My Dearest Cricket,
First, I am so sorry for your pain, and I can promise you, these thoughts are well recognized and suffered by many our age.
I can tell by your musings that you have a big imagination (and a knack for words): an imagination and dreams you feel you have to tame, fit into a box and ship off on your conveyer belt of the American Dream.
The American Dream used to be simple: work hard, make your way in the world, climb the ladder of success at the same company until retirement and enjoy a white picket fence and glasses of lemonade on summer days while your husband wears a “Kiss the Cook” apron and grills hot dogs for the neighborhood BBQ.
Today, the American Dream has no clear trajectory for Millennials because the American Dream is not just about work anymore – it’s about passion. How often have you heard these questions: “What fuels your fire? What do you like to do? What’s your life’s purpose? If you could do anything what would it be?”
You answer (hypothetically): I love bee-keeping. Bee-keeping is what makes me want to jump out of bed every single morning and sing.
And They say (the elusive “They”): THEN DO IT! WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?
Cue: eye roll. Bugger off because that’s not the way that life works, right? Hello mysterious “They”, whoever you are, I have bills. I have student loans. I have 3 pet goldfish I have to feed. I have a long term relationship, and we’d like to take vacations every once in awhile. I have a kid. I need money to pay for my personal trainer. I have medical expenses up the ass.
There’s a lot of shit that needs to be sorted out and I can’t afford to do what I’m most passionate about because of X, Y and Z.
Except that all of a sudden, X, Y and Z don’t seem like reasons as much as excuses: because I won’t be comfortable, because I have responsibilities, because I don’t have the time or the money or the connections.
Excuses are a toxic recipe made out of three very dangerous ingredients: expectations, assumptions and fear.
First, add expectations: there are hundreds of thousands of unwieldy expectations they have been thrust on us since BIRTH about work and success and what that all means from our parents, our teachers, or weird neighbor’s kids and most especially, ourselves.
The expectation that you should be making a certain amount of money. The expectation that a steady paycheck and strategic job maneuvers will pave the way to a healthy and exemplary career. The expectation that by a certain age you should accept that life sucks and you can’t always do what you want. The expectation that a steady income will eventually lead way to happiness for you and your loved ones.
We all have expectations that have been infused and have festered inside of us all our lives. Many, I doubt, we even realize exist in ourselves.
What I encourage you to do, Cricket, is strip away the pre-conceived notions for a moment. Even better, write them down. Write down the major alarms in your head about this struggle, write down all your “buts” and “what ifs” and then map them. Find out where they’ve actually come from. Do you really believe that or is that your mom talking? Are they even based in reality or did they pop up in some article your read on Huffington Post about the ill-fate of our generation?
As for assumptions, did you know in many other languages around the world, the words “could” and “should” don’t’ exist? In other cultures, there are no “what ifs.” They simply take what is and what one wants and accept it as reality. They don’t focus on the negative outcomes, real or not, of any given situation. The here and now is just what it is.
Adopt this mentality when you are looking at your assumptions. Don’t think about what you “should” be doing or what “could have happened” if you had better pedigree. Just think about what simply is and what simply isn’t.
Hmmm…that might be a bit crunch granola. I will simplify: “If I was born into a more wealthy family, I might have had better connections or a larger sum of money to depend on to pursue something I’m truly passionate about.”
BUZZER WORD: “IF”
Take it out, accept that you are living in a little box on the side of the road, but that doesn’t mean if you were wealthy the same wouldn’t have happened. Next assumption.
Now, the pinch of fear.
Fear is a tiny word with big implications. In fact, I would bet, that many of your decisions in your life were made out of fear: good and bad. Fear is a fantastic mechanism our brains have created to keep us from taking risks. Biologically speaking, fear has saved us from a siber-toothed tigers way-back-when, but is often gets muddled with decisions in our life where, quite frankly, fear has no place.
Fear is either illogical or rational. Lets go back to the drawing table on this one. Bee-keeping. You want to be a bee-keeper. Now, write down all your fears about trying to be a bee-keeper.
What fears are grounded in reality and are cause for serious consideration? What fears make no sense whatsoever and are as senseless as eating deodorant for breakfast? It may be hard to distinguish between the two, but remember, you have already stripped away your expectations and assumptions. That should help some.
Many of us struggle with this question, Cricket. In fact, I struggle with it myself but from a different perspective. I oftentimes find myself craving rolling hills, a big country home, a large pregnant belly and the simplicities of a 9-5 even though I am in the midst of a world-wind life in the big city, writing my heart out and refusing to take any job that doesn’t meet personal satisfaction somewhere deep inside me.
I struggle with wanting to be an independent woman, liberal and fulfilling the career of her dreams while yearning for the solitude of a man to take care of me, own an absurd amount of dogs and make my own jam in a rocking chair.
I think we all struggle with this question from different angles for different reasons entirely, but I think that’s okay.
I believe there will be many moments in our lives in which we will be sitting on either side of that struggle: pressing through a mundane job but enjoying security or attempting to chase and fulfill a passion but feeling the pressure to succeed and maintain ourselves.
The real trick (beyond getting rid of ridiculous expectations and acknowledging our own fear), is owning whatever side of the equation you are falling on at any given moment and doing your absolute best.
So you’re working a 9-5, own a house and want to have a family. You don’t have a ton of time to go on vacation, but you can afford all the small and simple luxuries in life: GREAT. You go. Own every second of it. Make it an intentional choice.
So you’re paying 10x the normal amount of rent your normally would somewhere else in the world, but you’re doing what you love and learning to scratch pennies together even if it means most of your food is a kinda yellow color from the dollar store: GREAT. You go. There is no need to explain yourself to every person who walks by.
I wish I could give you the answer, Cricket. I truly do. I wish I could tie it up for you in a bow and deliver it to your doorstep. I wish somebody would do that for me, but alas, we are always left with a struggle of sorts to sift through ourselves.
Beyond the small steps I encouraged you to take, think of this, you wrote me to me for a specific reason about this problem. Somewhere inside of you, there’s an unbalance and an internal struggle to accept something that doesn’t feel right. Listen to yourself.
Oftentimes we seek advice when we already know the answer and don’t want to admit it.
Be well, Dearest Cricket, and own whatever choice you make.
Only the best,