Saturday, July 9, 2011

Not Having a "Career"... Makes Me Want to Smoke Crack.

If you thought my stomach hair-related angst was overly ain't seen nothing yet. A continuation of this post. Which is, frighteningly, from July 2008.

***Trigger: Depression***

[Video: "MusikbyrÄn Makes Me Wanna Smoke Crack" by Pelle Carlberg]

You know those problems that just won't die? Maybe they're a life strategy or mental framework that just isn't helping you anymore. You've identified the issue long ago. It makes you feel bad, and you want to change. But you don't know how to change. And in a world that enables your pain, you don't know any other way to feel.

Well, I still have the same issue that I did in 2008. I feel like there's a hole in my life where a career should be. I keep telling myself, "I can be happy with or without a career", but after my career as "a student" ended, I was never quite the same person again. Sure, I had some jobs, but they didn't give me that sense of purpose that I craved. After college graduation, my mental health and functioning were completely shot to hell in a matter of weeks. Only years later did I read about the extreme emotional turmoil that can afflict autistic spectrum folks who are unprepared for these transitions (although I'm sure there are neurotypicals who've been through the same thing). I felt like after college, I died. That the "real me"--the optimistic, motivated person I used to be-- was frozen in a vault somewhere, waiting for a time when society could make some better use of people like myself.

It weirds me out that there is an amalgam to my experience--the person who feels empty without a mate--and yet the advice geared at these people barely goes a millimeter into what could be a very deep wound. They're told, "don't give up hope, you'll find someone", which leaves them even more bereft if they never do. In American culture, we're supposed to beat ourselves up for "falling behind". As adults, we're supposed to be the dictatorial parent, spanking our own damn selves for failing to "measure up". It's normal to look at Facebook (oh, the humanity) and see all the people getting married, having kids, buying houses, attaining prestigious careers...and to think that without these things, we are inferior, even if beyond the goalposts are things that some of us never wanted in the first place.

Although I am a radical, and have little good to say about most aspects of our mainstream American culture, it has just as much a hold on me as anyone else. Maybe the pressures even affect me all the more, because damaging cultural tropes were able to jump in and fill the hole that "student" left in my identity. The hole was quickly filled with a lot of self-hatred that it has, and will, take me years to overcome.

Self-love (and no, I don't mean it that way) is relatively easy when everything is going well and according to plan. But it's most needed when it's the hardest to conjure up: When the obstacles seem endless and the rewards few. When "he", whatever he is, is nowhere in sight, and might never be showing up at all. The answer is not to bemoan the fact that people have become doctors and lawyers in the same time that I've been doing "nothing", i.e, a bunch of sometimes-important things that our culture couldn't care less about. The answer must surely be to fill that emptiness with love (hi, ms. hooks)--the self-generated kind, since the space is too large for anyone else to fill for me.

It might be telling that I've written much more about romantic love--something I have never experienced--than self-love, which is something I desperately needed to cultivate, like yesterday, in order to have any chance at a happy life. As a culture, we know what romantic love looks like, and I would venture to say that we don't know what self-love looks like. If I can find that out, it may not be a husband, a career, or a house, but it would be something of great value. Whether people care about it on Facebook, or not.

Now, let's be soothed by the dulcet tones of Scandinavian indiepop.


Anonymous said...

First of all, I think the word you want is "analogue" not "amalgam". An amalgam is mercury alloyed with another metal (for example, amalgam fillings).

Maybe you'll find reading this helpful (or maybe it won't be helpful - I don't know):

In particular, this quote:

"But beyond college, my future was kind of a blur. And it was still very much a blur once I left college. I took a long, long time to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, and while I’ve been writing professionally off and on since my late twenties, I didn’t get serious about it until I turned 40. For many years, I drifted from job to job, mostly based on what was catching my interest at the time. (And on what jobs were available at times when I needed to find new work!)

Which actually worked out really well for me. I know adults aren’t supposed to say that to teenagers—but it’s true."

- Sara K.

Ily said...

@Sara: Aww, that's too bad, I really like the word "amalgam". ;) Thanks for the link!

Anonymous said...

Hi Ily,

Interesting post. I remember when I was getting to the end of my M.Sc. and having no idea what I wanted to do (the M.Sc. never did help me get a job in my field) I took this test called the Strong Interests Inventory at the university I was attending. It cost $10 to write (this was a while ago) and then afterward you sit down with a career counselor and they help you interpret it.

The test tells you what professionals you most resemble. My top ranked career was musician.

I suck at music. I have *zero* interest in playing music, especially to an audience. The counselor told me the test just meant I *think* like a musician. Perhaps as in "I wonder where my next paycheck is going to come from?"

Second choice: research librarian. I was furious. Research librarians look stuff up for people. I'd just spent 2 years of my grad degree looking stuff up for myself. If I could do it, everyone else should be able to do for themselves and I wasn't going to do it for them.

Third choice: journalist. I would have to go back to school for 2 years and my average salary when I got out would be $12,000 per year.

The Strong Interests Inventory wasn't a complete waste of time. It really helped me define what I didn't want to do with my life, and that's a start.

