Deluded

My ability to delude myself is nearly all-powerful.

I’m one of those writers who maintains a ‘day-job’ – a second career that not only keeps the money flowing in, but that also gives me intellectual engagement separate from my art. The obvious struggle in this type of an arrangement is to maintain balance, to keep both the artistic and non-artistic plates spinning with equal and purposeful velocity.

Lately, though, over the past couple of months, the balance of both plates has been thrown into a warbling, off-kilter orbit because I’ve decided to change that ‘day-job’ after twelve years.

I love the company that I’m leaving. The people, the mission, the day-to-day challenges. It’s rare amidst our current American economic landscape that I’ve worked for the same company for over a decade. The company brought me up, taught me much, and has had—until a couple years ago—my unwavering loyalty.

What happened two years ago? Reality collapsed my delusion bubble.

The danger in being a storyteller is that the stories I tell myself about myself are often the most intoxicating, and over the years, I had constructed a grand narrative about how important I was to this business, how my role was destined to expand, and how I had both more potential opportunity as well as more financial gain coming my way.

This narrative blinded me to the evidence that my position at the company was actually fixed, that my pay was not going to ever appreciably increase, that what I do day in and out isn’t at the forefront of the company executives’ thoughts - it isn't even at the forefront of my supervisor’s thoughts. I kept telling myself that if I completed this task or that project, I might break through. I kept doing this over and over. 

I kept doing this until, finally, just a couple months ago when I was presented once more with evidence that nothing was going to change.

Reality wasn’t allowing me to delude myself any longer.

And what did I do when reality couldn’t be denied any longer? I got pissed. Royally, epically pissed off.

This will surprise no one, but anger is an emotion I have in ample supply. Anger has been both foe and ally my entire life. Most times, my anger is an offshoot reaction to fear – my go-to emotion. I’ve had to work hard to understand and manage my anger, to recognize that often when I’m angry, I’m usually afraid.

But there are times when anger is an indication that something is wrong, that I’m not paying proper attention to a part of my life that needs attending to. When it’s functioning the way that anger should, my anger can be relied upon to cut through the delusions—the bullshit—and deal with the reality before me.

In this case, anger led to swift and immediate action. Anger pushed me to cast-off the fear and the laziness and, yes, comfort, to finally act on an opportunity that had (thankfully) presented itself. Once the delusion burned away, and I was left with the reality—of what is instead of what I wish it to be—the path to action was clear. And obvious.

I know I’ll delude myself again. That’s what I do. But I hope that I’ve learned from this painful process that had I allowed reality to speak more loudly than my delusions, everyone would have benefitted. I would have caused less damage to both my work relationships and to my own sense of self-worth.

That’s the problem with delusions – they can distract you from reality, from the truth of a situation, but reality makes itself heard, eventually.

When the Wolves Feed On Us

One more reason you should be listening to the One You Feed podcast is this interview with Jonathan Fields. It’s so full of insight and wisdom, I couldn’t zero in on one idea to focus upon for this blog post.

As so often happens in my life (I’m guessing in yours as well) there is synchronicity between ideas and circumstance – a cacophonous soundtrack of disparate harmonies and counter-rhythms that at first listen are in conflicting keys and time-signatures but will suddenly tune in on the one and resonate deep within us.

For me this week, I’ve been contemplating the more mundane aspects of my day job, of how to integrate the pursuit of money, of how to manage the responsibilities of caring for my family, and of how these essential but problematic components fit in with my art and with my efforts of living a mindful existence. You know, the stuff that we’re all constantly dealing with but that doesn’t warrant a blog post.

And as is typical I didn’t find a ready solution.

But I did notice a shift in my perspective of these weighty issues, issues that given my default I usually take on with a sense of deprivation and fear. I can be as contemporary a male as the next dude, but within my current circumstances, I need to be able to provide my family with a home, medical care, clothes, food. This is my role right now, and I can’t escape that dreadful, gut-punch sensation that I could be doing it better.

