Lopsided Star Struck: A Thousand Different Ways to Live

Los Angeles is the epicenter of my type of childhood dream. Whenever I visit the City of Angeles — and I’ve spent a month living here previously at age 17 — I feel further and further removed from the amorphous dream that is LA, and not even sure if I ever really wanted any of this to begin with.

I write from a Reality TV editing studio nearby all the other TV studios where my long-time friend is an editor. I’m visiting her for the weekend and have the pleasure of doing my daily work from a desk in a room with two producers who are plotting out the storyline for an upcoming series (not one you’d know, and no, I won’t be able to give away the ending of this season’s Bachlorette, sorry.) It’s certainly not glamorous. But here are two very creative people who are spending their lives scripting reality. I’m not sure that could have ever been me – but I feel like I fit here — making up crazy plots for reality series — more than I do in technology — making up crazy value statements about products.

I’m no longer starstruck about celebrities or the trappings of Hollywood life, although I’m sure if I ran into someone major I’d probably flip nonetheless. But at the end of the day being an actor in Hollywood… or a director… or screenwriter… or costumer… or cinematographer… is just a job. If you’ve made it, if you’re one of the few who has claimed the attention of mainstream America, then you’re rewarded with a lot of money and a lifetime invasion of privacy. If you’re behind the scenes working in this industry, well, then unless you’re the creative head honcho you’re just doing a job that probably feels just as meaningless as any job in tech. Maybe it’s fun. Maybe it’s exciting. But mostly, after the novelty wears off, it’s just a job.

However, there are elements of this industry that I am drawn to. They also happen to be the same elements that terrify me. When it comes down to it, I love working on projects not programs. The problem with projects is that you can pour your heart and soul into one and there is no guarantee that the next one will come along. You could be out of a job for a while. You could, like my friend, stay at one company because they provide health insurance (albeit crappy hourly pay) for six years even though they treat you poorly (you work on projects but any day a project could be cut and your job could be gone without any warning.) If I had gone a creative route in my life I certainly wouldn’t have amassed over $250,000 in savings by 30. And I’m not sure I would have been happier.

But now, at 30, I’m taking a serious look at the rest of my life – or at least the next 20 years of it. In the story of my life so far everything starts to blur around the time I started working in technology. I stopped having time to perform in theatre (which at least as a hobby gave my life some sort of timeline — which show I performed in the summer of 2006 vs the one I directed in the fall, etc.) Without a project-based life time rushes onward and besides my bank account slowly growing I feel as if I have nothing to show for it. That’s truly a first-world problem, but it’s my life, and I don’t want to look back with regret for all the things I didn’t do because I was afraid.

My therapist often asks me if I didn’t have to worry about money what would I do? I don’t have an answer for that. It turns out that money really isn’t the concern. It’s not even a lack of confidence in my talent. It’s more a lack of confidence in my tenacity. My drive. My on and off again passions that ebb and flow on my bipolar trainwreck rollercoaster of a life. If I attach myself to someone else’s dream – someone else’s project – I can come alive with creative ideas. If the success of such a project were ever my own (and it meant more than a community theatre not selling out every performance) I’d hide my soul and lock it in a cage before taking the risk.

Is it failure I’m afraid of? No. I’m not afraid of failure on its own. I’ve failed many times in my life. Over and over again. I’m afraid of sabotaging myself. Of convincing myself that everyone else deserves to be successful at whatever it is I’ve decided I want to do more than me. Which doesn’t make any sense because no one deserves anything. Yet my neuroticism traps me in a place where I can’t move. I can’t breathe. I look at all that has become of my life and so much of it is absolutely wonderful and yet — what am I doing? What is it I want to be doing?

So — so — many dreams that seem quite unreachable – yet what has held me back all along is the fear of chasing after something I really love only then to realize that love was never real. I prefer passion to be this foreign notion which I pretend exists outside of the confines of my life vs something that I taste on a daily basis. I fear rotting on the high fructose corn syrup of creativity as business as opposed to pleasure, often only aroused in my daydreams.

The question then becomes what do I actually take pleasure in?

  • Helping others — everyone likes to say that they enjoy helping others, but not everyone really does. I grew up in a selfish household where everyone only thought about themselves, so I still have that ingrained in me. That said, I do like to listen to other’s stories and provide advice. But that stems from some horrible place of schadenfreude. By all intents and purposes I’m a horrible person – but not quite as horrible as people who are in denial about this aspect of their personalities.
  • Making others laugh — there is something magical about being able to say something so absurd that sits on the fine line between uncomfortable and unbelievable that it ignites a chuckle from those around me. This is genuinely the one thing in the world I love the most. I don’t have the type of humor where I can write jokes as most of my hilarity is on the fly. And it’s completely off color. For instance, I improved a song about how “we just want to be raped” which is about women who are dressing wearing short skirts and walking alone at night who are clearly asking for it. But the tone of the song was peppy, as I imagine right-wingers think of women who go out baring some skin. Not everyone would find this funny. Some people would be utterly offended. My friend thought it was hilarious. I say weird shit that’s usually, if you pay attention, a commentary of the state of the world. I have a dark sense of humor. Like, if I could do standup and/or have my own sitcom, that would be amazing. But I’m not really that funny. I’m funny in context of those who already understand my absurdity. I say some things at the office which the engineers crack up at. Nerds (non aspie nerds) seem to get my humor. The aspies don’t have a sense of humor. My boyfriend thinks I’m hilarious. I love making him laugh every single day. I love that he gets my crazy sense of humor. I love that every other sentence that comes out of our mouths would offend a bunch of people but we somehow find this funny. I probably should keep these musings behind closed doors however.
  • Building Great Products — I do really enjoy building great products with world-class design. I don’t exactly know how to yet, but I think I have a good intuitive sense of what makes for quality interaction design. I went into tech specifically because I wanted to build products. Instead I ended up in marketing… which is more like taking a product that may or may not be great and having to say really great things about it so everyone else thinks it’s great. But I love building things. I’m a maker. A creator. God knows I’m not a career marketer.
  • Experiencing Novelty — While I have a need for stability, I get bored quickly. I hunger for variety. I love to experience the new. I love going out of town for a weekend to a new city or neighborhood. Traveling the world is challenging as it throws me off balance but I enjoy seeing new destinations. I love to experience all of my senses. To taste, touch, smell, hear, see, and be absorbed in all of it.
  • Freedom to Own My Life — More than anything, I want to be able to own my time. When you work a job and have to be in an office 9-5, no matter how much or little you are paid, it’s being chained to a space day in and day out with weekends being your only opportunity to see the sun. Yes you can take a little lunch break or spend time after work at the gym or going out to meet friends, but your company owns you from the time you start working until you part ways. Then you’re out of a job and you own your time but have no income. I need some sort of a balance. This goes back to project-based work. If I have a project with a clear beginning and end I’m working on — even if it’s multiple months — I don’t feel trapped into too much structure. I wouldn’t mind working on set for 12 hours a day on a project… knowing it needs to be wrapped in a few months. That would excite me. However being in an office 8 hours a day drains me. I do like the stability, but ultimately no matter what company I’m working for such arrangements just suck the life out of me. They become my life.

