Advice column: I feel like I’ve wasted so much of my life

Dear Seer,

I entered myself in a very intense commitment for my future ten years ago that’s now finishing up. It’s been expensive and it’s very prestigious. Right now, it’s taking a lot of effort to finish it. There are a lot of opportunities afforded to me because of it. Everyone around me is very supportive and happy for me. The problem? I don’t want this anymore. I really wish I’d gone in a different direction–a direction that’s a lot harder to move in now than it would have been ten years ago! I’m moving that way now, but I feel like so much time has been wasted doing something I don’t want to do. I’m very depressed and having a really hard time finishing what I started. Should I just scrap it and do what I want to do?

Yours,

Buffering

Ah, Buffy, you’re not the only one changing course right now! I’m leaving the safe road for the desired one, complete with rickety wooden bridges, winding mountain passes with sheer cliffs, and terrible drunken drivers. It’ll be a hoot!

But I have a lot to say to you. If you don’t click through, I do want to say that I believe in you. I think you can finish what you started and feel a sense of accomplishment and completion, and then move on. Commitment is a strong principle, and it’s got me far.

Léon Bakst (1867-1927), Sketch for the costume of the pilgrim for the ballet- Le dieu bleu, (1912)I was looking for images to use, and I realized the metaphor I really wanted was one of pilgrimage. The comedian Louis CK was talking about traveling across the country now as opposed to traveling the Oregon trail. He says something to the effect of, “You’d be with a whole different group of people when you got there.” It’s true! People died, babies born, people getting married–it’s like a traveling village.

That’s like your fucking life, man. How can you expect to be the same person now that you were ten years ago? You made the best plan that you could at the time, but you aren’t always sure of what’s going to happen. I mean, would you tell someone who got a divorce ten years after they met their spouse that their marriage was a complete disaster? Some of them, well, maybe, but some people really do change so much over time that they wouldn’t marry each other again in ten years. You do the best you can with what you have and you keep it moving. Regret and worry don’t really help. Worry is like praying for the things you don’t want. Regret? That’s a great way to make yourself a villain. But neither is really an action. They both seem active, because we feel so shitty. But neither actually changes our circumstances at all. Still the same conditions around us to contend with.

So, here’s my experience. I really wanted to be a writer a long time ago. I was seven. When I was thirteen, I decided that it wasn’t going to be a safe living. I decided I would be a doctor, make a lot of money, and retire early and write. When I was twenty-three, I realized that wasn’t working, so I changed course for library science.

I’m thirty-four. I don’t want to be marginally happy. I don’t want to do my living in my spare time. I don’t want to eke by. Playing it safe isn’t–not for me, anyways. If I’m dealing with crazy people professionally, I want to at least be doing something I want to do.

Even if it doesn’t shake out, I want to know that I tried.

Okay, I know we were talking about you, Buffering, not me. But I wouldn’t have known that this life wouldn’t have worked for me if I hadn’t tried it. Sure, maybe I would have been okay if I’d gone for the MFA first. But that’s really neither here nor there. Sometimes I feel like I’ll be competing against all these young kids with all this talent. But a) who gives a fuck if that’s true, b) who knows if that is true, and c) when I start comparing myself to other people like that, I’m really living my life for other people in a way. I’m only existing in their eyes. I exist as a known quantity as myself, as Seer McRicketts-McGee, not as someone’s classmate. I don’t have to stand next to someone for you to see me.

Who knows? If I’d gotten the MFA first, I might be having the same conversation now with someone and getting another Master’s or a PhD. It took everything I’ve lived to get me to this point. None of it is wasted, so long as I use it. I know someone who has seven years off of drugs. He’s sixty-five years old. A lot of people think it’s too late to get off of drugs in your late fifties. I think it’s never too late to make a change for the better. It’s never too late to decide be happy and live life differently.

But I don’t think that leaving the other stuff undone will make you feel better about yourself. I know, I know, you see it as a mistake and want it over with. Then finish it. Otherwise, it’ll always seem like it’s looming there. You may never want to use it. Fine. But know that you did it. Don’t walk out on it. If you need help, get the people around you who are so supportive to help you! They will.

Also, pain shared is pain lessened: let them know what you’re going through. They’ll understand, and if they don’t, they’ll listen. It’s been ten years building up to this, so they will listen. If they don’t, find someone who will. Have you thought of posting a plea on craigslist? This is not to meet someone, but just to put your thoughts out to the universe. Post a missed connection for the “last ten years of your life” and you’ll get so many freaks and great lonely people and some winners responding to you you’ll be amazed. But yes, there will be some destructive trolly nutbags, too, so use a new email address you create just for this. If anything, you’ll get a quick influx of information from others; maybe you’ll hear something you haven’t heard before.

But motor through this. If you’re getting serious distraction problems, talk to people who have done what you’re doing. If this is an academic program, talk to your adviser. If this is a technical program, talk to the director or whomever you’re closest to. I’m not sure what else this could be. If this is a fellowship or an internship, talk to either your boss or a mentor you have there. If you need more specific private direction, happy to give it!

Also: money is just money. I know, it’s easy to say. But for me, I know that I’m a lot like Moms: we both feel much more financially stressed when we’re emotionally stressed. You’ll be fine no matter what your financial state looks like. Really, you will. There are ways to fix that. I’ve seen people with a lot of trouble do just fine. So will you. Don’t spend out of fear as a way to escape. Don’t do other behaviors as a way to escape. In my experience, the shit doesn’t go away. (Hello, IRS!)

I’m rooting for you! Here’s to the next chapter!

Stay golden,

Seer

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