It’s officially happened, people. I’ve reached my limit. My breaking point. Living without the structure and steady feedback – positive or negative – of a job has left me lost, confused and unsure of how I measure up in the world. If it weren’t such a miserable experience and happening to me – I’d say this is fascinating! But being your own guinea pig is not always fun.
It’s so odd, because I think of myself as being pretty self-directed. I can set goals and achieve them. But it’s a whole lot easier when there is a clear system I’m playing in. Like in soccer, actually. I loved playing in a “system.” When it came to pick-up or goofing around, I was never as good as when I was on the field, playing within a structured 4-4-2.
Well, dear structure, I MISS YOU! COME SAVE ME!
The sad reality of the twisted world in my head – the thought that I was trying to destroy during this “Spring of Sara” – is that without accomplishing anything, my life means nothing. Without a star on the board or crossing a task off a list, I have to convince myself that I mean something. I have to make that determination myself in a vacuum. And sure, every Yoga instructor and therapist will tell you that learning out to determine your own worth is the key to lifelong happiness. But waking up every morning and deciding that I have value – that I have a reason for being – is really fucking hard after a while.
When you have a job, just showing up in the morning is some sort of accomplishment. Good for you, Sara! You made it into the office by 9! You win! And how many mornings when I was working did I groan and complain as I headed, eyes half-shut, to the office? Plenty. Yet here I am, with nothing to wake up early for, and I feel insanely guilty sleeping past 7:15.
I wanted to take time off between jobs to pretend to be a writer for three months and see how it felt. To figure out if that is “what I’m meant to do” in this world. And, if it’s not, find out what is. Turns out “finding your passion” isn’t just some workshop you participate in. It’s not a book you read. It’s not a few long days in the mountains thinking really hard about it. You have to live your life and let your driving passion reveal itself to you, slowly and who-knows-when. Putting life on pause to figure it out has made it even more confusing. The harder I try to find it the more frustrated I get because I haven’t found it. And, frankly, the harder I try the less likely I probably am to find it.
Right now, I just want someone to tell me what to do. To send me an annoying bitchy email at 6:45 pm asking me to revise an entire proposal ASAP or asking for clarification on something I’ve already clarified a gazillion times. Or just ask me to schedule a stupid check-in meeting. Oh, Outlook how I miss you!
I’m realizing when it comes to “finding your passion,” there’s also the trick of finding one that still allows you to live a happy life. And on this point, right now I want to call bullshit on the incredibly frustrating and elusive aspiration that every life coach throws out there: do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. Bull. Shit. Do what you love and you might just lose the life you love – the full life that makes you happy. Don’t just do what you love. Do what makes you happy. A happy life is a passionate life!
If I were to become a full-time writer, the parts of my life that actually keep me from walking into oncoming traffic – the parts that matter – would suffer enormously. I’d get obsessive, dark, and reclusive. I’d get really heady. I’d think deeply all the time – which means I’d think about sad things. The kind of thoughts that make you feel completely insignificant as you come to realize just how big and impossible the world is.
Were any of the “great writers” happy? No. They were frustrated. Riddled with anxiety. Lost. They were pissed that they were burdened with the gift of writing — that they had to sacrifice their personal happiness for the greater good; to enlighten an ignorant public. It’s an incredibly egocentric mentality, but it’s true. The great writers thought they were saying what nobody else could say. And, truth be told, they probably were saying it in a way that nobody else could. But at what cost?
Of all possible careers, writing is apparently ranked 10th in terms of likelihood for depression. Delving into the scary recesses of the soul is not a journey for the faint of heart. Nor, it seems, for those who want to enjoy life. A depressed life is great literary material. But it can land you six feet under.
- Hunter S. Thompson – suicide.
- Anne Sexton – suicide.
- Virginia Woolf – suicide.
- Ernest Hemingway – suicide.
- Sylvia Plath – suicide.
- David Foster Wallace – suicide.
- Yukio Mishima – suicide.
- Primo Levi – suicide.
- Jack London – suicide.
I am keenly aware that depression/bi-polar/mania and creative prowess often go hand in hand. It is, well, In My Blood.
But don’t just take the Sedgwick word for it. According to an old NY Times article, “Exploring the Links Between Depression, Writers and Suicide,” writers tend to love sad threesomes with depression and suicide. Here are a few excerpts:
- Kay Jamison, a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University and the author of “Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament,” said writers were 10 to 20 times as likely as other people to suffer manic-depressive or depressive illnesses, which lead to suicide more often than any other mental disorders do.
- The novelist William Styron recounted his own battle with depression, told in his book “Darkness Visible,” and pointed to the warning signs of his illness in his novels. “I now realize that depression and thoughts of suicide have been an integral part of my creative personality throughout my life,” he said.
- It is not surprising that these mood disorders seem most at home in the artistic mind. “The cognitive style of manic-depression overlaps with the creative temperament,” Ms. Jamison said. Researchers have found that in a mildly manic state, subjects think more quickly, fluidly and originally. In a depressed state, subjects are self-critical and obsessive, an ideal frame of mind for revision and editing. “When we think of creative writers,” Ms. Jamison said, “we think of boldness, sensitivity, restlessness, discontent; this is the manic-depressive temperament.”
- Perhaps more than other artists, writers can be seduced by the attractiveness of suicide as a means of controlling their life story. Several speakers pointed out the tendency of suicide to become a powerful image or metaphor, one that takes root in the mind and flourishes. “Both Sylvia Plath and Sexton shared the notion that a great artist’s life must end in death,” Ms. Middlebrook said. “You stop before you write more bad stuff. Sexton applauded Hemingway’s suicide. She said ‘Good for him.'”
GOOD FOR HIM!?
At this moment, I choose happiness. Even if it’s meaningless. What makes me happy is getting shit done for other people. Whether it saves the world or just gives me an answer to “what did you do today?” – I have a similar feeling of satisfaction. The best I can say right now is that my passion is working with other people to achieve something – whether that’s my own dream or someone else’s. Being alone with my thoughts for too long is no bueno.
The inherent challenge, though, is deciding that’s enough – that happiness is the goal. And letting the chips fall where they may.
As always, there’s a great TED talk on this from psychologist Shawn Achor. Check it out. And have a happy day today.