It’s Long. Skim it.

It’s getting closer and closer to the time when I will have to be able to support myself.  I am determined, in fact, to be able to support myself when I am done with college.  To not take money from my parents anymore.  To save.  To pay my own rent.  To buy my own food.  I have begun sending out resumes.  Nothing to report as of yet.

So now I’ve begun to think about life after college and what I’m going to do with the rest of my life, and I just don’t know.  That’s scary because I feel like I should have gained a sense by now of what I should be doing, or what I’m good at.  How does someone go about determining that, and how do they know they’re not wrong?  It seems like it takes a good deal of faith, almost like falling in love or adopting a religion.  How do you know your career path is the right one, one you can be successful at, one you’ll like?

Some of my friends (I’d say most of a specific group of friends) came into college knowing what they wanted to achieve and what they wanted to do for a career.  A doctor.  A pharmacist.  An architect.  An engineer.  They went to school knowing this, knowing that it was the only path that they could end up taking, and they took it.

Others came into school either not knowing their path, claiming to know it but later switching it, or knowing it but failing at it and being forced to make adjustments.  I felt like I wanted to be an architect.  I failed at it, but I think I’ve realized that it wouldn’t be right for me.  The system worked.  Another acquaintance wanted to be a graphic designer of some sort and is now training to be a chef.  Another was pre-med, then pre-engineering, then pre-business, then communications, then poly-sci.

How does the chef know that she made the right choice this time when she wasn’t right the first time?  How does the doctor know he made the right choice at all?  I guess these questions assume a few things.  First, that there is a (or possibly more than one, but a limited number) “right choice” of professions for a particular person, which would imply that there were some professions that would be a “wrong choice,” which in turn implies that right choices and wrong choices can be determined by some combination of a person’s skill, personality, and life choices.  I’ve always lived under the assumption that everybody has some sort of talent that enables them to do some things at a very high level, presumably things that they enjoy, since talent presumably accompanies enjoyment to some degree (Michael Jordan was a world-class talent at basketball, but if he hadn’t enjoyed playing he never would have developed that talent).

The thing is, I neither see any redeemable level of talent nor an elevated level of enjoyment within myself regarding anything at all, let alone a specific profession.  Sure, there are things I enjoy; sports, music, movies, friends, food, video games, to some extent the outdoors, to some extent many other things, but I can’t say that there is anything I could do frequently without getting annoyed and exhausted by its tedium.  There are many things I’m reasonably good at: writing, reading, analyzing, talking; but nothing that I feel especially talented at to a level that I could make a living at it, and nothing that I feel like I’d ever be able to do at an elite level.  Sometimes I think that the one unique thing about me is that I’m not unique.  I’m so strikingly middle-of-the-road in just about every category imaginable, so mediocre it’s phenomenal, so hum-drum that I could possibly connect to vast arrays of concepts and information better than those who occupy the extremes.  But I think there are enough people in the world that for every drop of competitive advantage I milked out of that versatility there’d be a veritable gallon of more talented individuals at every angle.

At some point, I said to myself, “look at your true goals for yourself, be brutally honest, don’t proclaim noble goals unless they’re true desires,” and I came up with a few things:

  • I’d like to have a lot of money – maybe this is just a reaction to being poor in college, but I hate being poor in college.  I want to be able to go out to eat and not groan inside knowing what my credit card bill is going to look like, in fact, knowing what it looks like right now.  I’d like to not have to know exactly what my credit card bill looks like.
  • I’d like to be famous – I’ve always had the deepest desire to be invited on a late night talk show.  Choice number one: David Letterman.  Choice number two:  Conan O’Brien.
  • I’d like to feel like I affected a large number of people through what I did – I’d feel stupid not being able to see the effects in my work on the grand scheme of things.
  • I’d like to affect people through beauty rather than through utility – This might seem weird, and I’m not arguing against the value of useful things.  We need useful things.  But we also need people to convey greater truths, to increase our understanding of the world as a social and cultural and moral and spiritual realm, to connect people with one another.
  • I’d like to be among the best in the world at what I do – I’m competitive, I compare myself to others.  I can’t help it.  If I can’t do something well, it isn’t as fun because I think, “what’s the point? someone else can easily do it better.  Why am I wasting my time?”

