Surrounded by Success

January 20, 2013

VISTA stares deep into the cosmos

It’s difficult to write. I’m only going through these words just to get my fingers moving and the thoughts slowly put down on paper. I don’t know how this will end. The truth is, I don’t think I’m ever going to find a career I consider satisfying. Even some of the jobs considered the loftiest, highest-paying employment opportunities for most Americans wouldn’t measure up in my eyes. I’ll get to that, but for now, I have to think about my own experiences.

Teaching English, though it does offer some satisfaction in that I can see improvement, respect, and gratitude in some students’ eyes, is a dead-end profession in Asia and a high-risk one in the US (low pay, few benefits, and the risk of injury and death depending on the school… minimal, but still). There will always be more students, and many will never become fluent. I know I should find satisfaction in their pursuit of knowledge, but I don’t anymore.

Marketing and promotions, while profitable, suck my soul dry. Not only do I rarely believe in the product or service I’m plugging, but I’m expected to be on-call 10080/168/24/7. I don’t know how professionals do it; they must have just come to accept that no time is their own, and don’t want to look for alternatives. I can’t.

Technical writing and proofreading does in part help satisfy my intellect, but all these jobs leave me wondering what kind of impact their respective companies have on this earth.

I’m in San Francisco, widely considered one of the best cities in the world for startup ventures, and yet, with every one I encounter, I leave their offices feeling nothing but pity. Granted, they have jobs, wages, computers, insurance, and fancy cars… but where are all their efforts going? There must be hundreds, if not thousands of ideas out there for new apps, new websites, and hardly any of them are going to see the light of day (by that, I mean, be used as widely as Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc). Most will probably fail, and maybe their teams will just move to the next. And the next. And the next.

Is that what happens? Let’s forget these are startups! Let’s just think if I were to get a regular job in a large company. What are my efforts producing, on a global, national, or even local level?? I just don’t see the masses making a contribution by working any stable jobs. Mattering when they’re gone. It’s depressing, but isn’t it reality? Aren’t we all destined to be forgotten, our contributions growing weaker as their ripples dissipate with the passage of time? At some level, I was always aware of this, but it’s hitting me now harder than ever.

Now, because I’m 30. I’m past the age when it can be socially acceptable (I know, that’s subjective) for an educated man to be living the way I am. Maybe I am just seeing things in black and white, good and bad. But I’m not happy. I’m not happy not working. I’m not happy working a job that drains my soul. I’m not happy using my efforts in the time I have left towards a company or idea that will never seriously impact anyone or leave anything of any importance. This realization has paralyzed me, made me want to look for an impossible solution.

How can anyone be happy with an average life? More to the point, how can one be happy knowing his or her life amounts to nothing? Nothing accomplished. Nothing left behind. I know this comes down to finding happiness within one’s world and trying to live in the moment, but is that really all there is? Could I honestly feel more of a sense of accomplishment continuing to pull weeds and live celibately in New Zealand? And how will that help anyone?

I think this is just going to be something I’m going to just have to take a lot of time to work through. I’m missing the forest for the trees. That is, I’m killing myself trying to make the entire world burn or grow, instead of focusing on the individual lives I touch: the student who called me months after I finished tutoring her to tell me she passed her high school equivalency; the friends who reach out to me when I’m in pain, or I them; the seemingly unimportant smiles I throw to a few strangers when the mood strikes me. These are things on which I need to focus, but I can’t get my mind to stop considering the endgame. The lives I touch, touch others. And those, others.

And I want to be perfectly clear: these feelings are driving me deeper into despair. At the same time, I’m still me. I still run, eat, sleep, stretch, work, write, and remember to keep breathing. Because “tomorrow the sun will rise, and who knows what the tide will bring.”

One Response to Surrounded by Success

  1. Ruth on February 8, 2013 at 6:37 pm

    Hello,
    I can relate to what you are saying – having spent 13 years traveling and now attempting to live in one spot. I have had the same job for over a year now – with the same schedule and sometimes I wonder – is this it?
    I think the secret is in not attempting to plan the rest of your life today. Today you find a way to pay your bills that isn’t too bad and you do that until something else captures your imagination.
    Like they said in ‘what about bob’ – – it’s baby steps. Work there for a year and see how it suits you. If you are like me – a year seems an eternity – but I guess that’s what seasons are for – providing for the constant change that our souls require.
    Try to see the place you are in as though you were there as a tourist. As a tourist we tend to appreciate the everyday things more. Delight in a rainbow, etc.
    If you are worried about leaving something behind you should focus on creating art. The song you posted for example is still around – though I don’t know if the musicians are. Create a beautiful painting on someone else’s building in the night. Take up moonlight running if you haven’t done that yet.
    I bet there are a lot of things you haven’t tried yet in the town you are in right now – try them and savor the details of those things.
    I don’t know what the weather has been in San Fran this year – but if it’s anything like here in Boise – we are all suffering from the seasonal gray sky disease. So get out of town and out of the clouds for a few days – do some runs on mountain trails in the fresh air and you just might find the inspiration to lift yourself out of your current funk.
    Mostly stop wasting time feeling sorry for yourself. If your travels have taught you anything it should be how freaking lucky you are to have food, choices and your health. Don’t let the choices in your life limit you and get you down.
    I heard an expert on a radio show the other day discussing how people with less choices are actually happier. Crazy though eh?
    Thanks for your post – I could relate to a lot of the ‘what am I doing to do with the rest of my life’ fuss – and it also made me realize how self centered and petty I must sound when I say things like that.
    It’s one thing to want to change the world to help others, it’s another entirely to want to change the world in order to be remembered as someone who changed the world. Everyone can’t be famous. If that’s your goal then go find yourself a reality TV show to sign up for.
    Just figure out what you like and do it.
    If you can’t support yourself doing that, then get a job and do it in your free time.
    Stop worrying about what’s socially acceptable – I’m sure you don’t want your tombstone to read about how socially acceptable you were.
    Guess that’s what I should go and do now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to OAT



Created by Webfish.

Need Advice on Living Abroad?

Thinking of teaching English in Japan? Volunteering in Thailand? Backpacking around New Zealand? If you're looking for some insider tips on the places to go and the people to meet, check out my consulting services. If you just have a few questions, no worries: email me.