Sarah T.

Ily said...

@Sarah T: Whoaaa...IT TELLS EVERYONE TO BE A MUSICIAN!! Seriously, I've gotten the same result. It always tells me to be some kind of "entertainer". Granted, it's something I'm interested in; I'm a musician and I have a background in theater. But still, it's extremely hard to make a living in these fields. The tests always say two things: "You're artistic!" (I guess that's true, but, uh...I can haz monies?) and "You're social!" (well..yes and no...people scare me.)

Carolyn said...

You already have a purpose, you write a blog and help gather and inspire people who are curious or struggling with their asexuality. Don't let people tell you that you have to be a doctor or lawyer to have a career, the world needs creators, blog writers, group gathers, baristas, and garbage collectors just as much as people who sit all day in offices and make more money than they know what to do with. I don't want to try to give you unsolicited advice, but if you worked as a night-time inventory clerk at wal-mart and continued your contributions to the asexual community you'd still be making a bigger difference in the world than many doctor people who you might read about on facebook. Speaking of which, I quit facebook to avoid the kind of feelings you've described and it definitely helped me.

Ily said...

@Carolyn: Thanks so much. I swear I'm not fishing for compliments here; I wrote this attempting to comfort anyone who might be in the same situation. Although I won't turn them down :)

It's funny (not in a ha-ha way, but then again, I'm not sure in WHAT way it's funny), because what's enabled me to be so active with asexual stuff is my long periods of unemployment. When I'm working, I don't have much energy left to do other things. It's definitely a dilemma for me.

Anonymous said...

Well, there's nothing stopping you from using the word 'amalgam' in any way you please - I'm not the language police, I just wanted to make sure you know that, when most people talk about amalgams, they are talking about mercury mixed with other metals (usually tin).

And come to think of it, it is a lovely word.

Speaking of which, I'm going to the dentist today, to get an amalgam filling. Oh joy. Not.

-Sara K.

Ily said...

@Sara: But I was going to ask to see your badge! Hee hee ;)
Anyway, dental work is never fun. Good luck! You deserve many popsicles.

Anne said...

I can *very* much understand that sense of purpose that you feel you're lacking. I've felt that too. For me it's not so much connected to the job that I have, but the other things that I do like music, creative stuff, etc. If I'm not as active doing the stuff that I love, I feel like I'm in a rut. It really sucks. I hope you can get out of yours!

Anonymous said...

I know EXACTLY what you mean. For me it might have been even worse*--when I left grad school, I was not only surrendering my "student" identity, I was actually rejecting a career. A career, moreover, that everyone around me (and I myself) had assumed I would have since I was a child. Talk about traumatic.

What sucks about it for me is that I'm torn between going back and claiming that career again as an "easy" path and the knowledge that it almost killed me the first time. (Not hyperbole. I'm pretty sure I would have attempted suicide if I'd stayed in grad school.)

I don't have any advice or anything--just saying that I getcha!

*NOT trying to one-up your pain. Just that I was a student for that much longer!

Ily said...

@Anne: Thanks :) I feel a sense of purpose through creative projects as it's not like I'm completely purposeless (that would be hard), even though my projects can feel very frustrating and overwhelming at times. What's really bogged me down in the past is that classic piece of career advice, "do what you love". I was like, "Uhh...I love to write, and sing, and draw pictures?" Nothing that could easily be parlayed into paying work, and yet I tried anyway. I'm glad you can relate.

@thefeministbookproject: People knowing exactly what I's a good feeling and I don't think I could ever get tired of it :) Personally, I've thought a lot about going to grad school but I'm still unsure. If I went to recapture an identity and sense of structure, I feel like that would be for the wrong reason. And I don't want to end up with another degree that is unrelated to any actual job.

It's not like I was the perfect student, either (although I tried to be) and it's not like I loved school. Although I loved some individual classes, I never liked school as a whole. It was always very easy for me to fall through the cracks. In college, I felt like there wasn't any professor who cared one way or the other if I succeeded--not even my own advisor. That was quite depressing. If I went to grad school, would I be any better at cultivating those kinds of connections? Maybe. I don't know.

While I don't know exactly why you were depressed in grad school, it's something I can understand. People keep talking like grad school is just a fun little interlude, and it must not be easy to hear those kinds of views all the time.

CJ Joughin said...

Hey there, long time reader finally mustering up something to say since this is highly relevant to my current situation. Hope you don't mind a bit of rambling. I just finished getting my MA in, of all things, cartooning. While it's been an amazing two years, two of the best years of my life in fact, I know I'm not going to be going out and making a survivable living off of my comics any time soon. If ever.

The closest thing I've had to a full time job was teaching English abroad and while that was a great experience, was absolutely a transitional phase. I came out of it realizing I'm not really into teaching. It seems like a lot of people that come out of grad school go towards teaching as a possible option. As for whether or not grad school is a good option for someone I think it totally depends on the individual and the program. Undergrad felt like a necessary responsibility and was overall a stressful time for me, but grad school for me did give me a personal identity and has taught me how to do what fulfills me. However, if I had not found the perfect program I feel like grad school would have been a waste. It was a very, very difficult decision for me to apply to my program and I'm fortunate that it worked out for me.

