Doing something consistently and long-term is tiring. Perhaps that is, as observations go, fairly bland, but it is a sort of defining thesis in my life:
Effort * consistency = daunting
Story time. This one is called Josh vs. The Paycheck.
I realized, sometime around when I started college, that I really didn’t like the idea of working for the next 40 years. It just didn’t sit right with me. I’d had a fairly spoiled childhood in that sense—not that we had money, but that we weren’t in dire enough straits that I needed a job. I just wasn’t a spender—I had no car and didn’t want one, I spent no discretionary income on things like clothes or music (excepting garage-sale vinyl to play on my garage-sale turntable). I coveted electronics and the occasional musical instruments, but it was never anything I couldn’t manage by waiting for birthdays or doing one-off jobs. I “baby-sat” a couple of neighbor kids for a summer to buy a Yamaha keyboard; I worked part-time as a computer tech for the school district, late in highschool; I did a couple of small artsy jobs for neighbors and friends.
In other words, thanks to circumstance and inexpensive hobbies, I was never obliged to Get A Job before I hit college. I worked a couple of different summer jobs during college—an early summer working as a tech support rep for Micron Computers, a year or two later as a programmer at a startup in Rhode Island where several college friends were also working—but, again, I only flirted with Real Employment. A few months of effort, and then back to the layabout paradise of the schoolyear.
And so I came out of college with a barely-functional immune system vis-a-vis the efforts and compromises of actually earning a living. I had spent the previous twenty-two years primarily spending a living—through my parents, and later through my own acquisition of educational debt, federal and private—and so I was not only unused to the idea of having to generate income, I had given myself (as has pretty much every US college student) something of a handicap.
What I had thought in college about the job market was embarassingly simple. I had not, really, thought about it, and that was the problem. I had said things about working, and had superficial thoughts about the process of acquiring a suitable job in my field of choice and so on and so forth, and said to my parents things to satisfy (possibly) their hope that I wasn’t precisely as clueless and unprepared as I in fact was. (Hi, Mom! Hi, Dad!) As in many, many things practical and social in my life, I was by-and-large faking the job-preparedness routine; though, in my defense, I’m not sure how much I grasped that at the time, and I was definitely faking it to myself as much as anyone.
Is this going somewhere? Ah, yes. Eventually I did end up Getting A Job. It took a year of living in my parents’ basement and failing to magically fall into a good job before I snapped and sought employment with a temp agency. And I spent the next couple of years adjusting to the fact that you have to keep doing it, even if you don’t like it, or you have to figure something else out.
And the effort of showing up every day wears on a person. I began to see and understand this in my parents, in my friends, in the people I knew who had out of choice or necessity been working while I was not. Greater, then, the wear incurred by the effort of showing up every day for something you just don’t like. Somewhere, on a signup form for one website or another, I entered, for job description, the title “Asst. Sisyphian Metaphor”—and it’s the sort of dark joke that doesn’t always make me laugh.
Push the boulder up the hill, watch it roll back down. Repeat for eight hours daily, five days a week, fifty weeks a year for forty years.
And this is just so much whining; if the worst complaint I ever have about my life is that my job is boring, I will count myself as one of the luckiest among an already lucky and privleged group of humans. But you see the world in the context of your own experiences; and everybody normalizes things onto a good-and-bad scale. That’s the thing about optimists—it’s not that they can make the best of a bad situation, it’s that they make better of situations in general.
But whining or no, here’s the thing: even the employment dilemma is in theory solvable. Or at least improvable. Many people dislike their jobs; most people seem to be bored by their jobs: observable fact. But “many” and “most” are not “all”; and of the people I see who are happy in what they do, many of those folks are happy in what they have elected to do. Another simple, dull insight: you can decide what to do with your life.
And I think that’s what this story comes down to: I’m telling myself a fable, and hopefully it hasn’t bored the crap out of you, but you have my sympathies if it has.
The moral goes something like this:
If you’re having fun doing something like The Aural Times, Josh, you might want to keep that in mind when the product of effort and consistency weighs a little heavy during a self-imposed deadline that’s keeping you up on a Sunday night. It might not be a living, but it’s not exactly your day job—you’re doing it because you like it. And if you stop liking it, you can stop doing it.
I’d love to someday make my living doing something I enjoy. If I can end up doing that with something like The Aural Times, that’d be excellent. How, I don’t know.
I look around and I see entreprenuers of all stripes. I see geniuses and born businessmen and unrepentant thieves and hard-working talents. And above all I see folks who are some mix of all of those.
I’m not a born businessman. I’m lazy and optimistic and shot through with a dangerous sort of naivety that is, in many ways, one of the best qualities I’ve inherited from my mom—but it’s no good for business. I can probably manage the business side of an unrelated venture, or at least have the good sense to ask for help, but pure business as the means and motivation? Not me.
I’m clever enough to be a thief, but I find the idea galling and repellent—see above about inheriting good qualities from Mom—and so that avenue is right out. And while I have no issue accepting the money of strangers (there’s a shop and a donation link at The Aural Times, for example), I can’t see myself taking even the rogueish half-measure of making my living simply asking for it in the style of Save Karyn.
And I can’t bank on being declared a genius. Perhaps in a fawing music review some day, if I’m allowed to dream…but it doesn’t seem like a good economic plan.
So I’m left with sheer blinding luck, despair, or that hard-working talent option. I’m all for luck—the occasional lottery ticket, &c—but it’s no sounder an investment than the genius option. Can’t count on it, or it wouldn’t be called Luck. And I’m not much one for despair, so I suppose my hands are tied: I’d better just work hard at the things that I like and am good at and see where that takes me.
Should I be embarassed that it has taken me 27 years to figure this out, or pleased that I’ve discovered it so soon? I don’t know. And there is, of course, the matter of implementation beyond merely waxing (and oh how I have waxed) philosophical in a blog entry. But self-awareness, when it does not come as the sharp crack of some terrible rifle, is a slow and drunken animal, stumbling hither and thither and occasionally pissing on a tree in its meandering journey. I am thankful to have led a life so gentle and free from bullets of shocking insight that I can hardly complain about the occasional tumble long the path.