I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up. I have absolutely no life plan. I did at one time, or at least I thought I did. Then life happened, as it turns out, it often does. The resulting spiral of self-doubt, panic and analysis paralysis has lasted almost half my life now. It’s time to figure it out, right? So why can’t I?
I am part of the generation no one can confidently label. I was born in the late seventies and raised by “older parents.” Read: They were born in 1936 and 1945. One Greatest Generation and one Boomer made for lots of very odd discussions about obligations, work ethic and self-reliance. Add in that mix tales of my grandfather, who made his way to this country speaking no English, yet managed to overcome every adversity and become Chair of a now defunct, but previously Big Name financial institution. My foundation was built on his greatness and my future is painted with his dreams. I never met him, but he is mythic in my family. Some days I wish I had met him and others I think I’m glad I escaped his judgment. Most days, I wish I had whatever it was that drove him.
That’s probably the wish of the tired and confused. A desire to harness whatever is hidden in my character, patiently waiting for the moment it is called into action, affording me a sudden burst of clarity and motivation. A latent beacon dimmed by fear and self-doubt begging to be given its full strength and finally point the way to success. Yeah, that.
The truth of it is that he had more to work for than I do. A man with nothing needs more, wants more and feels the loss of what he had so much more than I do. He left a country torn apart by war, losing family, friends and possessions. He had no papers, no written history and no one waiting here to guide him. He made his own way because he could see the alternative with stunning clarity. He was young, thank goodness, so he had the will most of us lose with age, and apparently, comfort.
I have so much. I certainly have more than I need. I am getting better at appreciating it, but the more I focus on why I should appreciate it, the more I realize how much of my success and self-worth is tied to what I have. If I stop amassing this great cache of stuff, how will I know I’m successful? This makes being grateful very stressful.
So what’s a middle-aged, middle income, married mother of one to do with her life?
Freak out, that’s what.
The shadow of my Grandfather is made ever longer by the words of my mother, the Boomer. “Never settle.” She meant them to encourage me to strive for more, be worth more, have more, know my own value, etc. They are a blessing and a curse for me and I have never been able to help her see it through my eyes.
When you first hear them, they are empowering and full of energy. “No! I will not settle! I will reach the heights of my capability and laugh at them as I climb ever higher!” That’s a great motivator to be sure, and it’s fantastic when you’re in high school and the boy you like dumps you because, “hello!, high school”, or you don’t get the best grade ever on an essay of exam. Surprise! But don’t worry, because you get another chance to prove yourself, so you pick yourself up, dust your shoulders off and keep doing everything you can do to keep moving forward.
But what happens when you can’t move forward and you realize how little control you actually have over your own situation? What happens when you get out of school, euphoric with your own sense of accomplishment, burning with whatever desire propels you into the workforce and life steps up and slaps you in the face? I haven’t met anyone yet who said that any amount of schooling prepared them for that kind of chaos. That’s the moment you drop the delusion that you were ever in control at all. You don’t always get to decide what path you take or if you’re even going to take a path at all.
This is where I find the poison in “never settle.” To me, those words carry so much pressure for success. They ring with negativity, as though the act of settling leaves you with less, you do less, you are less. It sets you up to believe you have an option and implies you have a choice. You either settle or you don’t. Choosing something isn’t a right. It’s a luxury. Choosing to settle is something for people afforded the luxury of choice between continuing and stopping. If they have nothing to lose or decide the gain isn’t important to them, they choose to stop.
So when life happened to me, not once, but several times in rapid succession, I had “never settle” beating me up from the inside. If you’ve ever built a career, or gotten pretty damn far down that road, then had the rug pulled out from under you, you can probably relate. For me, it was job elimination in an industry funded by a mixture of lines in a budget that are perilous to begin with and a bad economy. No one holds meetings in a bad economy and no one hires professional meeting and conference planners when no one meets. Unemployment becomes your new profession and I was lucky to have that.
Nowhere in any of that time did I choose to stop. I did not declare to anyone that I was now settling, nor did I thank the fine folks who allowed me to no longer work in a position I enjoyed at a company I really liked. The situation was understandable, but it didn’t exactly benefit me at the time and it certainly wasn’t a choice I was ready to make or have made for me.
“Never settle” certainly helped motivate me every day I needed to look for a new job, but it didn’t help when I couldn’t find one. It didn’t help me when I did the math on bills and cried for an hour or two before sending out a few more resumes. It didn’t help when I would sob about time lost, a career down the tubes and confusion with next steps.
When I did finally got a job, well below my previous salary and title, in an industry unrelated to my career, I was grateful. We were straight up in trouble and I was pregnant at that point. Six. Months. Pregnant. I was lucky to get hired and I knew it every day. I really enjoyed that job, but I left it after a year because all I could hear in my head was “never settle” and now I had a baby to take care of on my climb to those ever-higher heights.
We just bought our first house and were house poor right out of the gate. It’s not even close to palatial, but it’s in a good neighborhood with good schools and everything else on our Suburban Bliss checklist. I have a good, respectable desk job that pays decently and keeps us afloat in our current situation. Dare I say, I am happy, most of the time, which is an achievement on it’s own.
By all accounts we have indeed won the Suburban Jackpot (see title of blog), but it didn’t take long to want more. Hubs and I have all these lists of dreams/goals/aspirations/omg!Ihavetohaveits that I was taught to strive for and achieve and there is nothing wrong with any of that. But I was never taught how to simply sit still and enjoy it, because that’s settling and settling in this case is something you should never do.
Thanks for that, Never Settle.
Now I see that I am in the coveted position of being afforded the richest of all luxuries, choice. Do I pick myself up, make a new plan and move forward toward a yet undetermined goal or do I allow myself to stay here, rid settling of its negativity and embrace my life as it is now?
It seems I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up.
Originally published at suburbanjackpot.com on January 14, 2016.