Wednesday, December 17, 2008

oh, life.

I'm at a point in my life where I don't know what I'm doing with myself. Since this has been such for a year now, let's take that point and, sadly, make it a plateau, or even a rut if you'd like. Part of this ambiguity means I'm not sure if I should be spending any money or not.

Though I thought I had come, seen (but definitely not conquered) enough of Portland for my current taste, the itch to move West has snuck up on me again. I know I should wait until I can find a job, but I hate the idea of sticking with something that makes me miserable, and that's how my pessimistic little mind has decided to view living in DC. I've been thinking of this scenario, where I got a job in DC and set up a little life, but in my current myopic view, all I can anticipate thinking every day is, "Can I move now? Is it time? NOW can I go? Please?" How did I get into this mindset? Well, I was trying to find good independent cafes and bakeries in the area, only to realize the city's lacking in these seemingly superficial aspects that actually say a lot about a place.

Compared to most animals, humans are pretty uniquely stubborn. Last I checked, animals learn from their mistakes. If they get sick eating a certain something, they stop eating it. But look at us, at ME. I'm in a routine I hate, and yet I stick to it. It's not like I'm expecting every day to be all sunshine and kittens, but I'd hope for a few bright spots, at the very least. I know a large part of it is my outlook, that we (I) determine how to perceive any given situation, but I'm thinking another part of it is my environment.

I have this amazing ability to argue any side of any case when it comes to deciding what to do or how to feel. For example, I can convince myself to sleep in no matter what important task I have to accomplish. Similarly, depending on my mood, I can rationally and effectively argue that I should suck it up and stay in DC or, conversely, pack up and move out.

I know last time I went west, I chickened out and went home way too early. My friend tells me if I had only stayed, pushed through my anxiety, I'd probably be happily set up out there by now. But I freaked out, flew home, and convinced myself it wasn't right. Or I convinced myself NOW that it WAS right. Which one is it? I can't tell.

An acquaintance of mine finally said "Fuck it!" and is moving to San Francisco at the end of the month. People tell her she's crazy, that she's making a terrible mistake, but at least she's going to try it out and see what happens. It's better to learn from your experiences than imagine lost possibilities. And that's the thing. Fair or not, I've been born into a life of certain comfort, where I'll always have a home to come back to. My parents would never abandon me. The problem is they don't want to hear something like this, something that's half-expected to be a failure. My parents are rationalists, not idealists.

Anyway, the whole point of this post was supposed to be about whether I should spend my money or save it for any big changes. Of course, saving is always ideal, especially in the midst of a recession. But I have this curious relationship with fashion, where I don't want to be left behind, where I want to fit in, look good, stay on top of things. I went to the mall today and, out of boredom really, went into several high-end stores where I felt abysmal. I was wearing Forever 21 while the others wore Marc Jacobs, or Chanel, or whatever. (In reality, they were wearing Uggs, but that does not fit into my self-constructed vision of reality.) And it made me react with a mix of self-consciousness and scorn for them. I was in Cusp, and I saw a mother and daughter shopping for party dresses, not blinking an eye at $700 price tags or Philip Lim labels. I know that, again, I'm the one choosing how to feel, but it evoked some really strange and awful emotions. I was both disgusted that they were spending that much money so carelessly (as if I haven't?) -- especially when there is poverty and malaria and famine -- and suddenly self-conscious. I felt like everyone was staring at me, telling me to get the fuuuuck out, because I obviously could not afford anything in the store and thus must be of weak moral character. This kind of stuff is wretched. This is why I hate shopping.

On the other hand, there's no better feeling than self-confidence, and fashion can provide that too. I'm not out to rank any source of confidence as better or more genuine than any other, but it seems to me pretty sad that material goods are so often a quick fix. But then I think of things like Sofia Coppola's work and the worlds she creates and all the pretty people on and their film photography and bokeh and romanticism and it makes me want to engage.

Everything is so complicated.


Penny said...

Allison, you should do it. Absolutely you should. If you have no relationships holding you in DC, get out.

This is something I wish I had done earlier but now I am in a (loving) relationship with a man who owns a house and I often feel stuck. It's the worst feeling.

So, run like the wind! There's so much on the west! Be it Portland, Seattle, SF or LA.

Also, I do understand about the pushing through anxiety. When I moved to London in college I was so anxious and homesick I was plotting ways to leave and go back to California. I am so happy I stuck to it.

Great stuff never happens without a little fear.

Also, let me know if you need any help job hunting....I might be able to put you in touch with some people.

Bon chance.

Anonymous said...

Run like the wind indeed. I have come to find that DC is full of brilliant, hollow people questing after life's next trophy with heedless abandon, unsure of why they even compete. Chart your own course, sail it, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

Regret is far worse than fear.

allison said...