Ok, so those are the five things I like the most. Maybe not in that order, but those are the top three. My life today isn’t about helping people. It isn’t about making people laugh. And it’s only third-cousin twice removed related to building great products. Novelty comes with trying to take time to travel and see the world, but it’s hard with a job that I know I’m always behind on… and feel like I should be working way more than I’m working now to get close to being anywhere near caught up. Freedom… same story… I theoretically can work from outside of the office, but our team is mostly an in-person team, so when I’m not there it seems weird. I also like to be around the same people over and over again so I wouldn’t want to work in a company that was all telecommuting. I think what I really need is to work in a creative industry where I’m part of a team that works night and day on a project but that’s in it together, everyone pouring their heart and souls into this for the short term, feeling like it’s the only thing that matters in the world. Of course it isn’t… but that’s what matters for a few months… and then it’s over, and you take a break, or you move on to the next project. What’s most important is that the brainstorming happens outside in the real world — at coffee shops — in the parks — out and being alive vs trapped inside a damn office.

Now I wonder if I ever become a mother if all of this will change. Certainly I’ll be passionate about helping my children. I don’t exactly feel that motherly gene in me when I spend time with other people’s kids… but that would change if they were my kids, right? And then, wouldn’t my number one priority be supporting my children? Wouldn’t then I be so consumed by providing for them as my family’s lead breadwinner that I forget all these other wants outside of an occasional sloppy night out on the town?

Life is so damn short and who knows how long mine will be. There’s plenty of life after 60 but the reality is the next 30 years are my sweet spot. They will define my life. Does it really matter if I get to 60 or 80 or 100 and after all is said and done I haven’t really made a dent on the world? Or the dent that I’ve made is raising happy, healthy children who can go on and leave their own dents in whatever way makes them happy? I don’t know. It’s hard to remove this deep desire to be something. To do something. Yet I’m not doing anything. I’m stuck. Creatively stuck. Scared. Tired. Knowing full well that no matter how hard I work at my current job I’ll never be good at it because the role isn’t right for my natural talents. I like to stretch myself, to learn new things, to force myself as a lopsided-star shape into a square hole, but after a while that just grates at you and you want to go back into your lopsided star holding pen with all the other lopsided stars.

That’s where I am today. It seems like this song just continues to play on, getting louder every year. Every time I find myself around creative people it turns up a notch and I can’t tune it out. But then it goes back to white noise for another chunk of time longer. That white noise of fire rumbling deep in my core, getting lost in adulthood, getting lost in the sweltering island of just another lifetime.

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  1. There’s something that can be said about timing in our lives. I think that for me in the beginning of my career I was more focused on income than anything else. I never really cared about my job… As a software engineer I wrote programs that crunched numbers and processed data. It was never a passion, but it allowed me to afforded to do the things in life that I wanted to do outside of work.

    After a few different jobs I started realizing that while money is nice, if I like my work environment more (mostly the people I work with) then my quality of life dramatically increases.

    But back to my point of timing, when I first started working my goal was to become more valuable to my jobs and make more money. But as I have gotten older and have a significant amount saved, I have realized that while money is still a driving factor, my quality of life matters more.

    Timing plays a role in everything, even relationships, if two people aren’t ready to unfold at the same time then it makes things that much harder.

    Perhaps the timing in your life is changing. You’re ready for something new and waiting for it. While I know people say that, “if you want something then you should go out and get it.” Sometimes we want change but don’t know exactly what until you stumble upon it. It’s like being single, you might have traits for a partner in mind but when someone finally shows up they have traits you didn’t expect that you clung to.

    The feeling of being stuck in a place that you’re not your best is tough, but it helps us keep our eyes open searching for what we really want. I think it’s fine not to know what you want, but at the same time you have to be ready when it comes.

    Your lopsided star might not fit in the holes that you’re finding right now, but instead of just looking for a hole that fits a lopsided star, you should look for a place in the sky. Perhaps that passion will be children, perhaps you’ll find a project that really inspires you. Whatever it is, it sounds like you’re ready for it.

  2. I find the concept of a second career (or third career) very comforting, because it acknowledges that life changes and our priorities and desires change, and we don’t need to have the perfect career for the rest of our lives right this moment.

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