Existential Angst

Yesterday I was in a meeting that began with introductions and an icebreaker question: what is the thing that has you the most distracted right now?

As we went around the room, there were a variety of answers: staff with elderly parents who were struggling, staff whose kids had some major life changes ahead of them, and the typical work-project-related distractions that you might expect. And then we came around to me. “I’m thinking a lot about where I want to be in five years, what I want to be doing with my life.” Everyone laughed (some a little nervously). We moved on.

But it’s true. I don’t know if this sense of existential angst around my career is a product of being about six weeks out from my 30th birthday, or if it’s because I’m nearing five years at my current job – the longest I’ve ever been in one place. (I’m also a bit on the manic side this week, which is an added facet of the angst but definitely not the cause.)

I started asking myself last week, as I was pondering these questions, “What if, instead of thinking about what I felt I ought to be doing based on external pressures, I gave some thought to what it is I want to do?”

In the past, when I’d asked that question, I was too afraid to answer (or was in a place where I was more focused on survival and conserving energy, and didn’t have the bandwidth to think of an answer). That’s shifting, though. As I continue to work to get the rest of my life sort of in order, as the non-career areas of my life stabilize, I have more and more bandwidth to consider that, while what I’m doing now is somewhat interesting and I’m pretty good at it, there are other options that might be more…fulfilling.

See, when I entered the workforce, all I wanted was a job that I could leave at work, that would pay the bills, and that would leave me time outside of work to do the creative things I love to do. I didn’t care if my job gave me any sense of purpose or meaning, because my creative pursuits did that. As I near 30, though, I’m starting to consider that perhaps it does matter to me that the thing that I’m doing 40 hours per week is meaningful and fulfilling in some way.

I have some ideas of what the future might look like. I’m putting together wish lists and five/three/one year plans. I’m not ready to put any of my thoughts on the internet quite yet, but I’m starting to talk with my partner, my therapist, and a handful of friends about the directions my brain is taking me. It’s overwhelming, but also incredibly exciting – it’s been a long while since I felt like I could plan further out than six months or a year for more than one thing at once.

And maybe I’m just high on the sunshine that finally came out today, but…the future looks bright. So here’s to bright futures and finding meaning in the mess of life. May we all work to get there together.

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