Om Malik writes about having been in a subtle funk during most of 2019:
like most men in their early 50s, I have been struggling to reconcile the past, the present, and the future. Life’s frameworks that helped you get where you are don’t mean anything when it comes to where you are going.
I can certainly identify with the thought behind this; I understand the funk, although mine has often been far from subtle, but the struggle isn't reserved for those in their 50s.
For some time I have wrestled with the notion that I am not where I should be, indeed that I am not where society expects I should be. I try not to let age define me but frequently find it hard to escape the nagging feeling that I should have done more, been more successful, achieved promotions and had a career rather than a series of jobs.
When Om talks about life's frameworks I feel he is referring to the progression you make both personally and professionally, the stages of life and work which take you from inexperienced youth to successful middle age.
The problem is, I've never really seen myself as fitting in to those frameworks, never felt that I have achieved the progression I ought. In some aspects I feel that I have actually regressed; and that is what really burns, knaws at me from the inside.
That my own faults and failings, my own insecurities and inaction have prevented my doing more, being more, rankles in a way I can't truly elucidate. I understand that introversion and depression are not my fault yet they are still a part of me and difficult to separate from my being in the depths of that not so subtle funk. That me being broken has stopped me from reaching the goals my age, and life's frameworks, would normally expect me to attain weighs on me.
In The Calculus of Grit Venkatesh Rao discusses finding his path in the context of "the much-abused idea of 10,000 hours of deliberate practice" and that it wasn't that upon which he started travelling:
Many people luck out like me, accidentally. We recognize what particular path to mastery we’re on, long after we actually get on it.
Many do not. They bum around in angsty anomie, craving structure where none exists, and realizing after a decade of wandering that they’ve unfortunately gotten nowhere.
That angsty anomie is exactly where I find myself although it has stretched to three decades of being lost and unable to stumble upon the path I should be walking. Upon leaving school I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life so took the job that paid the most rather than being something I enjoyed.
Inaction and an acceptance of my lot saw me waste several years before finally changing profession to something I thought I wanted but that actually lead me down to a path to where I ultimately stand: feeling stuck, trapped in a job that is overpaid for the skill set with no visible route beyond the wall I'm facing.
My manager used to say that surely there was something else I could do with my knowledge and experience but has since changed his tune to "just be grateful you're paid this much to do the job, you'll have to take a pay cut to do anything else."
Something I cannot afford to do.
Part of working out who you are is realising who you are not; it relies on you being honest with yourself, realistic. Finding who you are guides what you want to do, but that's where I fall short.
I always seem to know what I don't want to do, even if I persist with it for some time, but have never been able to work out what I do want. What I think I want is just a reaction to the status quo, an "anything is better than this" position which becomes the default in lieu of anything real. Chasing down this path is lying to myself and only serves to destroy not build the mastery Rao refers to.
On the other hand, what I feel I want, have felt for as long as I can recall, is sabotaged by my own mind, the nagging voice inside that says "you can't do it, you're not good enough" and inability to have big ideas instead of small ones.
And so to blogging
Om's route out of his funk was photography:
It allowed me to speak without saying a word. It allowed me sadness and loss without anyone around to see the pain. The act of photography — not the photos themselves — allowed me moments of solitude and contemplation... I slowly transitioned from being lost to being lonely to being alone. And thus came the rebirth — both of the soul and the mind.
I have always written in one form or another, always wanted to write but, beyond blogging, always struggled. Blogging is what I know best, where I feel most comfortable, where I have spent the most time. It is where I am not necessarily punished for having small ideas.
I think that, through the process of blogging, I'm actually trying to find myself, to find the path on which I belong, trying to achieve my own rebirth. Yet that longing remains, that desire for more, to do something meaningful with it; maybe for it to ultimately become the career that has so far eluded me.
Then there is the voice: that nagging voice telling me I can't, that I've been doing this for years so should have made it by now, that voice that reinforces every negative thought and belief.
That voice I need to learn to ignore.