At this time, 10 years ago, I had moved to a new part of the country, obtained an unpaid internship, and was living in a four-bedroom apartment with three other girls and their many friends who always seemed to be around. My tiny room, furnished with a crooked used futon and not much else, let in just a hint of light from it’s windows at the top of the back wall. The closet door, made of old wooden panels, did nothing to make the room appear any more spacious then it actually was.
I don’t have full recollection of the timeline of events that occurred that first year after I graduated college, but I’m pretty sure I had yet to meet my future husband, and I was at the lowest point in my life, just starting to pull myself out of a deep depression. My only victory was survival on my own, but the future was ominous and bleak. I was more alone than ever holed up in my tiny apartment, looking for a part-time job to supplement my income of $50 an article published for my internship, which would not cover my $450-a-month rent for the tiny room on a nice block in a nice neighborhood of a nice place I had never heard of in my life.
As my depression ebbs and flows, I try to remember the darkest times in my life, when I felt truly hopeless, and remind myself it’s no where near that bad. Today, I have an apartment, a fiancé who is my true rock, a car (didn’t have one of those 10 years ago either), I know my way around the majority of the Bay Area, I have a job that while very challenging is a testament to never giving up if only as a confounding reflex to uncertainty and failure. I have a few friends. I have a savings, which, 10 years ago, was about $5k, now it’s closer to $350k. I have so many things that should make me fulfilled yet at times I still fall back into sadness where it’s hard to catch my breath.
Ten years later, am I any better suited to withstand the basic trials and tribulations of life? I am facing such a great opportunity now and all I can think is – don’t fuck this up. Just do something. Just do anything. I end up frozen time and again, pulse racing, looking up at the ceiling or the wall, thinking about a thousand things I have to do and unable to make progress with any given one. I can’t fuck up this time. I know I said that last time. But this is it. Really. Sure, I can maybe find another job, but this is my chance to really show what I can do — pull out all the stops — make a dent — be a very clear part of the success of something vs just a little part of maintaining the status quo.
The only thing I can think of to resolve the scenario is to try to pretend to be someone else – anyone else. As myself, I can’t think, I can’t do, I just get caught up in the details without making progress. And that is a one-way ticket to nothing good. I have to move fast and show what I can do. I’m not sure what that is. I need a superhero identity, someone who is me but isn’t. Someone who can move mountains and save the world, albeit in a smaller, less philanthropic sense of, well, just acquiring new customers.
Ten years ago I had no idea I’d be where I am today. I didn’t even know about this career or that I’d be any good at it. When I went to school I didn’t understand why anyone would major in business. I had no concept of the professional world outside of it being this amorphous place where my father worked because he was a math guy and therefore he did math-like things which never really seemed like business to begin with. I understood the arts, though not how to make money in them, but at least art made sense to me. I just had absolutely no idea what life would hold in the next 10 years.
Now, as I look on to 10 more years of my life… from 32 to 42… I know they will be equally as surprising in hindsight. If I have children, there’s no way to predict how they will change who I am as a person, or my world view, or my ongoing inner monologue of non life-threatening suicidal thoughts. When I have children, I imagine, their world will become my world, and I’ll focus on providing for them, nurturing them, and trying to ensure their mental health is somewhat more sane than mine by offering them a loving, caring, and forgiving household that they won’t appreciate until they’re my age.
The future with kids is such a different story than one without. With children, I want to make good money and provide for them. The fact that I was able to secure my current salary gives me hope that I can offer a good life for my family, even if my future husband will earn significantly less. I can make the life I want for myself and my family on my own, if I have to. In five years, if I can do a good job, I should be able to take home $250,000 a year – which in this area is not a lot as a solo income supporting a family, but if we together can earn $350k a year, that should be plenty to have a stable middle class life, even in such an expensive part of the world. We can even maybe one day afford a small house, which I think would be the biggest of all life accomplishments, though terrifying in that I’d know I’d be handcuffed to working similar jobs full-time for the remainder of my life’s best years.
If children were not in the picture at all, I’m not sure what I’d do. I still feel like $500k in savings/stocks is a good goal to have for some sense of stability in life. At $500k, without kids, I’d be more likely to save a little more then return to school for something I’m passionate about — perhaps photography, art, or even film. I would care less about earning a lot of income, and more about breaking even while allowing my savings to compound for many years to come.
But then, I wonder if being a slave to the career I’ve managed to paint for myself is less about income and more about this massive fear to not be a “something.” The center of my ego is a woman who has managed to, on paper, look impressive. The cherry on top of that ego is, today, to have clear, quantifiable success metrics and a number of colleagues who can genuinely say I helped a business succeed. I don’t think that would make me “happy,” but it would make me proud. I would feel accomplished. I don’t think I’ve done anything I’m substantially proud of in the last 10 years since I graduated college, other than maybe a few shows I directed that managed to go on and be seen by actual audiences. I don’t feel anything over obtaining better job titles or increases in salary, thought that’s helpful for many other reasons. I haven’t felt proud in a long time. Maybe that’s ok and just part of being an adult – there’s no use in pride for ones own victories when you have children to feed and clothe. It’s being an adult without children when meaning somehow ceases to exist.