Monday, September 8, 2008

Just a Question

This question just popped into my head, as I sit here at work (where I've been all morning), about to leave for classes (where I'll be all afternoon):

Is it better to risk your life as you know it, your security, and possibly your dignity in return for being truly happy? As in, say you've got a nice, secure job, you go out to an appropriate (but not overboard) degree, blah blah blah. And you're happy, or at least content. People say to follow your dreams, but sometimes it's not that easy, ya know? Or maybe you want to, but know you'll have to start at the very bottom, and you're already twenty so maybe that ship sailed a long time ago. I guess theoretically it's always best to reach for the stars, but I don't know how practical that is in the real world. I mean, have you achieved your dreams?



Linds said...

You're only 20! It is impossible... IMPOSSIBLE... that the ship has sailed already! And no, it's true I do not know your current circumstances. But it's way too early for you to succumb to that mind-set. Please don't!

LOLSAM said...

I had the same reaction as linds, but then i agreed with josh.

megisonyeauu said...

as someone who is 19, i often forget how young i really am. it is never too late to follow a passion and you still have plenty of time. go for it, you never know what can happen. i mean, i'm moving to nyc in 2 days to follow mine.

`nk said...

Actually, 20 is older than a lot of people think. Just as an example, a second language can only be fully acquired when you're nine or younger (don't quote me on that, but the age is supposed to be somewhere around there). In a world where children are maturing earlier than ever before, it's difficult to learn new things--i mean, really new things, especially those that require a skill--as an adult. Sure, you can attempt it when you're 40, but the chances of you succeeding the way you dreamed you would succeed are slim. Also, not that many people can afford to sacrifice security.

Your question also brings me to the concept of a college education. Part of the reason why we're worrying about these things at the ripe age of 20 is that college has turned into a career-making machine. We're only 20. How the fuck are we supposed to know what we wanna do with our lives? How are we supposed to decide on a career without having spent years in it? People spend decades in one industry only to find out that their true calling was in a completely different one. This is when we should be exploring, not deciding, but colleges, and even high schools, force us to decide.

But to get back to your question, i think it's best to do whatever one wants to do before it's too late. Thanks for posting this, as i, too, struggle with this issue. I think i'll find satisfaction only by being an artist, but i think i'm too socially conditioned for that by now, and that truly saddens me.

Jess and Josh said...

That's a good point. I can't help but feel like I am now AN ENGLISH MAJOR forever, when maybe that's not exactly what I want to do with my life. I used to think people our age who never went to college and instead "pursued their dreams" were crazy; I still see many benefits in college, but I now also see what those people were thinking.


Linds said...

I guess I am just offering advice as someone who has an MA in Lit and was supposed to go on ahead to the Phd track. Then I realized "hey I fucking hate this" and I decided not to get my Phd, spent a year being miserable because I gave up my dream and now didn't have one, and then finally got my act together and moved to NYC and make pretty decent money and am still developing things I would like to work on. I know what it is like to have it drilled into your head that you need to decide "RIGHT NOW" so I guess all I want to say is don't buy into and don't waste the year being miserable like I did :)

Sasha said...

Personally, yes. I think it's better to take a small risk, follow your dreams, you know the drill, as long as you really think it'll make you happy in the foreseeable future. I'm trying to do it right now, and I must say, I've been pretty darn happy lately -- or maybe just self-content. But then again, I'm only 20 and I'm also incredibly cynical, so who really knows.

vivianmcfate said...

I don't know how many dudes relate to The Bell Jar, but there's a scene in which the protagonist sits at the bottom of a fig-tree, each branch a different path she could take in life, and gets paralyzed by the wealth of choices, and all the figs rot and fall to the ground--I think it's such a fantastic image for a generation of privileged kids with a paralyzing amount of life choice. As though there is One Choice that will lead us to the Life We Were Meant For.

I'm 24, recent college grad, unemployed and stricken by the sense that my life is OVER, in part because I balked when I should have sprung up and grabbed onto something I loved, onto one of my dreams. Reaching for/believing in dreams is incredibly difficult, but when someone has the resources and talent to do so, like you, like a lot of people like you, the greater regret is in not falling on your ass. No one is really incredibly happy, but at least you can do something meaningful to you, keep an idea alive in your mind. Good luck--and the ship has totes not sailed. Oh, and the second you graduate no one cares what you majored in, basically, so just try to soak it all in.
-Wizened Old Lady

M said...

Sorry for the supremely long comment but this is a topic that is important to me, obviously, and something I wish I'd have heard or had a better understanding of when I was at the ripe old age that you describe yourself as being now. I felt compelled to share what is now true for me based on my experiences up to this point in life:

Yes pursuing your dreams is worth it, at least in this thirty something year old's opinion.

Had I had a well developed enough sense of awareness and the appropriate knowledge in my late teens/early twenties to recognize what my true dreams and passions were and how I could work them into a career and my daily life, I most certainly would have been much better off now--all other things being equal--for having started working toward those dreams back then.

While I'm older than you are, and am practically over the hill according to the "ALREADY 20 ship has sailed!" scale, I don't think even at my age--or ever really--is too late to pursue a dream. It's almost always easier when you're younger but that doesn't mean it's not possible when one has aged either.

It's never too late and never the wrong time to take a step in the right direction. I'd rather head there some time than not at all. And if I had a choice, of course I'd rather get there sooner rather than later--who wouldn't?

If you don't go for it now, you'll likely find yourself pining after the exact same goals in 10, 20, 30+ years.

Only by then, when you finally decide to go after your dreams--because you simply MUST--you'll be decades behind where you would have been had you just followed your goals from the start. You'll be where the 20 year olds who *are* pursuing the same dreams you have will be, basically where you could have been had you just followed your heart much earlier.

