soul searching

I've been doing some soul searching lately, and it was a relief to confirm that no, I still do not appear to possess one (because woo boy would I be in for some cognitive dissonance then, eh?).

But I did make some discoveries about myself that I hope will be of some use, because I'm staring down a pretty massive fork in the road. I've actually been camped out at this intersection for quite a while, hoping that one or another of the paths in front of me would suddenly light up with a neon sign saying This way, Ellie!

Alas, this hasn't happened.

Here's the deal: I want - I need - to get a full time job. And I'd like to stop right there and say how terrified I am to write this post, because I know what the world thinks of bloggers who don't work. But let me tell you that there is no criticism of me, in that regard, that you can levy on me that I don't levy on myself on a near-daily basis. I've been through some shit, but there isn't a single good enough excuse as to why I haven't already gone back to work, full time. It's on me. It's all on me. And I know how exceptionally lucky, rare, and privileged a position I am in.

So here I am, bundled up in my little one-person tent, watching all the normal people of the world march past, confidently (or not so) continuing down their own career paths, doing what they need to do - you know, like normal people. And I lie to myself. And I berate myself. And I make promises to myself. But I don't take any kind of constructive action, because I am absolutely frozen in the face of deciding what I want to do for the rest of my life. Whee!

I do know some things. I know that I haven't really enjoyed any of my attempts to turn my hobbies into full time, paid work. The blog design shop I started back in 2008 was fun for a while...until it was miserable. The freelance writing I've done under the direction of others has been painful, too; even when I produce good content, it feels inorganic and inauthentic to me. Occasionally someone, over the years, has offered to pay me for (of all things) photography, I guess based on some decent stuff I've lucked into here and there. And I resist that, too. (I resist all of it, in fact, so much so, that I've barely touched the portfolio website I started working on last year. Ridiculous.)

And the worst part is that when I do engage in employer/client-directed artistic work, I almost instantly hate - or at least tire of - the thing I once loved: writing, design, photography. And once I strip myself of the ability to enjoy the things I'm passionate about, what then? It makes me think that maybe I'm better suited to work that, while allowing for some creativity/problem solving (which was the thing I loved most about the tiny bit of web coding I did), isn't wholly creative, per se.

My mother spent most of her life working for various airlines. Great benefits, steady, predictable schedule (at least until 9/11). And she loved it. And she was an extremely creative woman. But she also thrived - as I have in the past - on the sort of work she could leave at the office, at the end of the day. I feel like that's what I want, too. I'm constantly consumed by creative energy, whether or not I release it. I'm always thinking of things I want to write or draw or photograph. It's fucking exhausting, honestly. And I think it would be really good for me to not feel compelled to be always "bringing my work home" with me. I want to leave a job, come home, and be able to fully devote my attention to Chaucer, to my partner, to my home, and to my other interests, as time and energy allow. I want to still love those interests, at the end of the day.

Considering my background and skills, the kinds of writing or editing jobs I'd be suited for also repel me, when I read their descriptions of requirements and responsibilities. It all sounds awful. And that's a scary and depressing thing to say, considering that those are the careers I "trained" for, as an English major. But the limited experience I've had in editing wasn't enjoyable. I didn't like reading and correcting others' work. I found it tedious.

I'm also thinking a lot about the kind of workplace environment I'd enjoy. I don't do well on my own. I get lonely and distracted much too quickly. But nor do I want to be a widget in a huge corporation. My dream job would allow me to work with a small group or team of others, doing similar work, with similar responsibilities. I don't want to be a lackey. But I don't want to be a boss (which I was waaay back in college, when I managed a coffee shop), either. I don't like delegating, supervising, or reprimanding. I actually like answering to a boss, and the simple satisfaction of doing what he or she needs of me. That probably comes from the fulfillment I found in college, in the teacher-student relationship.

Then sometimes I think about how drawn I am to the idea of doing physical work. I envy people who are out and about all day, moving around, getting exercise, not chained to a desk or screen. But I think the ship has sailed on the majority of careers in which that would be a possibility for me. I also deeply envy those who have some specialized physical skill or trade, something they've developed expertise in, over years. But when I try to think of what, among those options, I'd be good at and enjoy, I come up blank - which makes me feel rather pathetic. The other day I mused to LeBoyf that a good exercise for thinking long-term about one's professional career would be to imagine what, if one was going to give a TED talk, one would want to speak about.

But I don't know the answer to that, either.

I'm looking at my friends, and the sort of work they do - at the things they complain about, or the things they enjoy. And the fact is that nearly everyone I know is at best satisfied with their career choice. Most are just ambivalent. Many are miserable. And this breaks down the same no matter if they trained for ten years for their line of work, or fell into it accidentally. The happiness people (at least, those I know well) find in life seems to be drawn from a variety of sources, including relationships and non-work passions. So the question becomes, what sort of work can I do that will allow me to maintain and sustain the sources of the happiness I already enjoy? I'm thinking a lot about lifestyle, about the one I have now (what I like about it and what I don't), and about what I want my life to look like in five, ten, fifteen years. What's important to me. What I can do without.

Last week I enrolled myself in some basic software classes. Truly remedial stuff, I'm embarrassed to say. But while I've been blissfully banging away on one or another MacBook for the past ten years, technology has marched right past my skill set. I haven't laid eyes on a Microsoft program in ages. For me to even be considered for 99% of the jobs of the world, I have some serious catching up to do. So while it shames me to admit to being so, so far behind the crowd, I am taking action, finally.

And I'm still thinking and thinking and thinking some more about my options, my dreams, my realities, and my possibilities. The soul searching will continue. (I'm sure I'll keep coming up empty-handed, but I'll let you know.)