What am I?

What am I?
The question hit me hard as I sat down at my cubical today, like I have thousands of times before. I’ve been in a sort-of ‘funk’ lately about my job – my “career” – and basically where my life is going and what I want out of it. Could this be my mid-life crisis (hopefully quarter-life crisis)? I don’t care. But I feel like I’m at the point in my life where I’ve accomplished most things society has defined as necessary: college, marriage, fatherhood, career. I’ve occupied my free time with a few hobbies that I’m very interested in but I have yet to fully embrace one or the other. I’ve reached the point where I have enough experience to know how the world works and I’m still young enough to have the drive to pursue any crazy idea I can dream up. Now I just have to take the leap. Wait, let me take a step back. I need to pick which path, then take the leap. I’m ready to take the leap, I just need to choose the direction. That’s what I need to decide: direction. I believe that direction will determine who I am – or, who I will be.

I feel like I’m on cruise control right now. I get up, go to work, go home and do housework, play with the kids then put them to bed, then drink away my free time with trivial pursuits like video games and other pet projects. But that’s not what I want to say I did with my life thirty years from now. What will I say? I was just an ordinary working schmo who did what he did to lead a normal life? Many people define who they are by their career. But for me, my career right now is not my passion. Technically, I am an Electronics Service Engineer at a reputable company. In all honesty, it is a very respectable career that I am proud of. There are many folks out there whose dream it is (or was) to have such a career, but it’s not my dream and I’d rather not define myself as something I don’t believe in.
– Full disclosure: I am not complaining by any means. I am very grateful of my life and very proud of it. And I am fully aware that literally, a majority of the human population of the planet would do anything to have the opportunities I’ve had in my life, let alone completely swap lives. The amount of poverty and human suffering on this planet is so profound, but that’s a completely different subject. With that being said, I believe everyone should pursue their dreams to the fullest extent no matter their background or privilege.

I wish I would’ve had this crisis BEFORE I started college. That would have been the more appropriate time. I would have had the freedom to choose my desired path and change course if need be, without the fear of not being able to support my family in case things went wrong. Choosing my path now is just so much more daunting and frankly, scary. But hindsight’s 20/20 and it is, by definition, impossible to know life’s possibilities without having life experiences. No one can know what they want that early in life.

So what are some things that I want? I love reading, and I really like writing, I’m just not particularly good at writing. That could come with practice though, I guess. I love astronomy; heck, I built a full astronomical observatory in my backyard! But in all actuality, to have a career in astronomy I would have had to start preparing back in college or even high school. It just doesn’t seem plausible at this stage in my life. I like electronics and computers but I don’t love them enough to base my life on them. I’d love to be able to call myself a pilot. It has been a life-long dream of mine to acquire my pilot’s license and fly – which I still plan on doing. But it may be too late to pursue that path as a career since aviation is such a competitive field. I should’ve started a lot earlier. I tried being a musician and accomplished a lot of things I’m very proud of; writing original music, recording a few albums, playing major venues, being on the radio, and meeting other famous musicians was a wonderful life experience but to make a career out of it was simply not practical. Taking the entrepreneur route and building a full recording studio was extremely rewarding as well which taught many lessons but again, it did not make practical sense. I wish I could simply be a scientist, but in today’s highly specialized world, being a ‘scientist’ doesn’t really mean anything. Science is a set of tools and to be a scientist you need to apply those tools. It is what you apply those tools to which defines what kind of scientist you are. I’m interested in all things science; microscopy, spectroscopy, biology, geology, astronomy, physics, genetics, zoology, on and on and on… but I haven’t honed in on any one of them enough to make a life out of it.

My cousin recently got a position at the Ohio Historical Society and I was extremely jealous when I heard the news. I’ve always loved museums. Just the idea of a museum is intriguing to me; the raw fact that a museum is basically a knowledge depository coupled with tangible components – it just brings the history to life! The stories the artifacts have to tell, the emotion behind the photos and images that line the walls, the hard-earned data scientists have carefully weaned out of the noise and nurtured into a reconstructed idea of the past… it is so enlightening it makes me proud and humbled to be a part of The Universe. I’ve admired museums for so long that I started my own tiny natural history museum inside of my observatory. It basically amounts to a few fossils and things mounted for display on a few shelves – nothing major. But every time I look over at the beautifully symmetric dragonfly I mounted or the 350 million year old fossil I found in my backyard, it reminds me that I’m a part of something bigger than myself. History and knowledge really brings that idea to light. In an effort to marry history and knowledge together, I used my electronics and engineering experience and love for natural history to design and build my own version of a scientific planet rover then named it after a local Native American civilization which I researched at the Ohio Historical Society Museum. That was a great project…

A museum curator is something I could honestly say to myself that I’m proud to be. When asked what my job was at a party, I would love to tell someone that I was a museum curator. I’m unapologetically afraid that I would end up being ‘that guy’ who would not shut up about his job. To be honest, I would be proud to say that I am a part of a museum no matter what the title, it doesn’t necessarily have to be curator. Supporting the IT department would be extremely fulfilling and in fact, an argument could be made that position would be better suited and more mutually beneficial given my background.

