Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Life Lessons (One Hundred.)

The beloved coming-of-age teen dramas of my youth have led me horribly, horribly astray.

I never thought I’d be such an optimistically confused 20-something, and yet, here I am. According to the aforementioned films, the hardest part about growing up is supposed to be finding a passion; after that, everything else is to simply fall into place. And I believed this until recently, because recently, gaping cracks and considerable holes have been steadily appearing in this hypothesis. Spreading cracks, like maybe the thing I love to do isn’t the only thing I can be doing. Cavernous holes, like maybe the direction I’ve been heading wasn’t meant to be the only direction I traveled. It seems the more I unwillingly stare at these cracks and holes in the foundation of my life, the bigger they get, allowing equal parts of opportunity and chaos to seep in to my state of mind.

As a junior in high school, working as the lead sound technician for our theater, I had an epiphany about what I wanted my future to look like. Sitting at the top of the theater, in the sound booth, working as a sound engineer, I was sure I could love what I was doing for the rest of my life. It seems silly now, but at 16 years old, every decision presented itself as not only cut and dry, but finite. The plan was to be a recording engineer, to sit in major label studios with big name musicians, helping to take their raw material and creative vision, and turn it into award-winning, revolutionary albums. From my earliest memory, I have always known what I wanted. I made the plan, outlined it thoroughly with the bullet point hierarchy down to the lowercased roman numerals, and then executed it with fanatical precision.
Diving in with blind enthusiasm, I raced across the country to college to start an entirely new life, with nothing to fall back on but my own firm resolve. After three years of full-time jobs and full-time course schedules, resulting in part-time sleep and freelance concerns for my health, I strode across a stage in ceremonial attire and triumphantly moved my 2008 tassel from left to right. This was part of the plan. However unfortunate, the failing economy and dwindling job market was not. In my ambitious, optimistic eight-step road map, I never considered that I would enter the industry at a time when those major studios were being served eviction notices, nor did I consider that I would enter the industry as those big name musicians were beginning to record in home studios on computers. Most certainly, my magic eight ball neglected to tell me that I would enter the industry just as the top engineers and producers were freelancing anything and everything just to keep their own careers afloat.

Regardless, I had a plan, a plan on which I was determined to follow through. With two completed internships, both resulting in glowing recommendations, as well as a smattering of freelance and independent contracting jobs, I was making progress. However, the more I sat in front of a computer, editing dialog for commercials or restructuring file management systems for studios, mastering the quick keys for “find” and “new folder” on both Macintosh and Windows systems, an invaluable skill, I might add, the less creatively satisfied I felt.

I refused to accept defeat. I refused to admit that I might have been wrong, that the career I had been so sure of for so long might not be the perfect one for me. I powered through, knowing the minute I showed any signs of dissatisfaction with my professional life, I was allowing the words “Eleanor” and “failure” to become disturbingly synonymous. But the mounting artistic frustration inside of me leaked out in various ways, the most prevalent being an online blog. This blog became a lifeline, a haven for my floundering ambition, and with each new post, it became apparent that I was optimistically confused.

I never thought I’d be the girl that had to start over. The daunting task of figuring out what makes me happy, finding my path and pursuing it was supposed to be done and over with as soon as I got to my freshman orientation. But here I am in my early twenties, still making discoveries and coming to the realization that my fullest potential might be down a road I had previously overlooked. My whole life up to this point had structure; it had direction. Graduate high school, go to college, pick a major, and then get a job in that field. That was my father’s life; that is my older brother’s life. I was surrounded by a system, a working, logical system, so of course I had to get it all backwards. Chalk it up to middle-child syndrome; I guess I just had to be different.

So being different landed me on a bench in front of a Barnes and Noble, filling out a standard, faceless corporate job application, head in my hands crying, because I was twenty-three with absolutely zero applicable skills. Overqualified to work in retail, under-qualified for any kind of management position, however most certainly qualified to shop in the self-help and psychology section. I was crying because reality continued to e-mail me, obnoxiously reminding me that he’s not going anywhere, no matter what identity crisis comes calling. In spite of it all, I was still going to owe Pacific Gas & Electric $29.85.

Now I’ve reached a crossroad I didn’t expect to encounter so quickly. It’s a frightening notion, to consider throwing away three years of rigorous training and experience, but even more so to think of spending another two, or three, or even ten years chasing down an entirely different career. Sitting in that sound booth some eight years ago, I never dreamed I’d be shopping around fill-in-the-blank job applications in retail outlets, attempting to tailor my coveted information-based skills and qualifications simply to justify a lackluster desire to sell hardback books and half-priced calendars to American consumers.

The line between being a responsible, logical adult and following a passion seems to grow, simultaneously, blurrier and more distinct the closer I get to it; as if it’s only something I can see best out of the corner of my eye. When one path leads to a place you’re not particularly excited about, and the other leads to a place you aren’t even sure exists, and there’s a “no loitering” sign right in the middle of the two, what is the mature decision? At what point does pursuing a practical course of action become ridiculous? And conversely, at what point does pursuing one’s passion become the practical course of action? It appears there are steps, invisible steps, to which, even while I plotted my course, I was not privy.

What I want to do, and the person I want to be, have always been inextricably linked in my mind. Learning to look at myself as a complete person, rather than the partial image my resume presents, has been a challenge, to say the least, and one I take on daily. As far as what I’ve learned, well, that’s just life. Sometimes, it follows the bullet points, and then sometimes, it makes you cry in public. I never thought I’d be a person who changed her mind, but then again, I also never thought I’d be a redhead again. Apparently, things can change.


  1. I blame money.

    Take that out of the equation and life really could be a lot easier (hypothetically at least).

    Looking for work has gotten me to the point of wanting to just kill myself. Every interview more and more depressing... knowing that there are companies that do not produce a single item of value and thus the job would be completely meaningless.

    I would love to take the 60's SF approach and just go on disability for being "crazy" and just make art.

  2. I still think freelance writing is in your future. This is good stuff! I hope that whatever you do it is something for which you have a passion. Life is too short not to be sweet. Love ya!