My Unfinished Story

I have a great life. I suppose that’s not the best thing to lead with when beginning a piece of writing. Of course I don’t mean to boast, but to establish my gratitude for what I have in life; a wonderful husband, a family that may not always understand me but loves me nonetheless, an impossibly adorable dog, a bevy of smart and fun friends, and much more. But there is something missing, and I feel it acutely. A career. A job. I’m 31 and haven’t found my place in society.

Having always enjoyed creative activities, I chose to major in theater in college. It seemed to combine all my interests at the time: writing, visual art, and drama. After college I pursued independent film, spending most of my 20s working “day” jobs and trying to get my own film project off the ground. I’ve worked a lot of different jobs. None of them were creative in any way. I didn’t come out of college with what I’ll call crossover skills, creative skills that can be applied to business, marketing, etc. I’m working on correcting that deficit now.

While living in Los Angeles, I got a job as receptionist at a physical therapy and Pilates studio. It was full time, the pay wasn’t great, but in a lot of ways it was a really cool place to work. I loved my coworkers. Many of them were dancers and close to my age. (Not to generalize too much, but I think dancers have a great energy and most of them are obsessed with their artform. I find it inspiring.) I began taking Pilates classes. I was in the best shape of my life, before and since. Which is why it was so puzzling to find myself going to sleep at eight-thirty or nine every night. I’d work a nine to five day and come home completely wiped out. It didn’t seem normal for a twenty-something to be exhausted by a typical 40 hour work week, a task millions of Americans do for their entire lives.

I talked to my doctor about it. She wondered if I was depressed. I felt myself to be well informed on the subject of depression, and not too proud to admit being depressed. But I didn’t feel sad. I didn’t feel listless or dull, or disinterested in life. I really liked my life. I wanted my energy back so I could take full advantage of my circumstances. I tried a B12 shot — no difference. I had a sleep test done. (Confession: I’m a snorer.) But my sleep was perfectly normal.

My husband and I decided to move back to North Carolina. I gave my notice at the studio, allowing some time to pack and get our affairs in order. Within a week of not working at that job, I was like a new person. I had energy again! Eight to nine hours of sleep at night was enough to sustain me! What can I deduce from that except that the job was the problem all along? My previous jobs had either been more active retail jobs, or temp jobs where I worked at a desk but only for a few weeks at a time. During my time at the studio I had done a lot of data entry, and I remember always feeling drained afterward. I had to bring extra snacks for doing data entry because I’d be famished otherwise. All of these things seemed to show that my brain wasn’t cut out for that kind of work. I don’t know how much credence to give the left brain vs. right brain theory, but it felt like I was a right brainer stuck in a left brain world.

After the studio job my husband and I ran our own company. I handled project management and administrative tasks. I wasn’t exactly great at it, but I worked from home and had the flexibility to create my own schedule and work on my own projects. Eventually though, my husband took a job outside of our company, and I was left without much work to do. Meanwhile, I was hitting a wall with my film project and feeling a lot of stress because of it. I decided to put aside my project and work a job, do my own projects just for fun, and figure out what to do with my life. It didn’t go so well.

I decided to talk to a therapist about the anxiety I was feeling in regards to my career and my life. It was a good decision. My therapist used a book, I’ve forgotten the title, to help me get to the heart of what I enjoyed, what I was good at. She helped me work on some negative thought patterns that created a lot of the anxiety, and yes, depression, that I was dealing with. The funny thing is that it took me all that time and effort to rediscover what was probably my first love.

Remember in first grade, there was that special paper with a few lines for writing a sentence in giant child-print, and a blank space above for crayon illustrations? Those were my favorite. At the end of first grade I remember asking my teacher if we’d get to keep writing stories in second grade. She assured me I had nothing to worry about. Later, when I was around 12 years old, I started writing my own books. I’d spend hours working on thick, messy manuscripts, written in pencil on notebook paper. Those things are probably still around somewhere, buried in a box in a closet or attic. I hope to God no one finds them and releases them to the public.

What it had taken me so long to figure out, was that I was only ever really interested in storytelling. I’d been caught up in the different mediums; theater, acting, scriptwriting. Some of those faded away but that old urge to create and consume stories was there all along.

Since that revelation I’ve narrowed my focus to film and video. I’ve discovered I love video editing. I like producing video and working on sets. However, my search for steady work has not been fruitful. Not yet at least. I spent a lot of time looking for any job that might have a small kernel of creativity somewhere in the job description. Something steady, not a teaching gig (I’m not a teacher, trust me — I tried). Nothing has panned out. I often second-guess myself. Maybe I should quit whining about creativity and just get a damn job, any job. Don’t I know how many people would love to be in my position? Why can’t I just be happy with what seems to make everyone else happy?

One day I ran into my neighbor in the grocery store parking lot. She’s a young grandmother, still of working age, full of life and vitality. She’s just finished an online degree and is also looking for work. In the course of conversation, I shared my difficulty with non-creative office jobs. I told her how it affects me physically. She was the first person I’ve met that really understood. She talked about how being stuck at a desk makes her sick to her stomach. She has a deep need to be active. And she shared with me that she doesn’t like to talk about it with most people because they assume she’s lazy. This is a woman who ran her own house-cleaning business for 12 years. She’s not afraid of manual labor. She earned a masters degree while caring for two grandkids and working. Laziness isn’t the problem, for her or for me. But why can’t we make it work?

It feels like a privilege to even have this kind of existential crisis. Humanity has spent thousands of years just trying to survive. What a novel predicament I find myself in. Though I hesitate to trivialize it. Growing up in a Christian household, I heard all of Jesus’ parables at one point or another. But one that always stood out to me was the “Parable of the talents.” I know, the title is a little on the nose, isn’t it? Strangely, the Biblical word “talent” refers to a unit of currency, but the English meaning of the word adds another layer of metaphor. In the parable, the master of the house goes away on a long trip, and leaves sums of money with each of his servants for safe keeping. One servant buries the money where no one can find it. The other servant invests his “talents” in a successful business venture and earns his master even more money. When the master comes home, the servant who did nothing with his sum is cast out, and the servant who increased the master’s wealth is praised.

I really want the opportunity to invest the talents I’ve been given. I will keep searching. I’ll try my best not to whine. I’ll keep my privilege in check. I’ll do what it takes to survive. And maybe by the end, I’ll have some stories to tell.