Monday, July 23, 2012
In the blink of an eye
“Death is the only wise advisor that we have. Whenever you feel, as you always do, that everything is going wrong and you're about to be annihilated, turn to your death and ask if that is so. Your death will tell you that you're wrong; that nothing really matters outside its touch. Your death will tell you, 'I haven't touched you yet.”
― Carlos Castaneda, Journey to Ixtlan
I've been thinking about confidence a lot lately. For one, I'm staring my lack of confidence in the face since my old life shut it's doors. It's not that I don't know what to do. If anything, I have an abundance of interests that have come out of hiding. Besides playing hockey, my main non-work pastime, most of my current desires are coming from the creative part of my brain. I've always considered myself a writer, and when I say always I mean since I was about 4 years old and writing, illustrating, and stapling together my own books. When I try to look at my future with the lack of self-consciousness of a child in pursuing my dreams, a purity of vision that is unsullied by doubt, judgement, practicality, marketability, or social acceptance, that leads me to writing again and again. I'm just not feeling confident about getting from where I am now to where I want to be. For one thing, when people ask me what I'm going to do, I'm finding it difficult to sum it up in some elevator speech. I'm not trying to sell my vision of my future, but I am trying to get people to stop worrying about me, if for no other reason than it stresses me out. I have no clue how to get from here to there, or even exactly where there is. I just have a general idea that if I go THAT WAY, it will get clearer as I go. There is no 5 year career plan here. If anything, I'm trying not to think of the future because it's so easy for me to distract myself from the present by fantasizing about the future. I am very goal-driven, but what I want is not part of some preset path, like getting a degree or starting a business. I have the MBA part of my brain that wants to make a plan, but the creative part of my brain that is taking center stage right now is saying no, I need to let the path find me. Said in another way, I don't know what the hell I'm doing. I know I can do whatever I need to do if I can just find some confidence that I can find my own path forward in all of this.
The career thing is really a sticking point for me now. Becoming a CPA was not easy, but once I decided to do it, it wasn't hard to figure out how to do it. I looked on some websites, asked some university program directors some questions, read some books, and mapped out a fairly generic path to the career I had up until my work life went to hell. It was non-traditional in that I wasn't a regular college student, but it wasn't like I had to come up with the steps I needed to take. I got the college credits, took the CPA exams, got my audit experience, and found a job that was relevant to my experience. It wasn't all that different than what anyone else would do if they wanted a career in my field. It wasn't like I was making it up as I went along. Having a career made me feel like I had reached some milestone of adulthood. I had the salary, benefits, 401K, promotions- all the outward signs of success. I knew it didn't fulfill all my needs, or use all my skills, but I was good at it and I did feel confident about my abilities. I deserved to be where I was. I earned it.
I was missing something though. I worked in compliance, so it wasn't like my job was a rah rah capitalism is awesome kind of job. I was supposed to question authority and stand up for ethical business behavior, and I did up until I was attacked personally and lost the support of my team. I think I did take my role as an independent monitor that is not supposed to be cozy with management or kissing anyones' asses more seriously than some other people did. But the way I feel about corporate compliance and ethics is not mainstream. Practically nothing about me is mainstream. I have something different to offer, and the career that gave me stability and a certain social acceptability was also very restrictive. It kept me in that double life of trying to be "normal" by day and hold on to my punk rock ethos in the off-hours. It gave me a life that made me feel grown up but by someone else's terms. I didn't find my own standards for how to be an adult. That can be a challenge when you grow up with adults who are inadequate and threatening. You don't want to grow up to be them, but you don't want to stay in the socially powerless position of a child. You have to find ways to feel in control of your own life without the benefit of healthy role models or the gradual process of developing your own sense of self that takes place in a functional family. You kind of just get thrown out there in the world, with only your childhood coping mechanisms, in shock and numb from your childhood. I think a lot of us feel behind the curve, as if we start adulthood a number of laps back from our peers. You look for ways to gain control over your life and be a grown-up having very little idea of how to do that. There are no books or websites, besides this one where I write in circles and then try to figure something out from the fragments of my brain that escaped, on how to become an adult version of the person I was when I was creating my own books. Finding a career to go into is not a bad way to search for your adult self, but it wasn't enough.
When I was first sort of unemployed/taking a break, I had a moment of freedom from the daily grind. The career panic set in early though. It's a hard concept to reconcile myself with right now. I fantasied about leaving accounting and writing full time, but I thought it would happen later and most importantly, with a plan. My plan, my life, and under my control. Now I feel directionless and overwhelmed with the idea of finding my own way, a concept of career and adulthood completely unique to me. I was completely driven and confident about following directions to get to my former career, but this new chapter has no instructions. Yet.