Monday, January 30, 2006

the war on malaise

malaise \muh-LAYZ; -LEZ\, noun:
1. A vague feeling of discomfort in the body, as at the onset of illness.
2. A general feeling of depression or unease.

A bunch of academics got together and somehow determined that January 24th is the most depressing day of the year. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the entire last two weeks of January, and the first couple of days of February, are thoroughly, scratchingly, oppressively yech. That's right, I nouned an excited utterance. And oh yeah, I verbed "noun." Winter Doldrums mean one gets to take liberties with grammar.

What contributes to the yechness is that there are a lot of distractions that should take away from the yech. I've seen both Match Point and The New World, and loved them both. I'm reading a very interesting biography of Queen Caroline, who I'd never heard of but is turning out to be a fascinating individual. I'm finally getting my lazy ass back to the gym, fighting the hordes of sofie-clad sophomore girls for access to the elliptical, and it's beginning to pay off. It's been freakishly warm and I've taken long walks around my neighborhood, a place I adore living.

But documenting these little joys, and the larger joys of friends and family, right now just makes the yech more intense. It feels forced and not a little pathetic, the equivalent of an Oprah-inspired to-do list of happiness. Well-intentioned but inadequate.

I know what the problem is. It's not January, but the re-evaluating we do in the new year. It's That Which We Do Not Blog About. It's work. Not my specific job (although heaven knows there are issues there). It's something much more than that. It's that I've been looking for something new for two months now and have come across almost nothing that inspires or excites me. It's that, reading over the job duties for positions that would be a logical next step for me, I actively cringe. Bored workers make career changes all the time, but when well-meaning people ask me what I want to do, I have absolutely no answer. No cause that interests me, no activities I can get enthusiastic for. In short, no passion.

And it's not like I haven't been trying to recapture passion for a long time. Oh, I've been a good little soldier in the war on malaise. All the stuff you read in Carolyn Hax's column: "get involved in your community, meet new people, pursue new hobbies." Good lord, the number of people I've met and people I've been since I got back from Europe! I've been so open to newness and potential, but I still haven't encountered passion.

So? What's the problem with that? Most people don't have passion for what they do. Most people don't expect work to fulfill them. Look, I wish that I didn't demand to love my work. It would make life a lot easier if I could be okay with a white-collar cubicle job that has a certain measure of security and a decent atmosphere. It would make life a lot easier if I could be fine with being in a tolerable, if mediocre situation. If I could just shut up and be thankful for what I have, which, let's face it, ain't that awful. I've had awful; this ain't it.

But look, you have to get passion from somewhere. I no longer expect somebody else to provide it for me. Honestly, I never really did. You count on someone else to make you happy, you're inevitably going to be disappointed. They let you down, they go away, circumstances get in the way of good intentions. Work-- that's something I can control at least a little bit. With work, I am in some capacity capable of making myself happy. I can hear a voice (my mother's) saying it's childish and naive to expect so much from work, but I know that there are people who, even if they have bad days, genuinely love what they do for a living. I look at these people and think "and why not me?" Expecting so much is one of my most endearing and most obnoxious traits.

Historically, I've been really good at making Big Life Changes. I didn't hesitate for a second to move across the country for college and the happiest I've ever been was when I quit my job and backpacked. I'm not scared to change course and take risks, in large part because I have a really good safety net. At the same time, I don't take unnecessary leaps. I never pursued a childhood dream job because I knew I didn't have it in me to succeed at it. I'm a Nazi about paying off my credit card in full. I balance risk with reward, but once I determine to take a course of action I go at it.

If I had really big cojones, I'd leave this job that makes me miserable, wait tables and pursue a new goal that I've just begun to articulate. It's a big reach, huge competition, low pay and impractical for many reasons. It's scary to admit that I want something extraordinary. Saying it out loud, even to people who are nothing but supportive, means that it's documented that I want something I may not get. I've defined a goal that I might not reach and that makes me vulnerable. And there is nothing I hate more than being vulnerable. Well, except for people who use the phrase "grown as a person." They make me BONKERS.

But oh my God, does it feel good to have a goal again! And I really think I might be good at this new idea. Maybe good enough to someday make a living from it. I know the odds of success at it, but I also know that there are plenty of people who make it work for them. I look at those people and think "and why not me?" I hope that I am always able to look at this scenario and see opportunity, not overwhelming obstacles.

One Augustiner-soaked night in Munich, I wrote this in my travel journal: "The world is bigger than I'd ever imagined, but also infinitely more manageable than I'd been taught."

Clich├ęs are such because they have truth in them.


Heather B. said...

"The world is bigger than I'd ever imagined, but also infinitely more manageable than I'd been taught."

and I will be quoting you from now on...

Hey Pretty said...
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Rhinestone Cowgirl said...

What a fantastic post.

I have to have passion in my life; I can't contemplate an existence without it.