SOMETHING GREAT happened to me yesterday.
At about 3PM, I got fired from my job that had, until very recently, been hinting at equity in the company; a high five-figure income earned largely from home suddenly scratched down to zero. A few hours later, my roommate told me he was moving out. Thirty days from today, my reliable source of income and the routine I’d fallen into with my housemate will be no more. Someone else will be sharing my space, and I’ll have to figure out where the next check is coming from or it won’t come at all.
My first reaction, understandably, was the usual amalgam of shock, fear, and anger that accompanies this sort of out-of-left-field, routine-shattering, destabilizing news. I’d helped this company post record profits the last quarter, and there was no actual reason for the firing other than the CEO bristling at the fact she’d hired somebody more talented than her. So the firing didn’t just make zero sense; it was downright against the best interests of the business. And just the day before, my roommate had been talking about buying new patio furniture for the deck. So his announcement that he was taking over a friend’s lease in a different part of town struck me as damn near a betrayal. Nonetheless, over the course of the next couple hours, that fear and resentment turned into excitement.
But what’s so great – or even good – about being sent packing by your employer and forced to find a new lodger?
Let’s back up a sec.
FOR THE PAST FEW MONTHS, I’m embarrassed to say, I’ve been in a rut. The chief representative of the DevSoc California branch has, for several weeks now, been stuck in a morass of self-doubt and unfulfilling work; of missed PT sessions and too much booze; of chasing girls instead of goals. To my eternal shame and regret, I contributed approximately 25 minutes of meditation to our January goals and roughly the same number of calories burned. My creative output has been next to nil, my energies, instead, going to my relatively lucrative, but utterly unfulfilling day job and dating apps. At the risk of losing any remaining sympathy my esteemed reader might have for me or my situation, I’ve largely been prone to carrying a lot of lean muscle and very little fat no matter what I eat, and have tended, rather luckily, towards falling upwards career-wise, or at the very least landing on my feet when it comes to making money. So I’ve never had to bust my ass at the gym to look appealing to the opposite sex, nor had to truly commit myself professionally to make ends meet.
But I have never been happy.
Sure, there have been fleeting moments of triumph or, more ubiquitously, of carnal satisfaction; the dopamine hit of a little self-gift-giving with a nice watch or a terrific pair of leather shoes or a new pistol. There’ve been nights out with friends, and European vacations; desert trips in 4x4 vehicles and lucky nights out at bars. But what has eluded me for most of my life is that enduring, fortifying happiness that comes from chasing one’s destiny; of knowing that you’re where you’re meant to be; that your cause is noble and you’re pursuing it doggedly.
To put it harshly but fairly, I’ve led something of a low-effort life. So despite making more money than I have in a long time (from home, no less!), living in a sunny, desirable neighborhood in Los Angeles, and being at least hip-deep in female affection at a given moment, I had been dying inside for a long time.
“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”
My upbringing was, ahem, tumultuous, to say the least. A child of bitter divorce, changing cities and countries the way other families changed hairstyles. Seven different schools by the time I was seventeen and the accompanying social reboot, sometimes in languages I didn’t yet speak. Savage parental abuse on one side; complete abandonment on the other. Drug and alcohol abuse pervaded as well; nervous breakdowns were commonplace. Perhaps most insidiously, my father’s own bitterness at the trajectory of his career robbed me of a young man’s optimism; of his willingness to charge a hill in spite of the looming threat of a Hun machine gun nest.
Something was always in the way; something was always happening to me. Moving countries; military enlistments; overdoses; the birth of a child; somebody’s mental breakdown. Being thrown in jail at my Dad’s behest; being excommunicated from my city; my friends; my family. Letting them back into my life, despite my better judgment, only to be subjected again to the same dysfunction that had characterized and reigned over their existences.
The end result was never feeling rested; never feeling ready to take on the world. I had been putting out fires for so long, I had missed the years where I was supposed to be feeding mine.
After responding to not one but three separate heroin overdoses in my family, I had had enough.
I cut ties and vowed to rebuild my life; rebuild myself. But that’s easier said than done when you’ve been raised by wolves.
