I’m sorry for how all over the place this letter will be, but my brain is a scatter. I’m nearing 30 and I still haven’t gotten my shit together. I think the problem is I don’t know what I want to do with my life, but it also might just be that I give up whenever I try to actually do something. I went to music school because I dreamed of being a musician as a kid. My parents spent so much on me, had high hopes, but now, near 30, I have nothing to show for it. I dabbled in the industry after college, and impressed at the several jobs I had, but whenever the next steps arrived (real serious commitment to the job) I’d back out: quit, or just give up trying until they kind of fired me.
I eventually moved back to my hometown and back in with my parents. After a year or so, I started writing. I started to take it seriously — nothing music related, just short stories, fiction and non fiction. For a few months I even implemented a real regimen to my writing (3+ hours a day). Of course, like everything, I eventually gave up on that too. It led to some rewarding stuff. I read some short stories on a podcast, then for some large live audiences, got positive feedback from people I respected, my parents were proud of me and really liked my stories. I liked my stories.
I found a job in another town working with teens, something I wanted to try. I moved out of my parents house, and though it wasn’t a job I loved, wasn’t a place I wanted to live forever, it was so rewarding to have my own life, my own steady job/apartment. I fell in love with someone too. Had something real and adult going on. I felt like an adult. Then I was hit with some shocking news: my father was diagnosed with a shit cancer, given about 6 months to live. I am close with him, beyond close — he is my best friend. I decided to leave the job and move back to my hometown to be near him. Thankfully, he’s completely defying his odds. He’s alive and actually doing well. I’m honored and lucky to be near him during this time, but for the past year I’ve regressed gradually into a younger me, so scared of losing him I’ve abandoned much of myself to be there with him. Sometimes I think I even use his cancer as an excuse to regress, to give up on living my life, being an adult.
He encourages me to write, to pursue whatever I want, wants me to take care of myself, but also likes having me around, and I am glad I am. I feel less disciplined, less adult. I’ve cobbled together some jobs and make enough to live in an apartment with my girlfriend, but in regards to my career (whatever it might be), my adult-ness, I feel like I’ve taken 5 steps backwards.
For most of the past year I’ve avoided doing the things I know are good for me (exercising, writing, reading, taking care of myself physically and creatively), but I’ve recently taken another swing at it all. I’ve started running and writing, almost every day — not nearly as much I wish I was, but it’s something. I have this lurking suspicion, though, that as always, I will eventually give up.
I hate it, I hate myself when I do it. It cripples me and cripples the relationships I have with my girlfriend and parents. I want to be better. I want to stop giving up on me. I want to make something of my life. Maybe I need to put all of my energy into writing, maybe I need to take another shot at making music. I feel like I’m shooting in the dark, like I don’t really know what I want to do.
This is so all over the place, so not a clear question, but I’ve read your other letters and feel like you have such good insight. What should I do to ensure I don’t give up on me again? Any advice, as brutal as it might be, would be so appreciated.
All Over the Place
Wow. There is so much richness in your letter. At the risk of sounding overly simple, my advice to you is this: listen to yourself. Do you hear what you’re trying to tell you?
I guarantee there’s someone nodding along with your letter, recognizing that familiar uncertainty about what to capital-D Do with your life. But try and remember that for tens of thousands of years a human life was spent wandering around eating, fucking, feeding the products of the fucking, and dying. Don’t overthink it.
I’m only half kidding, AOtP. I know we’re in a post-industrial society and expectations have changed (a bit). We have all this time to figure out what to do, and pressure to make it meaningful. But for at least a few moments, try and loosen the grip you have on yourself. It’s hard to be your own compass when you’re suffocating.
The amazing thing about your letter is how much self-awareness you possess. The answers to your questions are present already, just difficult to hear under the noise from your self-diagnosed failure to live up to an imagined standard. Mute the criticism for a second and you may be able to hear the part of yourself that already knows what it is you want to do.
