I’m obsessed with that song. Well, no. I’m obsessed with the start of it. I listen to the grainy recording from the folksy astronaut and I picture myself looking down, wind running through my legs. I picture my hair floating freely, softly, turning in the wind, as my soles become unstuck and my feet become untucked, my body becoming weightless and my mind doing the same. It’s him, it’s me, it’s us. We’re letting go. Saying goodbye to whatever it is that grounds us — the school, the family home, the clearly-defined career path — and launching ourselves into the complete unknown.
I lose track of time; I lose track of space. I’m alone, I’m not alone, the world is far and my fingers numb and breath hurried and head sor —
To create is to float free.
Whatever the way you choose to think about your life, it’s not uncommon to feel totally and utterly alone, isolated, with no sense of direction or purpose, and to feel as if every other person around you knows exactly what they’re doing. I know I did. I sped through school and went to the university I wanted to go to, in the city I wanted to live in. I burned through an unknown but underwhelming savings account and acquired — then extended — an overdraft, waited to see if I’d got the marks that I wanted, mostly got them, then stopped. I had no idea where to go next. I moved home and was largely without experience, without grounding, in a city I didn’t know, and with no clue as to what direction to move in first. I wanted to write, but I didn’t know where. My legs became unglued and my head became unstuck and I floated up and out of my world.
Look, you know — I’m not you. I can’t know exactly what you need. All I know is what I needed, and hopefully that can be of some use to you. The anchor for my drift came not from straining to find the perfect role, but from working out what was important to me and deciding how I’d like to be defined. I stared into the abyss of uncertainty and found a reflection of myself in a better place. I decided to keep going, imagining myself in a few years time, and picked up experiences that allowed me to go where I needed to go.
Take a good look at yourself. If you’re honest — truly honest — you’ll know what you have to do. If you want to paint, direct, write, dance, sing, or whatever, you know what you need to do this evening. And it probably doesn’t rhyme with Betflix.
Ask yourself a series of questions: What gives you the most satisfaction? What’s stopping you from doing it?
What do you need to learn? Who do you need to meet? Where do you need to be?
But yeah. I understand. Being told to paint if you want to be a painter isn’t the most helpful, inspiring, or comforting piece of advice. So what — you finish your shift at 11pm and paint every night, take pictures of your work and tweet them, and hope that suddenly you make enough money to move out, pay your rent and council tax, and support people that need supporting?
No. The journey is hard. It’s long. But doing what you want to do is the first step. And I can’t stress enough how important it is to enjoy where you are now. That period of quiet reflection — of being able to look at your life with open, critical eyes — that’s the beauty of the drift.
From your vantage point you can see clearly for the first time, and the world seems smaller, tighter, more manageable.
Your problems may well be real and entrenched, but accepting the drift needn’t be the same as leaving them behind. It should, instead, be a simple re-frame of mind. You focus with the clarity of detachment, work out what is important, then set about coming back down to the ground, invigorated.
Work on little goals. Create when you can, settle into a working routine, try new styles, branch out. Meet as many people as possible — people a decade older than you, working in, say, the citrus industry — and get a sense of how they think about themselves. Don’t worry about ‘networking’. Just be interested in people that you meet in local groups, online groups, your own groups. Take any and all creative opportunities in front of you: design your pub’s christmas menu, edit your boss’ daughter’s essay, help your cousin direct his GCSE drama performance.
The truth is that all of this confusion, loss and stress that you have right now doesn’t really matter. The older I get, the more I realise that when you meet up with a group of friends, or family, or colleagues, everything you do and have done up to that point is kind of irrelevant. When you’re sat down around a table and eating dinner or having a drink, friends don’t care about how you spend your working life. They just care about whether you’re a good person to be around.
People who define themselves entirely by the work they do, or whose conversations revolve entirely around their work, tend to be a bit of a bore. At the heart of the drift is a search for meaning — and for me, at least, working out that my meaning needn’t be defined by what I do with my day was incredibly liberating. It took the pressure off and allowed me to explore what I wanted to do creatively.
So enjoy your drift. I could say ‘just fucking do something’, but that’s not the point. Live, create, meet new people. Above all, ask yourself who you want to be. Use that as your guiding light.
And remember — little steps.
Slowly, surely, shaky foundations are replaced by strong ones. As you lash your mind with answer after answer, and you become more clear about who you want to be, you allow yourself to focus, tighten, and sink to the ground.
Lemon Jelly’s astronaut is still going in the background:
“It really is dark out here. How’m I doin’?”
“You’re doin’ fine.”