I had been walking around with deep, raw streaks of unbridled jealousy and rage coursing beneath the surface; unwittingly informing my reactions to the successes of friends and undermining my romantic relationships. The psychotic, merry-go-round vacillations of ebullient parental praise and devastating abuse lead me to constant comparisons of myself to people who’d achieved more in their lives than me, at times ravaging what remained of my self-esteem. And until recently, I was possessed of a singular and insidious belief that surely some cosmic relief was on its way. Surely I was owed something; some reprieve from the constant gut checks and dick kicks and continuous geographic upheaval and familial psychodrama. I was owed at least that, right? Wrong.
I am thirty two years old, and nobody is coming to help me. And that’s a damned freeing realization.
Since my personal epiphany a few years back, I’ve been largely coasting, removing bad habits and scrubbing out the dead tissue of infectious emotional trauma where I could, but failing to realize that I needed to be building something in its stead, or the same psychospiritual pathogens would simply fill the void and wreak havoc again.
I took jobs that didn’t mean anything to pay the rent on a place that isn’t the home I’ll raise my family in; spent emotional capital on things that wouldn’t sustain me for the journey of life ahead. I let my choices be informed by fears – not making rent; being alone; feeling too much – rather than my dreams – a career in the arts; the loving company of a good woman; a well-developed soul with which to weather life’s storms.
My goals – professional screenwriting, acting on stage and in film – have a fairly murkily-defined career trajectory, but it damn sure doesn’t involve 60+ hour workweeks in a not-even-tangentially related industry. So the “loss” of this job isn’t a loss at all. It’s an unshackling; a license to forego the golden handcuffs of relative comfort, and a grim, liberating reminder of one simple truth: only the mission matters. Everything else is a distraction that will cost you your life. For me, that mission is finding success in film and television. For you, that might mean buying a house, or bringing a company to an IPO, or finishing grad school. But no matter what it is, you will not get the time back that you spend on anything else. So strip away everything else. Don’t be afraid of starting from nothing. All come from dust, and to dust we return.
Beneath the ashes of volcanic eruption are singularly fertile soil. Similarly, in the vacuum left by the explosion of some of my life’s erstwhile constants, I am free to plant whatever I wish. New habits and alliances can be formed; new goals decided on and new courses plotted for them. Where I was waking up and tucking into half a million Slack DM’s from my jittery CEO, I will have peace and clarity. Where my words would be wasted on sales copy and pithy tweets on behalf of a company in whose success I didn’t share, they will once again serve me. Where my health and energy were spent ensuring that the company was ending the day in the best place it could, I will instead spend that energy on my own mental and physical solidity. I will be beholden only to myself, with only myself to rely on. It will be as it should be.
If you’re very lucky, there might be some people you can depend on if everything goes tits up; a kindly grandmother who’ll mail you the rent if you’re in a jam or a wife that will support you. But for many of us, the only tools we have are our own cracked hands and the friendships we’ve forged through our better actions.
More importantly, on the journey of a life meaningfully lived, the only respite we can ever truly rely on is our faith in the nobility of our cause. The canteen may run dry; the fire may grow cold. The sun may set; the heavens might open up. But if your cause matters, you’ll take another step. It doesn’t even have to matter anywhere beyond the space between your ears. As long as it matters to you, you’ll find a few more wisps of gas in the tank; find the strength to go a few more miles. Most importantly, you’ll avoid athe toxic curse that is regret.
It’s fair to say that I may well be the most dysfunctional of the DevSoc cadre. So I feel best poised to tell you, dear reader, that no matter how desperate the circumstances, no matter how rife with existential dread the hole you find yourself in may be, there’s a way out if you keep digging. I’ll be damned if I know where the tunnel leads, but I do know it doesn’t lead to regret.
I wish I could be writing this from the mountaintop. I wish, truly, that I could tell you that this is the course of action that had already worked for me; that the glory and the goods are sitting right next to me on this sunny peak if only you follow my simple steps.
But I can’t. I’m on the same fucking road as you, buddy. My pack is just as heavy. My boots are as muddy; my bones as tired.
But we’re on our way.
Head Of Discourse