I think that if you're lucky enough to actually know what you want to do at an relatively young (though I suppose it doesn't seem so young to you, based on this post) age, you'll do well to take advantage of that clarity, and do all you can to make your dreams happen. So many others don't start off with that advantage of knowing where they really want to be and what they want to do in life.

Plus, it's almost always harder to start over later on than to do things right to begin with. Going after whatever it is you want now will likely be much harder if you wait.

Only you can determine whether following your dreams would be tantamount to engaging in foolish fantasy and ignoring essential practicalities or if pursuing your goals would amount to a difficult, scary, but ultimately fulfilling path that will lead you to exactly where you wish to be.

If you have trouble making a decision: try imagining what your life might look like 5, 10, 20, 30+ years from now if you *don't* go after what you want. Do you think you'll like what you see, do you think you'll be able to tolerate it, that you'll feel good about yourself?

Only you know if your dignity (though I'm not sure why following your dreams=risking your dignity; I see it as quite the opposite actually) and temporary security (since you can change paths again after some time if you find your chosen path isn't working out) is more valuable and essential to you than trying for your dreams. My guess is, though, that any dream worth pursuing will require some level of sacrifice and risk. Often the sacrifice required just serves as a test of whether or not we actually want something badly enough to be willing to deal with the hardships required to get it.

Reaching my dreams is one of my top priorities. The older I get, the more obstacles stand in the way that were not an issue in my youth. Nonetheless I'm no less determined. I figure if I wasn't meant to pursue my dreams, they wouldn't have existed in me in the fist place.

I'm not really sure what you'll lose by going after a dream. Anything you lose will either be temporary, worth the tradeoff, or easily regained by simply switching back to whatever you were doing before beginning to pursue your dream. Not giving it a chance at all, however--that might involve much more and more significant loss than you might realize.

Have I achieved my dreams? Some yes (some of which I didn't even know I had until they were achieved), some partly, some no. Have I given up on any of them? Not even one. Not even at my position over a decade past the point at which you are thinking the ship might have already sailed on. (And decades from now--if I'm not where I want to be yet, though hopefully I will be--I don't expect it to be any different.)

Pedro said...

Hi Josh. Good question. You're getting some thoughtful responses.

I'm 34. A bit older than most respondents. I'm a writer who has lived eccentrically. By coincidence I've lucked into one hell of a book deal and am grinding away on my art now. (In case anyone cares, I'm not financially stable, deal or no deal; even very large book deals, 7-figure one-off deals don't bring stability in the long-term sense -- careers, savings, pensions, resumes, social security and real-estate investments do that -- and mine was not very large.) The deal might just as easily not have come along. I might even lose it yet. It was lucky.

I have risked the things you mention in following my dreams. I have a kind of interim success now. It might evaporate or lead nowhere. It has certainly not increased my happiness. If I thought all this time I was only going after the book, being published in some big way, I now can say I was wrong to have gone just for that. I was wrong. I have achieved one of my major dreams and I'm no happier for it.

I'm on the verge of giving you a long essay here. I'll cut it short. I actually have some other writing I should be doing. I'll just say that much of the question you ask boils down to your religious disposition. I mean this very seriously. The question of how to live is different for secular people than for those who consider themselves in a state of grace. If you have a successful religious practice, what you do beyond that -- in terms of career and so on -- is much less important than it is for the unsaved. Those of us who have no choice but to find or invent grace in the present life -- because we expect no salvation beyond this life and can conceive of none -- well, we aren't as willing to accept that something as petty as financial security and "dignity" (kudos to you for mentioning this; it's a much bigger issue than most people may think) in the gross social sense are valid organizing principles for our lives. I've spent a lot of time saying "no" to this or that because I did not want to trap myself the way most of my peers have trapped themselves. I never considered a good apartment, or a good marriage, or the opportunity to raise a child worth living for. Those are, to me, things anyone might accomplish. They're hard in a certain sense but also very easy, because it takes no courage to live as the masses live. It's gutless to grow up, "be an adult," go to work every day, etc. It really takes no balls to do that and I'm unimpressed by those whose proudest achievement is raising a family.

That said, saying "no" itself doesn't get you anywhere. It's a step but it is not the destination, and what I see in many, many, over-tattooed, hearing-impaired (because of too much rock n' roll), dissolute wastrels in their 30s and 40s who have neither careers nor stability nor art nor any more courage because they've burned it all up and are a little lonely, unwell and fearful and hungry too -- what I see in them is the dark end of the dangerous road. It is dangerous and merely setting off upon it guarantees nothing.

Nietzsche asks, "Freedom for _what_?" This is the guiding question.

Get free by all means but remember that for every no, you need a yes. You need to build your grace somehow. It might be through art or whatever but art really is not that important and people who go on and on about it tend to be boors. It might be -- and I hope for more and more people it could be -- service to others. (When in doubt, nursing school is the best option.) It might be nothing in particular, just deep breathing and strolling through a gorgeous city. But no is insufficient. Necessary, yes. Not sufficient.

About that dark road you'd do well to check out Portrait of the Arstist again, because that book looks pretty fiercely at the very thing you're asking about, and it takes the risks -- which are almost overwhelming -- seriously. Cranly says, p. 247: "Alone, quite alone. You have no fear of that. And you know what that word means? Not only to be separate from all others but to have not even one friend..."

For me, real dignity required exposure to the possibility of ultimate solitude. The fact that I am living in keeping with my own vision of human excellence gives me everything money, love, family, and a normal stable future never could. The book deal changed nothing and even made me nervous and still does. The goal was virtue, always has been, and the sense of being alive. I have that and have had it for some time.

Linds said...

I think a simple way to put is- your dream might change. And that's okay :)