I'm not terribly interested in climbing any corporate ladders. Right now, I'm in a perfect place. Almost too perfect. I'm finishing up more years of college than I'd care to admit, and I'm doing it in Italy in an internship where I run every aspect of a small library. It's great.
What's not great is balancing my passions out with my work. The American dream is that anyone can make it as anything in the land of freedom and opportunity. And when I consider that many other countries in the world are stricken with poverty, their citizens stuck in systems of life and labor they despise, I feel incredibly lucky that I've had the experiences I've had. The opportunities. But there's always been this idea that Americans can do more, can do it better. And there's an incredible pressure to succeed, especially in the digital age when "anyone can post a video to YouTube and become famous." Thus, if you're not succeeding, it's a problem with you, not a problem with the world.
This sends a lot of my generation into a worrying spiral. My closest friends are talented in a variety of ways. Through art, writing, music, acting, teaching, they put most of their energies into their creative outlets and hope for more in return. As Americans, many of us are told from day one that we're special, that we're great drawers (pictures on the fridge), great achievers (gold stars), etc. (I fear I'm getting a little bit into the waters where I'm complaining that leading a healthy life in America, where you're generally not shot or tortured based on your political, philosophical, or religious ideas, among other things, is quite hard. In that sense, no, it's not hard. We can live quiet, peaceful lives for the most part.)
For me, I got to learn in advance from older siblings and friends who paved the way for me. I knew high school band was fun but I knew I would not make a career as a French hornist (perish the thought; though I did believe I would keep playing horn after high school... and I don't). I didn't dare major in music in college. The first year of college I simply took the classes in whatever departments that looked the most interesting to me, which I highly advocate to any incoming college freshmen. I transferred my musical energies into guitar, almost always through a band, recorded some stuff (but never paid to do it), and played live shows (but never got paid to do it... with some rare exceptions). This was a fine compromise for me because if I sat down to write a song it usually took me about a week of writing bits of different songs to finish one. Then I'd always be embarassed about the lyrics or the mundane riffs. So I couldn't imagine having to write songs on a schedule. If I didn't like my songs, there was no need to fix the broken elements. I'd just write new ones, better ones. (And then those would get stale...)
I'd always fancied myself a writer too. My English teachers tended to put me on a pedestal that I found it hard to climb down from. I read voraciously. But I didn't naturally write stories. I didn't naturally think of others' points of views, just my own. The one short story we were forced to write in high school... mine was highly autobiographical and very stiff and I tend to cringe any time I think of it and I pray there are no extant copies anywhere. But I think there are because I think we had to make copies for everyone. Jeez. My writing energies in college were funneled into this very blog (which went through a number of changes in moods and layouts as the years progressed — it was originally called the generic "Modern College Life" — a grand title for the writing I would create that would perfectly capture the American college experience — and I added "[Post]" after I finished undergrad and before I started grad school... I suppose it's due for another title change after August...) and then into my work at my university's student newspaper. I got to write about music and events and films and it was generally fun.
Many years later now, I've found that my blogging and my hundreds of pieces on bands and films and college life and whatever else has given me an eye for narratives. I can sculpt scenes. I can bring out the highlights and leave some pieces lingering, just enough pieces lingering at the end so I wonder "What happens next?" I'd always wanted to write a novel, maybe just one novel, but a novel. Maybe not the Great American Novel, which I've found, like the American Dream, is a complete sham. I'd started and failed at NaNoWriMo three times. And then I found myself with this blessed year away from any environment I've ever known and with more time than I could figure out what to do with. I found I needed removal from what I was considering to be able to write effectively about it, and now that I'm here I've started a novel that I've been thinking about writing and it has momentum and I know where it's going and I just chip away a little bit each day at the huge block of marble until I find the elephant within. Hopefully it will be done some day and it won't be stiff and I won't cringe when I think of it.
Luckily, for me, writing and playing music is something I can do on my own in my own time. For other friends who feel the need to act or make films or spread their gospel through live and recorded music, they'll generally need other people to do that. I do wonder what it'll be like when I get back to America after a year and I have to find and put energies into a new, "real" job in a "real" career. I sort of loathe "professional development" and "networking" (both in the sense of connecting with people in the field only for business opportunities and also in the sense of I have no clear idea of how networks work and stuff; you know, computers), and now, mid-year-abroad, I can sort of lean back and do what I want for a few months before I have to start putting on my suit of armor and going out to fight the dragon. Hopefully I have a flame-retardant suit somewhere around here...
Which is to say that while I've luckily stuck a balance between work and passion now, where a good amount of my passion is in parts of my work (dealing with getting people to the information they need), much of my passion is invested in things that will have to grow and then I'll expect them to "go somewhere" and then that'll get messy unless they do go somewhere or unless I lose that attitude and keep doing them for myself and not for others. However, we only write and sing and paint and snap pictures and cook food and do whatever performance artists do to connect with others, so there's the central paradox right there.
So. Let me know if you have the solution to any of this.