Yes, I’m fortunate to have a job. I’m fortunate to at least be close to covering the basic needs of my family, but I struggle with whether this is enough. I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts my very 90s concept that we creatives could work decent day-jobs and still make room for the art, the true passions. The problem (besides the fact that there are fewer and fewer decent day-jobs available) with this approach is that it keeps our creative selves separate from our work selves, it divides parts that are unhealthy to divide. Few of us get to work dream jobs – how many of us even know of occupations that precisely fit our unique brands of crazy? – but I’ve come to believe and to practice that if I let it, my job can be fulfilling if I bring myself to it mindfully.

Mindfulness didn’t work for me this week.

This is the struggle as it’s really happening, I suppose. I can’t breathe away the needs and expectations. I can’t sit with the discontent and the anger. I’m stuck. But the grace here—the growth here—is that I’m conscious of it. Instead of just reacting, I do have a sense of remove that is helping me to recognize, if nothing else, I’m getting caught up in my thoughts and not letting go of the ego investment.

Today, right now, there is at least awareness.

Work It

As a proud member of Generation X (remember us?), I favor gross generalizations and half-baked analysis of the world as I see it. What can I say, I grew up with lessons like 'Free to Be...You and Me.' This is why Generation X is the true Greatest Generation. Nothing can touch the awesomeness of the life-lessons given to us via our pop-culture. Nothing. 

Based on my own experiences and those of my friends, I have, of late, been considering work - be it a job, a career, a passion. Seems like a lot of us are reaching a collective crossroads about what work means to us. Our difficulties are circumstantial - we are aging through jobs that are more frequently being given to employees younger than us. Our difficulties are lifestyle-based - raised by Baby Boomers who wanted to instill in us something resembling idealism our parents stressed the importance of lifestyle over career, and we made our choices accordingly. And our difficulties are economic - we are getting paid less to do more for a society that could, largely, give a shit. 

No need to pay us a living wage, no need to provide us health benefits, no need to provide for our retirements. It will all work itself out. Just do your job.

There are many directions one could point the Mighty Finger of Accusation, but blaming is ultimately fruitless, so I'll skip that option. 

Instead, I've been trying to reconnect to the interests and passions and choices that brought me to this point in my life. I've been trying to do this without judgment (why the f*** did I major in English?!), and I've been trying to assess my options in a realistic (it is what it is) fashion. Trying. Not necessarily succeeding, but trying.

Wanting to be a writer (which I'll always define as living as an ex-pat living in Europe while drinking and fornicating and getting paid to publish) was always a given. I'll admit that my vision of being a writer has, uh, changed as age and reality have intervened, but at the core there has always been something about a person hunched before a typewriter (yeah, yeah) that made sense to me.

That image resonated because I could feel it. So, yea, writer.  

There are other dreams/occupations: superhero, rock drummer God, photographer for 'America's Next Top Model.' But by and large I strive to make this writing thing happen while I also maintain a job and do my best as husband and father and friend. 

But this job thing...you know I used to always say that I would focus on my passions (see above) and work would fund those passions. That model was clearly born in the late-80s and early 90s because the work-world, at least now in the US, doesn't do much to provide options that align well with artistic interests, family obligations, soul-searching, religious pilgrimages, travel, whatever.

For the many of us who are working jobs vs. those few of you who are working your dream careers, it's difficult just to keep ourselves competitive and relevant so that we can keep those interest-sustaining jobs. We may even be excelling at those jobs; we may even be putting more life-energy and self-sacrifice into those jobs than we ever thought we would just to make sure we have a regular paycheck and decent bennies and a craft beer fund. 

Somehow and some way the side-line job that was supposed to fund the other more important interests became the only thing. And then that only thing decided we were no longer worthy.  

And so forth and thusly we find ourselves at the crossroads.  

I don't have any answers for my own situation or the situations of my friends and colleagues. There probably aren't answers. I guess it's enough to acknowledge that many of us are here, together, trying to make the right choices for ourselves and for those who depend on us.  

We don't tread the crossroads alone, and despite all evidence to the contrary, I still believe we are free to be you and me.