Thank you both so much for your insight. I really respect both your opinions and think you're absolutely right. It's something I'm definitely strongly leaning towards. How'd I get such intelligent commenters?


LMB said...

Hello Allison,

Firstly, I have left a few comments in the past, rambling on about future progressive tense, the karma of volunteerism, Frenchness, and Lamorisse. I was quite used to my identity as “anon,” but, as we can see, others can be anonymous, too! So, to differentiate my comments from imitators, I will now be “LMB.” ;)

Secondly, with no offense intended to the previous commenters, it is really easy to tell someone "just do it!" when you are the one in a comfortable situation. After graduating university, I was in an entry-level corporate job and panicked about being stuck in a dead-end trajectory. A good friend (with whom I grew up) had moved to Europe and had found a job teaching business English. I frequently voiced my anxieties to her, and she frequently reminded me to “chuck it all” and just move to Europe (where I had studied briefly), before I became too entrenched in the U.S. A part of me was rotten with envy. I was stuck in the Midwest while she could enjoy churros and chocolate. Bah!

I am very thankful I had the good sense not to listen to her. Some background: I put myself through university and have not had a family that I could rely on. My friend, although she did not do so, could call her parents anytime and ask for money. They paid for her airline tickets home over the holidays. She could move back home if necessary. I did not have any of those options. The mere presence of those options allowed her to make decisions and take risks I could not afford—I did not have that safety net. She will have a fine inheritance someday; I will not. The career that I must plan out of necessity is not a necessity for her.

My friend now lives in the U.S. because she and her new husband ran out of money, and they spend time plotting how they can move back to Europe. However, no one wants to give Euro-zone residency to 30-somethings without proper skills/education/experience. The time they had in Europe was not spent investing in their future, and now they face limited options.

In my case, I am almost finished with my master’s degree and have cultivated truly global opportunities. It has taken a decade out of undergraduate studies in order to do so. But, I will go to Europe in the next few years and I will live well. Sure, I could have run off to Europe at the age of 24, and I would have found a way to make ends meet. But at what cost? I now have the power to create opportunities for myself instead of scavenging for them. My long way to a short point it this: don’t allow short-term anxieties to derail a long-term plan.

Finally, I can't tell you to leave DC or stay, because there are compelling reasons for both. I think it is not very productive to frame the issue in terms of "staying" or "leaving." The core issue is not geography; the core issue is you. I say this confidently because I have lived this—I graduated university and spent years yearning to move to a happier, more fashionable, and enlightened life abroad. I wanted to surround myself with a fantastic city and distinguish myself as a person of the world: hip, stylish, and cultured (maybe fashion fills this void for you?) After finally getting the opportunity to live abroad for two years in a spectacular city, I learned that my core issues remained--my desire to find my place in the world, to be accomplished, to achieve self-determination, and to make a positive difference—none of those riddles was completely solved. I still work on solving them, and have learned that it will probably be a life-long process.

So, given the state of the economy, I encourage you to spend some time reflecting, planning, and saving money. Have you looked into volunteering or interning yet? If you don’t take advantage of opportunities where you are now, why would your behavior suddenly change if you moved somewhere else?

Enjoy your time with your family—they will not always be there. Take advantage of living in DC while you shape your plans. Prepare well, and you can take a leap when the opportunity arrives. The future is yours…


P.S.-- If you must shop:

allison said...

LMB - Glad to see you have a name! Anon is nice and mysterious, but it's impossible to tell if it's the same person each time. (Although your comments are always especially insightful, so I could kind of figure when it was you!)

I agree that it's necessary to have a bit more context than what a superficial reading of my blog provides in order to truly understand what course of action I should take. I guess there's no "should" really, or at least in the sense of any hard rules.

I really appreciate your insight about going to Europe and having worked hard to get to where you want to be. What you're talking about, your mindset versus your friend's, is really the internal struggle I'm having. On the one hand, I know that one can't expect to have the job (or life) they want immediately. I know hard work is necessary. But I aspire so deeply to have the same type of life you seem to want (or have), the cultured, hip and exciting one, and I see others getting it much sooner, with so much more ease. I'm a jealous person, and I compare myself with others too much. This is a stupid story, but a friend of mine got a dog a few years ago, and I was crushed. I adore dogs, I've wanted one for over five years, I've planned out when to get a dog and what kind and how to go about it. So much extensive planning. But my friend just went out and bought one. She didn't worry to death over what consequences she might face before they happened, she tackled them along the way. (Laura - if you're reading this, I'm talking about Alison, not you. You actually did some planning, something I envy in others but not in myself.)