I guess if I had to describe myself in two words, it would be: interestedly driven. I want to know. I have a passion for learning. I am infatuated with the world around me and I want to scream it from mountaintops. And when you’re in love, you want to tell the world. I want to learn everything other people have discovered, and make new discoveries of my own. Then, I want to tell everyone I know about the world around them because sadly, many people haven’t been exposed to the realities of our universe – or worse, have been told they’re not capable of understanding them. I believe everyone has the right to live freely and should be empowered with the knowledge they desire.

The fact is, I don’t *need* a new job. I am perfectly stable where I’m at now. I feel bad even writing this when so many people are out of work because of the economic slum we’ve recently endured. They are looking for jobs just to support their family. But to reiterate, I believe we all have a right to pursue our dreams regardless of our circumstance. My dream is to pursue a career that I can say I’m proud of and believe in. I just need to find the path leading there…

3 Comments Comment

  • Bee on 2014-08-22

    Okay, so I’ve been thinking about this a lot…your ‘quarter-life crisis’…and how it seems this sort of thing runs in our family. I always said Mom had the ‘if only syndrome’. I think deep down she was an unhappy person and always felt that her life would be better ‘if only I lived somewhere else’, ‘if only I had a job of my own’, ‘if only I had gone to college’, ‘if only we had more money’. You get the picture. I’m not saying you are depressed like Mom was. Actually I think you’re far from that. I think she had a lot of ideas but didn’t realize her potential and didn’t realize her feelings of unfulfillment were really what other people would call motivation to do more. Like you, she was interested in many, many things but didn’t have the confidence to follow through on any of them. So I think questioning our path in life is hereditary.

    So this is where your words are resonating with me. Since I turned 50 (yes, you have a ways to go before you’re there) I’ve been thinking more along the lines of ‘mid-life crisis’ or even more to the point, the down hill side of life and what am I going to do before I get to that end. I mean when I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, what will I be thinking, ’man! I wish I’d…’ or are am thinking, ‘I can go now, my life was good.’

    We, as humans, will always question things. That is what’s so awesome about being human! But the problem is we will always question our decisions too. And it’s not until sometimes years later we know whether the path we took was the right one for us or not. As we get older it’s harder to change our paths but sometimes it’s just as important to make the changes we think we need later in our lives after we have some experience and knowledge under our belts.

    I hope you find what it is you think you’re missing or the job you think would be your dream job. But you know how Hitchcock chose not to show the audience the actual stabbing in ‘Psycho’ but let us use our own imaginations to conjure up what was probably worse than reality? Maybe what we wish for is bigger in our imaginations than what is really out there.

  • Jeffrey on 2014-08-27

    -I first have to say thanks so much for taking the time to read and reply! I maintain the website mainly for my personal purposes and didn’t think anyone actually read it, so it’s nice to have a little dialog happening.

    And it was a great response! I especially liked your last paragraph. It’s almost, “the grass is always greener,” right? That’s definitely true, I agree. I think that stems a little from the fact that we have a skewed sense of reality. We are brought up – in America at least – with an idea of the world that lends itself to very easily letting us down. Kids watch reality TV shows where teenage girls get everything they want and simply consume and complain; no real work or inconvenience need apply. I wrote a little about this here as well: (see: http://jeffreysboldlygoingnowhere.com/journal/is-this-all-there-is/) There’s a sense of easy entitlement so the world sometimes lets us down – or at least isn’t as good as we’re lead to believe. I mean, think about it. Even nature shows on the National Geographic channel only show the most grandeur of landscapes; sweeping plains, majestic mountains, treacherous volcanoes… While these vistas do exist, they make up a very small percentage of the earth. The vast majority of the planet looks like our backyard. But our backyard gets very boring very quickly when compared to these special places. We get the sense from TV and magazines that these special places are everywhere so we get ‘let down’ when we realize that’s not the case. We have to remember to manage our expectations. We also have to realize that our backyard is a genuine piece of the planet, just like those other places, and can conceal just as many mysteries and wonder. Heck, you can see the stars from your backyard right? That’s an entire universe above your head, what more could you want? ; )

    For me personally, life turns out to be a lot less “magical” than I thought it would be though. Not only for the reasons I just described but also because we do get a little jaded as we get older. I mean, we all know objectively that pizza is the perfect food, but how good is it going to taste on the 46th consecutive day? Human minds have evolved to the point where it’s almost detrimental; we find something new that intrigues us, we consume it until it’s dry, then move on to the next thing. Our desire for knowledge and stimulation is insatiable. We pluck at the low-hanging fruit for a while but then we get bored with those pieces. But then we get pissed off when we have to climb a few branches to reach the undiscovered fruit because we have to put a little work into it. As we get older, things we have to work for tend to satisfy us more, which is a little bit of a catch-22 since getting older means getting tired. We can be jaded and lazy and that’s a dangerous combination. I think we’d be fine as long as we’re one or the other – or neither – but not both.

