Like many hard working (and sometimes not so hardworking) students, I long for the day when all the debt, time, and blood sweat and tears culminate in a big fat paycheck that hopefully doesn’t entail being totally miserable during working hours.
Sometimes I think that everything in my life can’t come together until I get that external validation that everything I’ve suffered through has been worth it, my predictions were right, and life is both fair and meaningful again.
I don’t think this is a healthy way of thinking.
I also think about sending parts of that big fat paycheck home, telling my mom to go get her nails done and treating my dad to a steak dinner. I think about buying new clothes not off the sale rack, not feeling guilty when I eat Chipotle when I could be cooking instead, maybe saving a little bit towards travel, and just feeling like I’ve “made it,” as an adult.
Sometimes I think about being settled- being able to predict the next, say two years of my life. Having a clear backdrop of location and economic security to play out the drama of finding a mate, making friends, and hopefully being a person besides my job.
I dream of the day I get to tell all the haters, “I told you so.”
I dream of telling myself, “You made all the right choices. You got what you wanted, and it made you happy. You are a worthwhile person, you have achieved your goals, and if the benjamins could talk, they would tell you so. You can pay back some of the money you used to go to school with- isn’t that progress?”
I don’t want to live for that day anymore, much as I want it to come. I wish I could say I found my course of study intrinsically meaningful, and there are some moments when I do, but I think that “the journey” is what I’ve learned from it. As in, the friends I’ve made, falling in love a little bit in Paris, realizing that practicality is only practical if “reality” cooperates with “realism,” and, you know, writing poetry again. Figuring out a little bit what’s meaningful because I’m painfully aware of things that don’t have meaning.
Feeling the fear that the big fat paycheck (or even just aggressively medium adequate to cover my expenses paycheck) will never come showed me I was a prisoner to it. I can’t live my life for results.
I can’t live my life for results.
I can’t control the results.
I can control “effort,” but if you aren’t putting the effort into something you care for, that’s not going to be very satisfying. I worked hard on something I could care less about is not a very sane statement and probably not a way of life that can last for long when trying to live authentically, bravely, and genuinely.
I have learned to be brave, and admit the truths about myself I just didn’t want to know. Because they ate me up, and despite all the efforts to feed all my hungry ghosts, the truth swallowed me whole.
In the belly of the whale, I don’t know when or where or how I will be spit out. I don’t even know that I will sometimes.
I don’t know when the light will come on again. Or when I’ll really, finally get out of this. I know when this program ends, but I don’t know when or where or how the big fat paycheck that’s supposed to justify all my efforts and reward them is going to come.
In fact, I don’t think any amount of money, unless it was sufficient to give me freedom from all financial worry for the rest of my life and to all the people I care about, would justify about 17 year’s worth of hard work, missed parties, Saturdays spent doing debate team instead of hanging out, money not yet earned being paid to people who are supposed to educate but really just aggrandize their own reputation (sometimes).
How can I live in an unfair world, in slavery to a lot of structural forces beyond myself (not limited to the weak economy and emphasis on higher education and credential inflation) without going crazy? And what’s more important, how do I get through the day not knowing if the big fat paycheck will ever come, despite my good and bad reasons for desiring it so much? Also, the big fat paycheck also has to come in the locale of my choice, doing something not morally distasteful, and can’t include too much petty politics. I know I’m asking for “a lot,” here, but I feel like most people are not asking for enough, just let all this stuff go by.
There’s a part of me that’s on earth, and sometimes miserable, sometimes happy. But I hope to find the other part that’s forever free, already in heaven, and use it to lift the whole of me there, already in eternity, already savoring my reward.
Reward for what? Existing, being honest, whole, genuine, authentic, wanting to give this earth something. Believing there’s something more than the big fat paycheck, the hunk on the cover of the romance novel, angelic real-live Cabbage Patch dolls, and some award for service to an imagined community. Something more than a “commitment to excellence,” without a clear definition of excellence beyond impressing other people.
So here’s hoping that yoga, French class, random nerdy books I read on the subway, and a belief of something more celestial than the earthly Paradise of the big fat paycheck can get me through this. That they are, in reality, the reward I have for my toils. Not necessarily that I have put in x hours of study time so I get to go to yoga and thus condition myself like a dog, or that yoga is an escape, the little respite I give in order to pick up my burden tomorrow. No, I think the reward is the freedom I have to acknowledge my circumstances, look beyond the fact that I feel trapped and hopeless, affirm my commitment or lack thereof, and believe anyway.
Believe that it will all work out, even if it doesn’t look like I thought it would.
I am happy, sometimes, just not where I thought I would be. Just because I found happiness in a different place than where I looked for it, and in the present, rather than a fantastical daydream of a future I once believed in like a pagan idol. The outlets I have found are not Wilson, the fancied friend of Castaway, they are the wings I’m following to something beyond this seemingly inescapable island.
Because I will escape, because I want to. And when I leave, it won’t be to flee, it will be using the wings I found here on the ground, stuck in the mud, to fly.