Let’s start with music school. Why did you decide to attend in the first place? In your words, All Over the Place, it was because you dreamed of being a musician as a kid.
This idea exists somewhere on an axis between “sweet” and “naive.”
One of my childhood dreams was to be a Baker. In my fantasy, Baker-Person wore a tall white hat, and she was always perfecting the final step of pastry production: squeezing frosting onto cupcake tops.
I thought I would spend days standing in a bright kitchen — perhaps painted buttercream yellow — wearing an apron with a constellation of flour speckled across the front, smiling about the whimsy in my life. Every now and then, fantasy-me would hold a whisk. Not to beat anything (I’m not confident that I knew what whisks were for), just to hold onto, grinning.
In other words, I had no concept of reality. For bakers, the job is mostly grunting, thankless physical labor. These people are awake before dawn, heaving flour sacks around a windowless kitchen, their fingers callused from grabbing too-hot pans. If they’re smiling, it’s when their shift is over.
You get where I’m going with this, right? Based on the gross miscalculation of what bakers actually do all day, it’s pretty clear that child-me should not be tasked with making career decisions for adult me. If I had followed her lead, I would surely end up miserable, callused, and covered in flour.
I suspect that to some extent, this might have happened to you, AOtP. How do I know? Again, your words. When you started achieving the goals your kid had set for you — excelling in music industry jobs — you quit. You poured your energy out and waited for somebody to become fed up.
If giving up was due to burnout or succumbing to pressure, I suspect you might miss playing music. Your letter might lament the loss of performing, or the creative fulfillment you’re craving, or the joy of collective effort that goes into a production. I don’t hear this. What I hear you bemoaning is not the absence of music, but the absence of the accolades you hoped to have by now. In other words, being nearly 30 and “having nothing to show” for the education your parents supported.
Are you listening to you?
And let’s talk about your father. I am so sorry to hear about this devastating turn. You have enough self-awareness to acknowledge that after the shock of his diagnosis, the kid in you took control of your life. It’s understandable. You have a rare and fortunate bond with him — he’s your best friend — and were suddenly bludgeoned by the reality of potentially losing him. It’s scary shit. Go easy on yourself. You were grieving when you found out, when you decided to move back home, when you abandoned yourself. Though thankfully your dad is doing well, the relationship you had with him before his diagnosis has ended. You needed time and space to grieve it. But wake up to the fact that part of you is clearly desperate to regain some semblance of an independent life.
There’s so much I trust in your telling, AOtP. You’re probably right that your prolonged grieving is straining both your romantic life and your relationship with your dad. Unless she’s a closet pedophile, I doubt your girlfriend wants to be romantically involved with a little kid. And truth be told, I bet your dad would rather hang out with the adult version of you as well. He’s already spent 18+ years with kid you. Isn’t it time to share your grown-up life with him while you can?
This doesn’t mean you don’t have a right to your sorrow. Cry and yell and write about how unfair this is, if it helps. It certainly doesn’t mean that you have to stop being afraid. I doubt that is within your control, unless you’re a robot. It just means you have to make an extra effort to periodically check in with yourself, making sure there are things in your life that nurture you.
Which brings me to…writing. Can you hear how much you love writing? Who gives a shit that you didn’t keep up with a three-hours-a-day routine? The only thing I consistently spend 3+ hours a day on is thinking about what I’m going to eat and then eating it.
Look at the doors writing has opened for you — reading stories on podcasts, performing at events, landing a job in another town! These are signs. But even more revealing than these signs (which are no more than outward affirmations of “success”) is what you decided to do with these opportunities. Instead of turning away from them, you continued opening door after door to see where they would lead. Are you listening to you?
Finally: can you hear how much it pisses you off when you notice yourself slipping back into child-you? How angry you are to find yourself snuggling up in the blanket of your parents’ support? I’ll quote directly from you here, AOtP: “I hate it. I hate myself when I do it. It cripples me.”
Write. Spend time with your father. Allow yourself room to breathe. And for the love of God, listen to yourself.