    Another reason life turns out to be less magical than we were brought up to believe is the fact that life really isn’t that magical! Take the example of “grown-ups.” There are no real grown-ups in the world. Think about it: when we were children, grown-ups were these all-knowing, perfect beings who were so wise, had everything figured out, trustworthy, someone you could always turn to for the right answer or to solve your problems… Turns out, they were just people like us! They were just figuring it out like we are. Everyone – doctors, airline pilots, politicians… all people just like us who are fumbling their way through life, making mistakes, stumbling across the right answer, not knowing the correct way – because there is no correct way! So no matter what, I guess we’re all doing the ‘right thing?’ Doesn’t seem very stable, very satisfying.

    Life seems to be more simple to me now than what I grew up imagining as well because, well… I have a really bad memory, ha! I forget a lot of the experiences I’ve had. But every once in a while I’ll remember something I did (or someone will remind me) and I say, “wow! I forgot I did that! That was cool…” So, I have to remind myself that I’ve experienced and accomplished a lot more in my life than I can remember. This way, I can sort-of convince myself that I’ve lived a more full life.

    The way I’ve been trying to reconcile these issues is by living by a few guidelines: (These are not my own rather, things invented by others I’ve found and co-opted.) The unexamined life is not worth living; we must reflect on ourselves and the impact we have on others to be happy. Don’t compare yourself to others. Instead compare yourself to yourself. That way you’ll have a common baseline. The Golden Rule… Honestly, all of this (and much more!) is summed up very nicely and much more eloquently than I ever could in Max Ehrmann‘s ‘Desiderata.’ It’s basically my bible, no kidding. If you have not read it, google it right now.

    I’m not religious at all. I don’t believe in a god or an afterlife. I believe we get one life, and that’s it. So, I don’t have the benefit of knowing I’ll get a second chance sometime. No reincarnation, no getting another shot the next go ’round. Things won’t necessarily ‘all be OK in the end.’ Not unless I make it OK. No eternal happiness. So for that, and other reasons, I always feel like I should be doing more, now. My problem is that I always feel like I’m running out of time. I can’t tell you the last time I sat down and watched an entire movie, seriously. I can’t simply because of guilt. I feel guilty that I’m just sitting there and not ‘doing something with my life.’ If I’m not checking things off my list, I feel like I’m wasting my time. Even with entertainment! I play video games for entertainment because I get a sense of accomplishment after beating one more level or getting the new high-score whereas with movies and TV shows, you just sit passively and let the world go by. I can justify my off-time since I get a feeling of achievement and completion.

    That’s no way to live though. We all need some down time. We all need to relax and take a moment to reflect and unwind. Instead, I should be thankful for what I have and what I’ve done. Heck, we should all be so lucky… at least we’re not dodging terrorist bullets or fighting off West Nile in a third-world country. We’re free in America and we live like pigs. There’s not much we can legitimately complain about. But if we’re consistent, we can apply the idea from earlier, ‘compare yourself to yourself, not to others,’ and in that case we have every right to want more. Right? You see… I’m pretty conflicted here. But I think the answer boils down to what it usually does and that’s balance. Moderation. We need to have both accomplishments and failure, activities and relaxation. I guess finding the balance – and convincing yourself that it’s the RIGHT balance – is the hard part. And this goes for any age (in my, 33-year old opinion)! I just need to slow down and live life now and know that I can’t do EVERYTHING I want, and be happy with what I have (easier said than done though right?)

    -Again, Thanks for reading and having this discussion with me! I didn’t really think anyone read my posts – just wrote them for myself. I use it like my ‘journal’ and sometimes write down things I feel at the time, but maybe not days, months, or years later. Right now for instance, I feel completely content with my life. But I’m sure that feeling will fluctuate again in the future. That being said, what I wrote is still relevant to a certain extent. Sorry to ramble…

    No matter how depressed or down I get, I always seem to eventually realize that life truly is magic – you just have to put a little work into it. Why not? You’re here now… what else are you going to do?

  • Bee on 2014-08-30

    I’m finding your thoughts very interesting but you’ll be sorry we started a dialog! I can be extremely wordy sometimes!!

    I did google ‘Desiderata’ and I’m pretty sure I’ve read that poem before but it’s been awhile. Those are great words to live by. However, I am finding it hard to agree with your idea that this is it for us, no god, no afterlife, no heaven. Maybe it’s the 18 years of going to church every Sunday with all that being drilled into my head that is why I can’t see your side. Not that it should matter but how do your parents feel about that, I wonder? I don’t know, I kinda like thinking there’s a safety net when it’s all said and done. I want to think I’ll see Mom and Dad again.

    How do you explain deja vu? I always felt like that was something I’d done in a previous life. Or meeting someone, and hitting it off, right off that bat…I feel like maybe we were friends 300 years ago or something. Right or wrong? I guess there is no right or wrong. At least we’ll never know until we’re dead.

    Balance. I have tried to balance my life for my entire life. I’ve always liked to be busy and that just makes it harder to spread myself out. I also have a hard time sitting and just watching TV, let alone watching an entire season of shows on Netflix, night after night like some people in my house! ;) And it’s increasingly harder as I’ve gotten older too. College, marriage, kids, business…they all require a huge chunk of me. Notice I didn’t list myself? The scales are never in balance in that regard, I feel. But I still try every day!

Leave a comment