And so this is sort of a metaphor for how I live my life. I feel like others just go out and do things, as impulsive as that might be. I sit and agonize and wait and play it safe. I know my parents and most practical people would say this is the "right" thing to do, but I envy these impulsive, motivated people who go out and get what they want. I realize that either way, I need motivation, but I guess this quality in me, this anxiety, is something I hate about myself. Even if it's the smart thing to do, to work my way up to where I want to be slowly, in my mind, this is the same as "playing it safe" and missing out on life while I'm young.

I know I'm looking at this in a wholly negative way. It's not like I have to sell my soul to the corporate world. I can get a creative job in DC, set up my own little cozy life, and partake in the DC culture. I just feel like doing so further proves how weak a person I am. I don't think that this makes sense, but I agree with you on a rational level. It's my emotions that tug in the opposite direction.

Of course, I always think, "What if I died tomorrow?" and fret that I'm not living life to the fullest. While it's good to appreciate what you have rather than spend your life wishing for more, taken to an extreme this perspective becomes ridiculous. If I actually lived as though I might die the next day, I'd never plan or save.

You're also absolutely right about location not being the be all and end all motivating force. I'm just stuck in such a rut that I want something to pull me out of it.

I am going to start looking into internships, because I suppose I'm simply not ready for a job in the editorial world. I've applied for so many with such little response. I finally had a second interview at a job last week and they said they'd let me know by this week. They didn't. I wish I could use this kind of experience to push myself harder, but I'm feeling pretty beaten up. I just think I'm too weak, and I guess that's my problem.

Anyway, I really appreciate your advice, and I think you're absolutely right. Over the next few weeks I'm going to talk to a lot of people and research a lot of things. I hope I make some progress.


(Thanks for the shopping links, too! I'm putting myself on a budget and have actually had a lot of success simply stepping away from something when I have the impulse to buy it.)

LMB said...

It's ok to feel beat up, really. Take some time to catch your breath. Then make a plan.

I am in a metaphorical frame of mind. What if you wanted to run a marathon? You wouldn't expect yourself to be able to just go out and do it. All of these things you want (particularly career) are rather like a marathon. Aside from a few freaks of nature, one cannot just go out and automatically do it successfully. No, you must train for these things.

Getting a B.A. degree is like paying the entry fee for the marathon. It's a ticket. That's it. (Universities are in the business of making you feel good about your purchase-- and you should-- but the power of a degree is drastically inflated by those who sell them. It does have its limitations...)

Now that you have your ticket, you get to run the course. The first trick is choosing which course you want to run (they all have different prizes), but ultimately you must commit to one, or you will never run the marathon.

While choosing the course, you need to train. Evaluate your weaknesses and train to become stronger. The weakness is NOT "I can't run the marathon." The inability to run the marathon is composed of many small elements that you must train in order to correct.

You know where I am going with this... be wary of the comparisons you make. There are people running this marathon who have put a lot of effort into training that you don't get to see.

Go do an internship and start training!

If you can look elegant, cool and fluid while running the marathon, then all the more power to you. Some marathon runners look more beautiful and graceful than others. But, all of the runners are more beautiful and graceful than the people on the sidelines saying "I wish I could do that." Better to run the race and flail around than to become soft on the sidelines. (And, chances are, the people running this race don’t feel as beautiful and glamorous as they appear—in the midst of it, they often feel tired, achy, hot and sweaty).

Let's take this a step further: Marathon runners have lean, muscled physiques. Suppose, in your yearning to run the marathon, you decided that you wanted to look just like those runners! You could diet and go to the gym and do aerobics and get a long lean physique, and when you try to run with the others they all would see that something is not quite right. You applied a lot of effort to the wrong thing. You tried to look like a marathon runner but did not train like one. You would feel like an imposter-- you concentrated on the external and ignored the structural.

So goes life. You have to train in order to build the structure, not the shell. I can buy the best suits and fine watches, decorate with vintage Saarinen and drive a precision-made automobile, but this will not qualify for the job I really want. I will only be a shell.

I spent a few years chasing those external manifestations of success, banging my head against the wall until I learned that they are a result, not a goal. (I wish I would have saved the money I spent). The actual goal is something deeper.

Go volunteer and find internships. Meet people. Choose your course, and then train for it. Then you can run the race and not feel like an impostor. All of those external things come much more easily when you build the right structure. Be realistic with yourself about the kind of time and effort you need to put in to do it. You have not failed as a person-- every successful person faces these tests. Failure is when you give up.

Your day-to-day emotions become much more friendly when you can say "I have not quite reached my goal, but I am training for it."


allison said...

LMB, again, your advice is spot-on. I really value it (and I love metaphors).