It’s funny, because lately I’ve been coming up with ideas for posts all of the time. Funny/ironic, mostly because I’ve written so little for so long. I have this great idea brewing and then I realize that I haven’t done laundry in six weeks. And I think, “I want to sit down and write, but if this laundry doesn’t get done tonight, I’ll be wearing a swimsuit to work tomorrow because I’m officially out of clean underwear.” (yes, I have about six weeks’ worth of underwear – crucial in times like these)
Truth be told, I’m not quite certain how I am going to link all of the thoughts I’ve been having lately about big things like Life and Work and Love and Happiness. Nonetheless, I know an obvious connection exists, even as I may struggle to pull them together here. So here goes.
For a while now, I’ve been sort of in the throes of “What the hell am I doing with myself?” In some ways, this is normal. And sometimes even good. But I’ll get to that in a minute. The other side of that has been some form of quarter-life crisis, right on time (In a moment of weakness/insanity last winter, I even checked out a lame self-helpy book from the library with a title pertaining to this point in life. It was, obviously, useless). This moment involves a fair amount of self doubt and a penchant for getting emotional when reading about the economy. I’m currently working three jobs and waiting, waiting for things to finally die down. Talking to friends who are in grad school and hating it, or who are recently married, have moved, and are job hunting without any success, my situation seems pretty OK. And I’m reminded that a year ago, I would have been so psyched to have even one job. Three isn’t ideal, no, but it’s three more than many people have. For a moment I feel guilty for hogging so many, until I realize that I sort of need all three, at least in their currently functioning forms, in order to pay rent and buy food and generally pretend to be a semi-adult.
Sometimes I have some doubts, as I’m running from one gig to the next, about whether this is worth it. Or when I get a paycheck for one job that seems almost laughable. Or when people ask me what it is I want to do, longterm. With my life. Whether I’m working toward that. And I have no real way to answer them.
I think I have a pretty good idea of one thing I’d like to do with my life. But once I get on that train, it’s next stop Career. And Adulthood. And those aren’t such bad things, not at all, but they don’t let you ever go back. I won’t be in this responsibility-lite moment forever, and I don’t want to be. But I try (I really try, even though I often fail) to remember that that is where I am now. And that it’s something to be taking advantage of. Besides, it’s not like I’m going to be able to do some of the coolest adult things for a long while, like buy a house. And perhaps referring to one of the most important moments of a life as “cool” means I’m not ready to be a full-blown adult anyway.
So then there’s the title I stuck to this jumble of thoughts, inspiration. In a lot of the reading I do, inspiration comes up over and over again. It’s thrown around design blogs like you wouldn’t believe, it’s often a question in interviews with musicians and artists and writers and sometimes even CEOs. The other side of the “What the hell am I doing with myself?” thing can only be called “figuring some things out.” I know I have learned a lot about myself in the past couple of years, things that I didn’t learn in college.
I’m dealing with failure and the truth is, I didn’t have a lot of experience with it before. I’ve used my free time to do some interesting reading, to try improving my photography.
And so I attended a workshop a week or two ago by Mary Virginia Swanson, a photography marketing expert. I don’t want to be a professional photographer, it’s mostly just a hobby, but I’ve made a little money with it and it would be fun to display my work somewhere at some point, whether in a public setting or in a publication or two. And so I listened to her talk with interest. She made a lot of excellent points, ideas I hadn’t thought about but that apply to websites, marketing, networking, and resumes/portfolios in general. But one thing that really stuck with me was when she said, “To help people get to know you, share your sources of inspiration…To create and communicate, educate yourself.”
Since that night, I’ve been thinking a lot about what inspires me. Whether I feel inspired, or when. It’s felt a little elusive for a while, and I waver between feeling envious of people who talk about inspiration all the time and annoyed, convinced that it’s a put-on, that it’s maybe a little pretentious and not quite real. Who feels so damn inspired all the time? Sometimes I barely have time for the basics – work, sleep, eat, shower – and feel too drained to educate myself about my passions, let alone sit down and share my thoughts with someone else. Don’t these people start to feel overwhelmed by dishes and messy rooms and six weeks’ of laundry piled up?
Probably. My cousin Megan, who authors a blog much more frequently updated and generally more pulled together than mine, sent along a link to me about personal posting. I often hesitate to write here about things going on in my life, especially when they are negative. Having been a semi-professional job hunter for quite some time, I think being a little guarded is smart. But in reading through the article, I came across this one on the same site, which sums up a lot of what I’ve been working toward lately. I found the concept pretty fascinating. Basically, there is a certain threshold one must reach, be able to provide shelter and food and a little bit of beer money, in order to be happy. Being in responsibility-lite mode, I am thankful I don’t have a mortgage, or car payments, or daycare costs. I have some student loans, but that’s about it. I don’t have health insurance, but that’s not by choice. (young people without health insurance=irresponsible? That’s a whole other post.)
But what really matters is your relationships – with your family, your friends, someone who cares about and appreciates you. Sometimes it’s hard to identify at the time, but spending time with the people I care about is often directly rooted to me feeling inspired. Perhaps it’s indirect. Something they say or do leads me thinking some new thought, or checking out a new singer or book or whatever. Or my brain finally flips into off mode for a while with them and, walking home, there’s room enough for some moment of real appreciation. Happiness. Inspiration.
Sometimes my room is messy (ok, almost always). And I’m not as good about keeping up on the dishes as I should be. Sometimes I reach into the back of the fridge and uncover leftovers turned science experiment, and I’m a little disgusted with myself. My shoddy housekeeping can’t be completely excused away.
But in the current situation, my free time is sparse. I find that I am really protective of it. So when I get off work and I have a choice between spending time with people I care about, who help to make me feel inspired and who help to make sense of all of these jobs (it’s how I’m here), and between cleaning out my car or tidying my room or doing laundry, I choose them as much as possible. A perfectly ordered house where I’m alone doesn’t inspire me. If I sleep one hour less because I got to spend that hour with people that matter, that time was better spent. In the end I feel more rejuvenated. All of this only functions to a point of course – I’m not a total degenerate – but working more isn’t going to make me happy. An impeccable, design mag-worthy apartment isn’t going to do it, either, as much as I may fantasize. The people I care about are what make it. And I choose them.
At least until I am out of clean underwear.