It’s been a little over a year since I wrote an article revealing one of the biggest sources of my anxiety: career uncertainty. Much to my surprise, it was well-received. The declarative, “I thought I was the only one,” was found time and time again within the confines of my inbox.
While being human has its fair share of challenges, one of the advantages of besting the evolutionary process is the ability to self-reflect. I’ve found myself thinking a lot lately about where I was then, where I am now, and where I am going. Despite numerous attempts to lock down a concrete answer to each segment of that existential trifecta, I’ve come up relatively empty-handed. What makes me…me? Do I define myself by a position of merit? Do I strive to? What makes someone someone? Self-worth plays a large role in determining who you are. If you don’t have it, how do you get it?
I have grown tired of the world around me. We are a half-assed society living in a half-assed facade of what we believe to be #lifegoals. We measure excellence in dollar signs and beauty in ‘likes.’ We work for companies that don’t care so we can help them sell to consumers that don’t question. Convenience trumps quality and for-profit trumps philanthropy. How am I supposed to find my place in a world like that?
We are all going to die one day. That’s not pessimism; that’s a fact. Our hearts will stop beating. We will stop breathing. Over the past year, I’ve realized that this fact has been the reason for my inability to define my career aspirations. I bounce back and forth between, “Why does it matter?,” and, as the cliche goes, “You only live once. Make it count.” I am teetering on these two extremes and I don’t know which way I should lean.
Unless, of course, I am searching for the answer when I should be revising the question. Maybe the question isn’t a question at all. Perhaps, instead of figuring out which way to sway, I should work on perfecting my balance. In a sense, this life is a balancing act. How am I supposed to do what I do professionally without feeling guilty about not being out in the world helping and healing? How do I justify ignoring a beautiful, spring day to work when I am completely aware of the fact that life is excruciatingly short? How do I listen to the “man” when I could be spending precious time with loved ones? How does any of this make any sense at all? I’m so aware of our impending doom that it’s difficult to focus on all of these things that we have to do in this day and age to survive. We have to pay our bills. We have to work. We have to eat. We are no different than our ancestors that had to hunt and forage to live. In a way, our lives are much easier. With that being said, they’re also a lot less complex.
We take so many things for granted.
Think about the food that you eat. Where does it come from? What makes a berry a good berry? What makes a piece of chicken a good piece of chicken? Think about the farming practices, the farmer himself/herself. Do things like love and kindness play a role in the things that you consume? Does an egg taste better when hens are free to roam? If you’ve ever plucked a vibrant, ripe berry directly from its source or have collected eggs from a barn, you know that the answer is a resounding, “YES.” We spend less time on the things we should be spending more time on so we can spend more time on the things we should be spending less time on. Thirty-minute lunch breaks and twenty-day diets; dinner in a box and entertainment on a phone. We live for shortcuts. We live to work. Working, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. However, there’s a reason doctors, nurses, lawyers, and other professionals in high-stress environments report high levels of burnout (and high suicide rates). You can be passionate about your career and still find yourself at a breaking point. Therefore, maybe “passion” isn’t the answer to my existential crisis. I think it all comes back to one word that holds a big message: moderation.
Life is a beautiful, terrifying, exhausting, and exhilarating gift. It is too short to spend what precious time we have worrying about how we are going to define ourselves and how others see us. In a world where we define success by how well someone does their job, it can be difficult to take a step back and, quite literally, smell the roses. This is a colossal issue that needs revamping on a global scale. We need to redefine what it means to live and to live well. Working employees to the bone, making them regret their various decisions to become architects, engineers, writers, doctors, psychiatrists, marketers, publicists, etc. We take passion for granted. We take advantage of diligence. We forget that we are going to die one day.
Last year, I was so discontent with where I was in life. I didn’t fully understand the concept of moderation. I felt like I was broken for not being able to bridge the gap between life and career. This year, I’ve found that it is possible to do what you like to support what you love; to take a step back and breathe. Life is a balancing act, and it’s about time I set up my tightrope so I can walk fearlessly, with one foot in front of the other, between the two.