Is this the Sweet Song that Calls the Young Sailor?

I don't know how many people ever find themselves in the place where I am. I can't guess how many folks have this kind of miniature mid-life crisis but I'm starting to wonder what others have done or what they wish they had done.

It's a strange feeling to realize that you're truly excellent at what you do, that you're as good as any and better than most. It's both empowering and liberating whilst oppressive and gut wrenching. If nothing else it's odd. So few people ever get to be exceptional at anything that you feel almost guilty at the realization that you're at the top of your game.

This may sound like bragging. It's not. It's not because today I've made two realizations. The first: I'm one of those lucky people. I have great aptitude at what I do. I also have over a decade of experience in all incarnations of my field. Between these I've acquired the savvy to cut through all the bullshit of my industry, the discerning eye of a seasoned professional and the nearly precognizant decision making skills that separate the capable from the masterful. I could, if I wanted, make a very tidy living doing what I'm doing. I could earn respect, notoriety and enough money to retire early.

I've also realized that I hate what I do.

This is not what I ever saw myself doing. It started as a side job in high school and became a convenient means of supporting myself through college. I went and got a desk job for a few years only to find that the corporate lifestyle wasn't nearly as comfortable as I had anticipated. I found myself back here while I finished school. More than two years since I graduated and here I am, promoted several times over, making more than I've ever made, successful by any stretch of the imagination and loathing every moment.

It's not the long hours, though I top fifteen hour days several times each week. It's not the clients, though a thinner skinned person would have taken a pistol to many of these sods long ago. It's not the late nights, though I can't remember the last time I was home before midnight. It's not that my income is irregular, though I dare not try to buy a house. It's that this is simply not what I want to do with my life and it never was. It was just a job that grew into a career because it was beneath my notice and because I didn't pay attention to how much a part of my life it had become.

And still I can't walk away. It's become too much of me, these twelve years at this line of work. Twelve years in an industry where many people don't last two weeks. If I were in the Army I'd be a senior NCO by now, more than halfway to retirement. Though, if I had stayed corporate I probably would have been downsized or outsourced several times over. All that effort, all that experience, all those memories alot to walk away from. A steady source of income and a field where success it guaranteed is even harder to abandon.

A more conservative person would say that I should stay where I am, concentrate on what I know and be glad that I will never have to worry about how to pay my bills. A more carefree person would say that life is nothing without happiness and that I should say to hell with all of it and pursue my dreams come fortune or failure. I'm somewhere in between, wrestling with the devil I know and the devils that want me elsewhere.

I've more on this meditation, more on this gripe but it's late and I've got to be at work first thing.


Jeffrey said...

My wife and I talk often about how some people have that itch to go forth and explore, that wanderlust, and how some are quite happy to be scenery and never change.

You have always struck me as the latter, who has for whatever reason never anted up and embraced the life of the former. It bugs me more than it should, like seeing a greyhound in a crate.

Robert said...

Listen, Tom, everyone has problems.

Just look at Kermit for crying out loud.

Peony said...

Jeffrey must know a very different person to the Tom I know. The Tom I know is always seeking, always aiming at the future, always working (even crap jobs) to make that future possible. The Tom I know has dreams, big dreams. Sometimes he plods towards them, sometimes he runs, sometimes he detours and comes back, but he's always moving toward. That's why his favorite lyric remains "Someday I'll find it, the rainbow connection, the lovers, the dreamers, and me."