A dear friend of mine, and fellow blogger wrote an article about passion recently. He wasn’t talking about passion in the bedroom, but about passion for a job or career and for life in general. It really resonated with me for a number of reasons.
I am older than his 34 years; in fact, I just turned 40. Forty has always been sort of this age that was historically viewed as old. I can remember when my father turned 40, and my mom and their friends surprised him at the door when he came home from work donning grey wigs and carrying canes. My mother received an “Over the Hill” mug from someone when she turned forty. Black balloons seem to be a common “gift.”
They say 40 is the new 30, and I certainly don’t feel old, but while the age may not carry the same gravity as it once did, I wouldn’t say that the expectations are less, and it is there that I am struggling.
I knew EXACTLY what I wanted to be when I was five-years-old: an actress. More specifically, I wanted to be a “rich and famous movie star and adopt all of the world’s orphaned and starving children.” I wanted to be one of those celebrities who use their position to influence public opinion on important issues. After college, I headed to Los Angeles to pursue this dream. While I was there, I did some volunteer work once I was somewhat stable because my humanitarian dreams were still there. Long story short, I left. After five years, I hadn’t “made it” and I feared spending another ten years poor, doing things other than acting to pay the bills, and not doing anything to contribute meaningfully. (To be clear, I believe art absolutely contributes to society, but I was not doing that particularly, and I wanted to do more.)
I applied for jobs in non-profit, but no one was interested in a well meaning theatre major with loads of food service experience. So, I joined the Peace Corps. I spent two years in a fairly remote village doing community-based education programs to help reduce the spread of HIV. I loved my work and the country so much, I signed up for a third year. I was placed at a large international nongovernment organization (NGO) that worked in the area of reproductive health. I got to use my communication skills and background to implement theatre-based projects and to produce a television show. I LOVED it. I realized THIS is what I want to do! I want to use art and media to educate people on a particular issue.
Because I was still struggling to get a job, I went to grad school in London and then I got a job with another big international NGO, but this time I was in fundraising with a focus on events and communication. I loved it, but after two years, when my visa expired, decided it was time to move on.
I thought surely, I can get a job now. Nope.
So, I joined the Peace Corps again and got a Communications Specialist position for one year. I created communication strategy, liaised with the media, developed social media campaigns. While I was there, I started teaching yoga, and realized that I loved it and was good at it, so after the year of service ended, I decided to stay. I would teach yoga and I would also do consulting work to continue to build my resume. I even took a short-term paid position running a program for Peace Corps, which I enjoyed more than I thought I would.
For a variety of reason, I decided that as much as I loved what I was doing, I should leave. I wanted to go to India, and then I decided to come “home” for awhile. That is when everything started to unravel!
Like my younger friend, I have found myself relying on my family. I teach yoga to make some money, but it is not enough to support myself. I had a job offer from the Peace Corps, but then the federal hiring freeze happened, and since my contract had not been processed I was out of luck. I have a pending position as a Foreign Service Officer with the State Department, but drastic budget cuts may impact that. Because I and so many others, will not be given jobs with Peace Corps, USAID, State Department, National Endowment for the Arts, etc. and are left with uncertain futures, I would imagine the non-government world is being flooded with job seekers. At the same time, with government support tenuous, their budgets could be adversely effected. All this while their work is more important than ever.
People keep asking me what do I want to do? And the truth is I don’t know. I don’t mean to be wishy-washy and useless. I certainly have never wanted to be reliant on other people for a roof over my head. I have always been very independent, and while I haven’t ever made much money, I also had no one to worry about but me, so it was fine.
I thought I was doing the ‘big girl thing’ by considering jobs with the federal agencies, but due to factors outside of my control, those fell through. All I have ever wanted to do is work in non-profit, but hundreds of job applications have yielded nothing despite relevant experience and education.
The other day after teaching yoga, a woman in my class was thanking me and said, “It is clear you love what you do.” A few weeks ago, a client gave me a hug and said, “We are so blessed to have you.” Teaching yoga truly does make me happy, but it is nearly impossible to make a living simply teaching, and I wonder if it will make me happy long-term.
The majority of my peers have careers, spouses, kids, homes, dogs, etc. I have none of that, but I don’t need or want those things. All I really want is to be able to afford to live. I have the education and skills to do that, but seem to be unable to connect the dots to turn what I love into a career that is fulfilling emotionally and stable financially. There was a famous book titled something like “Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow.” So far, that seems to be eluding me.
When I was 22, I left the east coast, and set myself up in California. I moved with a friend, we had some friends who got us an apartment in their building, I found a job and I made it work. It wasn’t easy, I lost weight because food was expensive, but I managed. When I was 33, I moved to London for grad school. I had never been there, had no apartment and knew no one, however, I found an apartment, started school, found a job and once again, I made it work.
So this is uncharted territory. At 40, I have loads of employable skills, loads of experience, and advanced degree, no one but myself to worry about, but here I sit in the home of my amazing aunt and uncle looking for work, but feeling debilitated by not really knowing what it is I want to do.
I look at my friends who are actors and I wonder if I should have continued that pursuit. I look at my friends who got jobs right out of Peace Corps and wonder if I should have headed straight back to the US. I look at my friends who got the same grad degree as me and have jobs and wonder what they did differently. All around me there are people who are successful, and I don’t just mean financially. Some have wealth, others don’t, but support themselves doing something they enjoy. I have never been accused of being lazy, and I have always been resourceful, yet at the moment, I feel totally at a loss and in the middle of my own existential crisis!
I think it has something to do with being forty. Suddenly, being a nomad seems unacceptable. I look at English teaching jobs overseas and think: I’m too old for that. I worry about pensions and retirement. I read all these blogs about people making a living somehow traveling, and wish I could do that, but I don’t know how. I like the idea of a steady paycheck, but I balk at working “for the man.” (Particularly the man-child that is currently “in charge.”)
What I have realized is rather than feeling guilty about living with family, I need to embrace the opportunity to spend time with them; hey truly are happy to have me around. Rather than judge myself against my friends’ achievements, I need to remember that mine are my own; many of them have wished to have done the things I have. Rather than worry about my next job, I will throw myself into teaching yoga and enjoy the luxury of making a little money doing what I love. Rather than thinking about my retirement in another 30 years, I will continue to be fiscally responsible with the resources I have and plan as best I can. Rather than bemoan the decisions of the current administration, I will be active in my government and be a part of the process. And finally, rather than be anxious and stress out over an uncertain future, I will do what I can to be proactive and trust that what will be will be and it will be okay. I have faith in humanity, in the universe and in myself.
This crisis will pass, and I am fortunate enough to have a network of friends and family who will only let me fall but so far. I have so much more than so many and for that I am grateful, and will continue to do what I can to support those who I can even as I lean on others.We live in a society that seems to value independence above all else. I believe community and family should be cherished, perhaps now more than ever. Stronger together, right?