’s really hard in this world seems to be finding my own acceptance of that. We are a world set up to lock people into things. It can’t be enough that I want a PhD in Sociology because I want to work my brain and intellect in that way. The necessary coupling of the degree with career expectations has created so much pressure, and ensuing guilt for not giving in to the pressure, that sometimes it’s hard to breathe. You know what? I don’t want to be a miserable fucking academic. It doesn’t mean you can’t be. It’s just never been my dream. My dream was the degree as proof of a process to which I aspired, not the end.
I never entered teaching because I had a big dream of being an educator. Far from it. But when you enter a career at 23, it becomes that which you know. Almost like you learn how to navigate the world as a baby from your parents, you learn professional habits and build sense memory around that first career. I love school. I long for the relative comfort I felt in that environment with its tidy rules and expectations that, coincidentally, I was good at. Truth though: I really am not in love with teaching.
Point by point I can go down my resume and point to each of the things I’ve experienced and done professionally that amount to a sum of great experiences but all share one thing in common: I didn’t love them. I have never had the kind of work that ignites some kind of passion to move forward in that direction. I typically go with the flow until I can’t stand it anymore and then I climb out of the river and find the next flow.
Also truth: I’m fine with that process. It’s the world around me that bristles at the idea of it. But what are you going to DO? they ask? What about retirement?
I honestly don’t know any of that…except that I’m fairly certain it won’t involve a 401k.