Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Would you like to know a secret? I suck.

I suck in about a thousand different ways. I'm 37 years old, and even though I have sucked my entire life, to lesser or greater degrees, I am only just now beginning to be okay with that.

I'm *not* saying I suck at comedy; I don't. I don't know that I'm the next Bill Cosby, but I know I don't suck at it. I'm just saying that in my life so far, I have made a number of mistakes. I've done things I regret, still. I have been lucky to survive a number of self-inflicted fuck-ups.

My adult life has been a process of iteration. Maybe everyone's is, I don't know. I feel like I've been trying on identities-- walking around in them, looking at them in the mirror-- and then deciding, no, this one isn't quite right. So I try on another one. This one's okay, I think, then oops! Probably shouldn't have done that. On to the next one.

I have been extremely fortunate to do some cool things. I learned how to speak Chinese, and I lived in China on three occasions. I was smart enough to get into really good schools, and blessed enough to be able to attend. I look back with mixed emotions. Sometimes I think, "wow, I really accomplished something, didn't I?" Other times I think, "wow, imagine what you might have done if you'd made more of an effort, if you'd really *cared* about what you were doing."

None of my identities has fit yet. Each has had its own mix of pluses and minuses.

Are all my tried-on identities the product of who I am? Or vice-versa? It's iterative. The person I was at 20 affected what I did when I was 25, which affected my choices when I was 30. And so on.

The iterations continue because, well, they just do. I keep trying to do better, keep trying to reach that illusive point where talent, passion and opportunity converge.

Have you ever seen someone engaged in an activity and said, "Look! That person is doing something they love, and by God, they are gifted at it! How cool." To me, those people always look like they glow. I know people like this. I think my dad is this way. My brother-in-law, too. Who knows how, but they happened to find the place where their talent and passion converged with opportunity in an alchemy of human fulfillment.

I've read stories about people having the "eureka" moment of discovering this convergence: of Tiger Woods discovering golf; of Paul Simon writing his first song. I don't know what it's like in reality, but I think of it as a light being turned on.

How many people ever get to know that feeling? I think it must be a small number. There must be far greater numbers of people who were great at basketball, like Jordan-- but they were 5'7". Or people who had the potential to be great scientists-- but never got to go to school.

With each iteration, I'm trying to nudge myself closer to that magic convergence, to improve the odds of my light turning on.

Maybe it never will. I realize that. I accept that. I labored for a long time under the delusion that, at some point, I would find the Right Fit, the Light would Turn On, and then, huzzah, life could begin. And until then, nothing mattered.

But then it finally dawned on me: this is it. This process of trying things on, finding what you like and don't like, and then trying something else-- this *is* it. And mostly, it's fantastic. The light coming on can only be looked at as a happy accident, like winning a prize on a bottle top when you were happy just to have the soda. To view it otherwise - as a right, as an absolute imperative - is to be disappointed constantly.

If my light turns on, I'll be happy. But if it doesn't, I will be happy anyways. That's my plan, at least.

Do you have a better one?


At 8:10 PM, Blogger Neil said...

Using Paul Simon for example -- even if he did find his calling, we should always remember that things didn't go perfectly for him either -- two divorces, conflict with Art Garfunkel, failures on Broadway, in the movies, etc... so we can never really know whether his success really brought him the contentment that we visualize him as getting from his achievements...

At 10:30 PM, Blogger Ish said...

That's a good point Neil. Just because you find your calling doesn't mean you'll be happy. Stories of tormented artists (Van Gogh to Cobain) are numerous.

At 6:20 AM, Blogger Changeseeker said...

For what it's worth, Ish, I was 43-years-old before my light went on (as you put it). I had gone through a lot of interesting and sometimes awful things previously, trying on multiple identities, and totally backed into teaching (something I had no desire to do) only to find that not only am I a natural, but I blow my own and everybody else's minds on a regular basis--and have big fun doing it. Who knew?

Since...I've continued to go through stuff, but always moving in a direction, it seems, that involves in various ways what I do in the classroom. (For example, I've been invited to participate in a spoken word event this week-end--something I would never have tried until I was approached by a student and now I can hardly wait. :-D)

Anyway, you're right (speaking as one who is further up the age-line than you are now). It's all a process. And a great one at that if you just follow your heart.

At 7:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Try teaching Ish. You're real and kids/young adults like that and are inspired by people like you.

At 10:05 AM, Anonymous kirin said...

Nice post.

(I think what you are referring to is also called "flow": when your skills and the task presented are a perfect match. If you're overqualified, you are bored, if you are underqualified you are stressed.)

At 1:51 AM, Blogger leomange said...

um, 30 here. you mean there's more uncertainty/floundering about to come? i guess i knew it, but my life has already been a series of existential questioning... damn. guess i'll just resolve myself to enjoy the ride, no matter what it brings. it really is more fantastic than not, but the boredom i can do without. still, i'm doing better than about 90% of the world... gotta love that accident of birth.

At 6:35 AM, Blogger R said...

None of my identities has fit yet either, but those girls really left behind a fabulous wardrobe. I miss some of them sometimes.

At 8:57 AM, Blogger princess slea said...

I graduated college and got a job just to pay the bills while I waited for my "real" life to happen. I worked at that job for 8 years and then the opportunity fell into my lap. Without the previous years of experience I wouldn't have had the opportunity or knowledge to perform this freelance gig that allows me the flexibility of my current lifestyle.
Of course I had to make the decision to quit the job first and then the opportunity presented itself. I guess I could argue that if I'd quit the job sooner my "real" life could have started sooner. Damn, I talked myself in circles again.

I think it was Ben Stein who said "The first step to getting what you want out of life is this: decide what you want." (not such an easy thing to do it seems)

At 10:16 AM, Blogger J said...

I too have been envious of others that seemed to have that perfect convergence of passion and skill. I have yet to figure out where mine is. I am blessed in that I do enjoy my job and am good at what I do. I have begun to not define myself by my work, but by the other thngs in my life, relationships, actvities, studying new ideas. I like where I am and like you I am enjoying the ride. Thanks for the thoughts!

At 6:06 PM, Anonymous Ann said...

I think that finding that you love doing what you are doing every day is luck and a gift. If I knew how to do it I would tell you. What I will tell you is that even that isn't perfect. Times change, you change, the work atmosphere changes, the world changes and there may be less to love about what you do. What I know for sure is that doing what you love isn't the last word. You retire and there is still live to be lived and things to be done and maybe loving your work isn't enough to see you through the rest of your life, which does have to have content. It may be better to struggle all the way through and know the reality of that rather than finding an easy match with a profession. I leave the personal life wisdom for another day.


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