15 June 2010

Down the Rabbit Hole We Go...

I’ve been procrastinating all day, and I realized after a little while that it was because I had something on my mind. Sometimes I get so in my head about who I am, where I’m supposed to be, and how I’m going to get there, that I can’t spare a thought for the work that’s right in front of me. I’ve been considering calling one of you all to hash it out, but then I realized that I needed to understand what it is exactly that I’m feeling first, so… that’s where I am now.

What’s been on my mind is my potential. I’m going to try my best to not sound like a whining brat, which I can tell just by my own passing thoughts will be a tight-rope walk. Hopefully you all will stick with me, and maybe you can help me sort it out.

So, I’m going to take a leap and assume that all of you and I can agree on the fact that I have potential… yes? In order to get the ball rolling on this, it really is necessary to relax my humility for just a moment. (Please excuse me.) I’m intelligent, well educated, healthy, financially independent by 23 years of age, and wholeheartedly supported by a family that also fits all of those aforementioned qualities. Besides struggling with severe self-esteem issues for the latter half of my teens, my life has been spared any major trauma that would hinder my growth, and I always seem to find a home with friends wherever I may go. In other words, I’m primed to “be successful at anything I choose to tackle,” as my father has told me time and time again.

With all of this “potential” flying in front of me, I can’t help but be stricken by one, nagging question: Do I even WANT to be this person that everyone is telling me I can be? I mention business, and all the sudden we’re talking about being a CEO. I mention medicine, and I’m a chief of surgery. I tell my mother I’d like to be a bartender for a while after college, and I’m “squandering my potential.” I was recently hired just upon the understanding that I have potential, and I find myself spending inordinate amounts of time worrying about if I’m meeting expectations, much to the detriment of actually doing and enjoying my job.

Now, a consideration must be made. As I’m sure all of you know, since every single one of you also happens to be brimming with it, potential comes with the pressure to measure up. Psychologists all over the world have been talking about the effect of building up children’s personal expectations – resulting in anxiety-stricken adolescents unable to cope with the idea of failure. What happens when the child that has been told they can do anything they set their mind to, finally figures out they can’t? Would it be better if we tempered our child’s expectations, or would we merely stunt their drive? Our generation is full of people on anti-anxiety medication, attempting to quiet the constant playback of the world telling them they have to live up to what they can be in the future, rather then celebrate what they are right now.

I often become melodramatic and wonder if all of my decisions have been because of this pressure, and it goes both ways. Did I stop my course to medical school because I wasn’t sure I’d be the great doctor I was told I could be? And on the other side of the coin, who would I be now if I had allowed myself to consider going to a small liberal arts school instead of only applying to schools in the Top 10 rankings? I tell myself that this isn’t the case, (I loved anthropology, and the fact that I feared medical school shouldn’t color that fact that I chose to pursue something I loved. I wouldn’t have found any better fit than an Ivy League school, because it was filled with people who challenged me to determine what made me special.) but often in my pursuit of self-understanding, I’m not so convinced. Hence, in this debate over what I truly want to be versus what I can be, the lines of clarity are often blurred by not knowing the role played by my fear of failure.

So, shoot to me now. I’m in the kind of job that my potential would approve of highly. Done correctly, I’m on a straight track to business school and upper management. Yet, on days like today I sit at my desk for an indefinite amount of time thinking about how I don’t feel at all satisfied by this fact. Instead, I visualize years of work ahead of me spent attempting to be the embodiment of all of my abilities. I move on to wonder if I’m really just lazy at my core, and no career will fulfill me because I’d rather be exploring, reading, dancing, or really doing anything that doesn’t involve working.  I shake the thought out of my head, deciding that I can’t be lazy if I’ve gotten as far in life as I have, and move on to the next train of thoughts. Could it just be that I haven’t found something I’m passionate about? How in the world do I go about figuring out what I’m passionate about now, when years of education and travel haven’t told me? What if what I want to be has nothing to do with the potential that everyone has seen in me?

It’s then that I start to picture living on an island somewhere, wearing a swimsuit 6 days out of 7, and taking people out for scuba diving trips. Or, I picture myself going back to school, finishing my pre-med credits, and becoming a doctor. (Then I freak out… because that would be a long and bumpy road.) I think about going to culinary school and becoming a food critic. I ponder the possibility of partnering with a baker and starting a cupcake shop. I think about becoming a teacher or a professor. Perhaps I could go back to France and teach ESL. I think of being a travel writer, and weaving my adventures into stories.

Then I stop. None of these things fit this idea of “me” that I’ve been attempting to be all my life. (Well, doctor does… but the general anxiety that ensues kind of makes that a moot point.) What would happen if I became a scuba guide? Would I be “squandering my potential?” Would the knowledge of what I could be take up permanent residency in the back of my mind, pestering me every day? Would I look back at one point and realize that I had just freaked out about the idea of having to work hard? Do I have complete tunnel vision when it comes to my understanding of success? (That one’s a yes… I know that for sure.)

Somewhere in that long string of questions I loop back around and convince myself that I’m actually on the right path. Business is what makes sense. And then there I am… right at the beginning again, wondering if I’m actually doing what I want to do with my life.

So, what do I do, my loves? Do I quit my bitching and realize that I’m living the high life? Do I relax about my job, and instead spend my worry-free time contemplating what I’d really like to do with my life? Do I start looking into culinary school? Perhaps I should just take a Saturday and not do anything for once. It’s highly likely that my mind is just on overload. Or maybe I need to completely rework my values, create a way of understanding that actually fits the life I might like to live. An enormous dose of “SNAP OUT OF IT,” is most certainly in order, but mainly… I think I need to be 23-years-old, and find a few ways to be stupid and carefree.


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