From the tone of the last post you might surmise that not everything is working out perfectly or at least how I dream/imagine in my life. I’m not living my ideal life, or the one I have absorbed from the culture and others. I continue to work full-time in technology for a local school district which means a lot of screen time, sense of meaninglessness, boredom and a salary that qualifies my family of five for government assistance. Yet my life is also very full and filled with things I am thankful for, like my family, my community, chickens, gardens, rainwater and a job.
I recently had two interviews with a local non-profit. It was down to two candidates and I didn’t get the job, a blow to my self-esteem. I’ve also decided to quit my small business, Edible Lawns, after one last project at a local school. The stress of being successful (but not enough to quit my job) while continue to work full time for the last year and a half has taken it’s toll and proved to be too much. We’ve also been at the center of some difficult conversations in our community. All this has come together in the last week.
So, after realizing that I might not get a dream job, might not be a successful small business owner and could someday not be a part of the intentional community we’re a part of, I have sat with the thought that there is no thing on the horizon, no next thing to work on or work toward. I asked, “What if I just work at my job and go home to my family every day?”
That feels sad and defeated. That’s because the grass on the other side has to be, not only greener, but more meaningful. The myth of the American Dream used to just be about accumulating wealth and getting ahead. That myth continues to drive many of us, but another has come to challenge and compliment it. Let’s call this new myth The “I Matter More” Myth or The Myth of My Own Personal Legacy.
It’s uncomfortable to be faced with our insignificance. That’s why we watch sports, movies and follow our heroes obsessively. We can live vicariously through them and not feel so bad about our own lives. So, it’s difficult to face the question, “What if this is all there is to my life?” or “What if there isn’t a next thing that will make my life better?”
Don’t mistake what I’m saying here. I think that meaningful work is important, maybe even a human right. Work that is degrading and unjust is not acceptable in our human family (and probably our non-human family as well). The truth is that this desire for meaningful work and the myth that my life has to matter more than others or that I have to leave some sort of legacy or make my mark on the world is a decidedly privileged perspective. My guess is that you don’t find this sort of internal, existential conflict among undocumented immigrants. My undocumented friends don’t think this way.
Yet we have also indoctrinated the working poor, working class and under classes with the same myth. This myth is partly what keeps them from rising up in outright revolution. For me, I ask myself, “Who am I to think that there has to be something next, something better?” There’s not something better for a lot of other people in this country and around the world who don’t have it half as good as I do.
It’s about time I grew up and realized this. But there’s two sides to this coin. On the one hand, I should realize that there is nothing that guarantees me the kind of work that I want even if I am qualified and work hard to get there. On the other hand, this only highlights the brokenness of our system that requires us to indenture ourselves in order to survive, to sublimate our desires for better things and a more meaningful life and work. Perhaps we can work toward more meaningful work for all as privileged people, while complaining less about not having the meaningful work we desire.