I'm in the process now of moving back to the west coast and starting the job hunt but I'm already feeling like no matter what job I do, that's not my career identity. I'm definitely in the camp of "get something to pay the bills so you can do what you really love the rest of the time" which is HARD on a myriad of different levels. After having spoken to some people in the comics field, though, the greatest advice I've been given is that if you keep doing what you love and you get yourself involved it'll all eventually come together.

Community helps. I'm about to be distanced from one of the greatest, most inspiring art communities in the world. It's going to be tough, but I'm so grateful for the internet because I know I'll be able to reach people this way. Comic art is my passion so I plan to do whatever I can to help support the medium. Hopefully one day my work, not just my art, will allow me to do more and more. I think blogs like this are great because they help build discussion, especially about topics a lot of people can relate to but may not realize fully how much it affects them.

Hopefully this went in some sort of coherent direction.

Ily said...

@CJ: Thanks for commenting, and I don't mind rambling one bit (not that you were, really). I would not have imagined that there was a master's program in comic art.

I'm definitely in the camp of "get something to pay the bills so you can do what you really love the rest of the time" which is HARD on a myriad of different levels.

Last year, I wrote/drew a zine on unemployment, and the main piece was an essay on that very statement--"get a job to pay the bills and do what you love in your free time". So I definitely can get the ways in which it's hard. Like a lot of jobs don't pay the bills, so people are forced to get two or more jobs...or put in extra hours at one job. For me the worst thing is this growing expectation that employers have...that people need to be "passionate" about the most mundane and quite frankly, shitty jobs. I feel like this has an adverse effect on the things I'm truly passionate about.

Anyway, I wish you much luck in your jobs search.

Jessica said...

Hey, butting in here: "amalgam" has a couple of different uses. Merriam-Webster has two entries for "amalgam": the second is this:

"2: a mixture of different elements"

And it uses this sentence as an example of the word:

"a church that is an amalgam of traditional and modern architectural styles"

So yes, you can indeed use the word amalgam to mean something other than an alloy of mercury with another metal. The term can mean any admixture, literally or figuratively or metaphorically.

As to working and having a career....Actually, I'll just stick to the amalgam stuff. The other subject makes me bite my nails and wish I were rich without any effort at all.

Jessica said...

Oh sorry, I see that maybe when you wrote "amalgam" you really maybe meant analogy. Which is sort of what Sara K. wrote. Sorry Sara K!

And while I'm here, I think I will address the career thing.

I think I'm repeating you, but I'll go ahead:

There seem to be two camps of people when it comes to work.

There is the camp where people have a very particular vision or goal or calling from an early age, and go after it. Engineers who have always known they want to be engineers. Doctors who have always known they want to be doctors.

Then there is the camp of people who sort of fall into their careers. They don't necessarily have any career callings--nothing calls to them especially. Or, on their way to achieving their calling, they have to do something else to pay their bills, so they end up doing fairly random work.

This second camp contains people who want to be artists or actors or writers, but can't make any money off of it, so they fall into a line of work that is not very important to them. You mention that in one of your comments already.

They get a job as a paralegal at a small law firm because the mother of a friend works there, and then they just sort of stay at that firm for decades, slowly moving up the ladder without meaning to.

Or they start out at a grocery store, meaning to keep the job only for a little while, and years later find themselves head managers of the store chain, without their really noticing.

The concept of meaningfulness and self-worth in middle-class American society is very interesting. You also touch on this in one of your comments, so sorry for repeating this stuff.

But I say it to get to this part: a LOT of people do not like their jobs. They hate their jobs, actually. And they stay at their jobs and are unhappy career-wise for most, if not all, of their adult life.

This is the unbearable truth, I think, to me: that a lot of people will spend forty years at a job they hate, because there is no better alternative.

The consolation here is that you (and here I mean the general you) are not alone. I don't mean that you have a job you hate, I mean that your "career" will not make you happy. Your "job" will not be the thing that fulfills you.

Does that make sense? I'm not sure that makes sense. I guess what I'm saying is that there is a very real need for many people to be happy and productive, to WORK, to take pleasure in their work. And sometimes that need is foiled, or frustrated, by reality.

And then there is the not measuring up: the crappy job that you're too old to have, the stalled career. The failure.

Oh, I don't know. These blog comments require a lot of thought!

Ily said...

@Jessica: I think this topic requires a lot of thought, period. You bring up some good points in your comment, and it does make sense. While I've known a few people who really seem to enjoy their work, I've also known some who hated theirs. Most people I've known seem to fall into the "meh, it's okay" group, but maybe things at work are worse for some of them than they really convey.

What I haven't been able to reconcile is how to have a job I hate (which I've had in the past) while maintaining some semblance of my mental health (which I was not able to do). I don't have a clue how other people do it. Maybe they don't, really. I wish there would be more conversation about this kind of stuff. But it can be hard to admit that you're struggling.