“Natalie, life is like a Rorschach test.” While I scavenge my brain for the phrase “Rorschach test,” Mr. Hansen sips his wine. Thick African air wafts through the restaurant. Ink blots. He’s talking about ink blots.
“When I hold up a card, what is your immediate reaction to that card? For instance – when my garage door opens at night, I know its my wife, coming home from work. When I hear that sound, am I happy? Almost always, the answer is: yes. That’s how I know we are still right for each other.”
In a candlelit restaurant in Zanzibar, this man tried to tell me something. I didn’t understand him then, but I hear him clearly now.
Disclaimer: Rorschach Test to follow.
(THIS IS A RORSCHACH TEST, NOT A FINAL EXAM. GO! GO! GO! WHAT IS YOUR FIRST REACTION?!)
____ Yes. _____ No.
I had a pretty bad college graduation hangover, I’ll concede. Genetically, I’m likely a bit more melancholy than the rest of the general public. But otherwise, I am your prototypical Millenial. Which leads me to believe, a lot of you, struggle with exactly the same things I struggle with. I would venture a lot of your answers to the above question rhyme with “shmo.”
Then again, maybe I’m wrong. I hope I’m wrong.
So here’s another question for you. Why are you unhappy, if you are, in fact, unhappy?
_____ Work. _______ Something else.
Or, perhaps better:
______ Lack of self-actualization. _________ Something else.
Let’s pump the brakes, here.
Maslow’s theory of self-actualization states that the only thing that really drives us, our most basic motivation, is realizing our full potential. Expressing one’s creativity, the quest for spiritual enlightenment, pursuit of knowledge, and the desire to contribute to society are examples of realizing our potential. Pared down: you have to find meaning in your life. To me, finding meaning in life and finding meaning at work are inextricably linked.
In this regard, I am frequently informed my expectations are too high. I am told about what “our generation” wants: “Your generation wants your parents to support you your whole life.” Wrong. “Your generation wants to take short-cuts.” Wrong. “Your generation wants everything handed to them.” Wrong. I’ll tell you what “this generation” wants: this generation wants to live their lives, not exist in them.
I have a friend who used to pray she would get rear-ended on her morning commute. Every day. Every day this individual would hope to get in a car accident, so she’d have an excuse to call in sick for the day. I doubt Google employees share those feelings. And no, I am not my anonymous friend.
Life is too short to be miserable. We are here to enjoy our lives, and the time does go by fast. If I had a nickel for every time someone told me “It seems like it was yesterday,” I’d be a billionaire.
Sometimes I want to fall in line with the rest of the drones. The “that’s just the way things are” peanut gallery. I’ve received many unsolicited opinions about the role that work should play in my life, and many said peanuts raise good points. They argue for the money. That I can be the quintessential “weekend warrior.” In spite of them, the most basic priority in my professional life will be meaningful work. Not that its always been, but moving forward, this is what is important to me now. And the thought of that, my friends, does make me genuinely happy.
Meaningful “work” means something different for everyone. It could mean taking off and going to Thailand for a year, starting a family, or quitting a job. According to Forbes, some of the most unhappy people make the most money (accountants, law clerks) and the happiest make the least (artists, authors, teachers). The difference between the two categories? You have to be able to see the point, so to speak, in whatever you’re doing.
Similarly, if your life were to continue on the path its on now, what does it look like in 5 years? 10 years? If you kept the same friends, stayed at the same job, and continued the relationship you’re currently in or not in, how does that future taste to you? Living your life with proactivity is important not only for your professional choices, but all aspects of your life.
And maybe you’ve been on auto-pilot. That’s okay…I’m not judging you. You know what they say about people in glass houses…
But, if you have been driving an automatic, switch over to manual. Summon the courage. Life is a delicate balance between “going with the flow, man” and creating yourself. Its about me finding my equilibrium somewhere between Spicoli and Meryl Streep.
Its your life, not your parents’. And even though “you’re still so young,” and “you have your whole life ahead of you,” you will also be thirty… tomorrow.
As my grandfather would say, “the time is now.” So sign up for the Peace Corps, move to New York, and break up with that ho-face (you know who you are). Life is too damn short not to.