I don’t talk about my 9-5 on these posts. I have a complicated relationship with the jobs I’ve had to accept to pay for rent and food and the things that keep me alive. I say it’s complicated because it’s so closely tied into the way I was raised and how work was presented to me as a key part of being an adult.
I’m not talking about my parents. When I say “raised” I’m talking about the more cultural kind of definition. Now that I’m an adult I can look back and see the struggle that my folks did and did not go through, while raising me, over their own careers. My dad, a Southern Baptist preacher, hasn’t had a job that ever fit the expected structure of 9-5. He was essentially always on call for deaths, and sickness, and fifth Sunday potluck lunch. My mom transformed herself over and over. She was a professional student, a teacher, a stenographer, a part time choir director / theater manager (these were church functions that probably should have paid her a salary for the work that it required). Yet somehow, I still made my way through life and ended up exiting college and immediately got a “normal” 9-5.
My problem is that I became an engineer, because I like science and technology, without realizing how non-engineer my personality was. And worse, how much I disliked authority and rules. These are things I wouldn’t really find out about myself until I was well into my thirties.
When I was twenty-one, I had a dead dream. I’d gone to college with the thought that I would learn about electronics and to then go out to Hollywood and get into the movie business making practical effects and animatronics. So, when I graduated in 2001, maybe a month before the dotcom burst, movies were already fully on board with computer graphics, and animatronics was just not being used any more. I was left with uncertainty.
Uncertainty is the mind-killer.
It's like drowning. You just grab the first thing you can to keep your head above it all. Out of the panic. Trying to breathe.
And once the panic clears, only then do you look around and realized you are in an office job and looking forward to the new benefits package and 401K matching program instead of living the life you thought you would live. And you can't figure out how you got here or where you're going or why you stay. And you’re back to uncertainty.
Uncertainty is the little death that brings total obliteration.
It gets you everywhere. My job is where it gets me hardest, but it's omnipresent. How much things cost? What does your dad want for Christmas? Are we going to war, again? Is this person still my friend? Who stole my wallet? Is the person sitting across from me on the subway safe and sane? Am I safe and sane? They are numerous and cumulative, and eventually you just have to…
I will face my uncertainty. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the uncertainty has gone, there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
It turns out that it's that easy. It took me all my adult life to realize, what's past cannot be changed, what's future will always be uncertain, what's happening now is all you can change. You remember what’s happened, you look forward to what’s coming, but you live here and now. So, you make a decision, and move on to the next one. And it's so hard. But working through it is better than doing nothing and being consumed. Better then sinking into uncertainty. That is something I had to learn too. One breath at a time.