Living in San Francisco surrounded by the intellectual and monetary wealth of the “how-young-are they?” millionaires, I can’t help but feel just a little sub-par. Among a few other industries, I’ve also worked in the fashion magazine industry, an NGO in Washington, DC, and taught in a school in Central America. And if you’ve had as many jobs, I-need-something-more stimulating, or challenging, or creative, or all of the above career switches, mid-20’s crises as I have, than you can’t help but look at your past history as one of those mid-week cooking disasters you attempted when you had only four out of eight ingredients, and you messed with the proportions because it sounded like way too much butter. Barely edible, you forced yourself to eat it out of punishment, because all along you should have known better. Did I know better every time I had had those internal tête-a têtes tennis matches with myself? Should I have continued to work in a field just because I had already gotten my hands dirty in it? After giving notice to yet another career changing job, I felt a little less than empty and a little more than a failure.
Then the other day, I climbed half-asleep on the bus to meet a friend and my eyes slowly opened to the diversity of people around me. I became acutely aware of the grandmother softly spooning mint ice cream from the carton, teenagers with tattoo covered forearms making jibes at each other, and the weary 9-5’er on her way home to another tired weekday family dinner. I couldn’t help but wonder what they were doing in their daily lives; if they enjoyed their jobs; if they were systematically working towards their dream. I created little windows into their lives as I rode that bus. And then, I let go of my binoculars and caught myself doing exactly the same thing I had done to myself: two-dimensionalizing their lives into neat little squares. Maybe my fellow bus riders too were nothing like I assumed; maybe they were aspiring trapeze artists or comic book writers on top of a multitude of other things.
Even if I found it comforting to be defined by a career, I came to realize that it didn’t define me. Don’t get me wrong, I have long admired those who have put all their heart and energy to one cause, but I guess I realized that I need the freedom to pounce from one project to another – to be an artist or teacher one day, and a researcher the next.
Should I leave my life decisions to the wind and see where they fall? Not exactly. My journey has forked sideways and made some odd loops, but at least both of my pockets are full of experiences that will stretch me enough to give me a stronger idea of who I am and what my goals should – even if they’re on pieces of scrap paper.
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