This may seem like an incredibly idealistic and somewhat delusional list.  And it probably is.  And it’s not to say that I couldn’t be satisfied working some humdrum job and paying my rent and hanging out and stuff, but I’d always want more until I achieved the list.  Maybe I’ll always feel that way, probably, because it’s pretty ridiculous to expect to achieve fame, power, artistry, money, and importance, but I know I’ll always desire those things until I achieve them, or until I die.

So at that point, when I truthfully acknowledged those things to myself, I said to myself, “I’m going to be in movies” and I stuck with it.  I didn’t really do anything to achieve that, but that’s what I said, and that’s what I’ll keep saying.  I didn’t even specify what I wanted to do in movies (for those of you who have followed along and are wondering, I want to direct and star in feature films) but I knew that it, for one, fulfilled the requirements:

  • There is the potential for huge profit.  Of course, less successful filmmakers aren’t extremely rich, but if successful I’d be very wealthy.
  • Film actors (and to a lesser extent, popular directors) are among the most famous people in the world, and the only people who can assure themselves a slot on David Letterman or Conan O’Brien.  Unless you do Stupid Human Tricks.  Which I don’t.
  • Film is exactly the type of medium I feel like affects people in the way I would like to affect them.  To some people, it’s just a medium of entertainment, but for others it’s an emotional outlet, a philosophical outlet, an artistic outlet.  It allows artists to create and theorize in possible the most accessible, most intricate way ever.  And we’ve barely tapped the potential.  Think about how long literature has been around and how much it has changed (thousands of years) versus film (around one hundred).
  • I feel like it is something I could be good at.  It’s a combination of skills: right-brained ones and left brained ones, that seems to match my “decent at everything, excellent at nothing” skillset and my desire for creativity, beauty, and uniqueness.

So that’s that.  I don’t know if it’s the right choice.  And the thing that scares me is, most of the benefits I consider of it assume that I’d be wildly successful at it.  The thing is, I’d probably be happy with anything if I was wildly successful at it.  I think I’d be pretty happy as a wildly successful milkman.  Maybe not to the extreme of satisfaction I’d feel as a wildly successful filmmaker, but comparable.  A wildly successful milkman would probably make a good wage, have a huge following, and be worth a cute third-segment novelty slot on David Letterman or Conan O’Brien.  I would want to like something so much that I’d want to do it even if I was mediocre at it.  I know that Jen will be happy even if she’s a mediocre architect.  She’d rather be good at it, but she likes it and connects with it in a way that’s not tied to success.  I’m sure that’s true with all the people I mentioned above.  So the fact that I need to be successful makes me thing I’m doing something wrong.  And while we’re on the topic, where does this need come from?  Is it simply the feeling of isolation of being relegated to part of the crowd in a world that places so much attention on the elite and famous?  Or is it something particular within me that has made me discontent with normalcy and only satisfied with the tip top of the elite?  I’m inclined to believe the latter, but I don’t think it’s a very good thing.  It might just be an incredibly magnified desire for love and attention from everyone in the world.

And there’s no road map, like there is to becoming a doctor or a lawyer or one of many other things.  You don’t get to take predefined classes and apply to predefined schools and internships.  So I don’t know what to do next.  IMDB says that filmmakers of the last decade or so who have made it big have made their first feature between the ages of 24-30.  Paul Thomas Anderson was 26.  David Gordon Green was 25.  Wes Anderson was 25.  Noah Baumbach was 26.  Kevin Smith was 24.  Some other guys, like M. Night Shyamalan and few more were 29 or 30.  Some of them went to film school and some didn’t.

The first thing you have to do is make a movie.  That makes me think that if I get a job and work and pay the rent I’ll really just be wasting time, but on the other hand, I need to be able to fund my own movie, and fund myself while I write and direct and pre-produce and shoot and edit all this stuff and then promote it and try to get it out there.  I’m not the type who can make contacts and get thousands of dollars in funding.

And if I have these weaknesses that are countersynergistic (to use a term used in business and in Magic: The Gathering) with independent filmmaking, does that mean I shouldn’t be doing it?  Or that I should learn these skills?  Or that I should collaborate with someone that has these skills?  Or that I should find another way?

Or will the system do what it’s supposed to do again, and shut out those who are not right for the job?  That’s scary.  I don’t know whether it’s scarier to think that I might try this and fail and end up living on the street, or to think that I might just think about it my entire life and never have the courage to commit to it enough to see anything through and die knowing I didn’t do what I dreamed about doing.  Either way, it doesn’t seem like either of those questions will be answered for a long, long time.  And I’ve been in school for 18 years of my life and have achieved nothing.  That’s frustrating.

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