I never really had a choice in a career path. From childhood I was told I needed to work somewhere that had benefits – savings and health insurance. Our lifestyle hinged on the fact that dad worked in corporate America and had them. So when he got terminally ill and left the workforce forever, the money didn’t stop – he had a pension, 401k, retirement health insurance. We had a house, went to private school, went on vacation.
This concept of ‘get a good job with benefits so when you get sick your family won’t be forced into poverty’ was ingrained in me since I was 8. It was reinforced every time something medically happened to my dad (which was all the time). My parents still emphasize it today.
Hypervigilance is defined as a state of increased alertness; you’re sensitive to your environment with an alertness to any hidden dangers. Its common among children who were witness to extreme emotional trauma. I grew up making my life decisions based on if it would provide me security when I got terminally ill. I had many hobbies and passions, but never put thought into exploring them as a profession.
The key to hypervigilance is that often the dangers aren’t real. Hypervigilance prevented me from being courageous. Only successful writers or painters had security. So many artists struggle and only few ‘make it’, so why would I be that someone who makes it? The statistics and fear that it wouldn’t lead me to success prevented me from entering the arena.
What’s missing from this assessment of a creative life is courage. The non-fiscal attributes are perhaps the most valuable. These writers and artists dedicate their time to pursuing things that interest them, that make them feel like they are being seen. That their time on this planet is theirs alone, and being spent in a meaningful way to them.
Fast forward to today, 10 years into my career. I’m not happy. I even went into the most exciting career possible – entertainment! I work at the #1 media company in the world! I feel pride in my accomplishments, but deep down I don’t care about what I’m doing. I dread the 9-5 routine – being indoors near no windows in my cubicle, in endless meetings, executives picking apart minutiae and constantly making things that don’t matter complicated. Staring at my watch waiting until its appropriate to leave. Living for the two weeks a year I take vacation. The dread I feel when I think about how many more years I have until retirement.
Live to work not work to live. I feel out of control of my life. Like it was decided for me before I knew there was a choice. I’m passively watching it go by from my cubicle.
And I was duped! I haven’t gotten terminally ill. I don’t even have the security that the personal sacrifices I made would afford me a good life if I did. I made these decisions and sacrifices, and they haven’t even panned out like I was told they would.
By this time, according to my parents’ lives, I should be able to afford a house, maybe have a couple kids in private school. But living in LA, a dual-income household can only afford a house in the boonies, and the thought of balancing kids in the mix seems miserable (I’m not even acknowledging private schooling because that’s laughable at this point).
How long do I wait for illness to come to me before I start living my life? Living a meaningful life takes courage. It takes overcoming risk and fear to make decisions that bring you joy. Spending your time on what interests you makes you more authentic, and allows you to be seen.
I don’t feel seen, and I don’t know what I even look like on the inside in an authentic way. I want to figure that out. All I do know is writing a little bit every day helps me peel back the layers.