Like everyone else in the world for the last two years, I’ve been reflecting a lot…like, a LOT, a lot. In my quest to break free from misery-inducing perfectionism and find my authentic voice, I’ve discovered who I am NOT just as much or even more so than who I AM.
I think I’m having an identity crisis that may be coinciding with a midlife crisis.
As a young child I was annoyed with the repetitive question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” With no doubt in my mind, I wanted to be an artist. I never dreamt of putting on a suit and going to an office or putting on scrubs and going to a hospital. Traditional jobs were never appealing–doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc. I just loved the arts and wanted to practice them–visual art, dance, music, and later, writing.
As I grew older, I became more unsure of what I could realistically do to support myself. Throughout college I agonized over taking opportunities to learn things I loved and was passionate about versus things that would look good on my resume. Even though I had a fairly traditional upbringing (Dad was the breadwinner; Mom was the homemaker and child rearer), I was strongly encouraged by my parents to get an education and support myself. In Dad’s words, “People die, and people get divorced.” I’ve never assumed or been told that I’d have a husband to take care of me. For that independence, I am thankful.
I did all the things I was “supposed” to do that make me financially secure and make my parents proud: go to college, go to graduate school, secure and keep a steady job with benefits.
So why am I struggling so greatly with depression, unease, and dissatisfaction?
By the time I exited my first career as a medical librarian I was very annoyed with the grown up version of the “What do you want to be” question: “What do you do?” As if we are all defined by what is on our W-2 forms.
In 2021, through a lot of counseling, I learned that I had to let go of the trappings of perfectionism. I stopped hiding behind lies and facades. The downside to this is that it sometimes uncovers more unhappiness. It’s like I woke up and realized I was in a life that I didn’t necessarily want.
I have a “good job” that does not define me. It pays well and provides me with a secure life, and for that I very thankful. But it’s not an inherent part of my personality. There are things I like and things I don’t like. Some days I’m very sad that I stayed in the metropolitan area where I went to school and found jobs. Some days I’d give anything to leave all this and go back to a small town. Then I get annoyed with myself and think I’m being selfish and spoiled.
I want to apologize to my younger self for killing my dreams. My squashed creativity came back in the form of writing, and maybe this unhappiness is just an inherent part of the craft. (Who am I as a writer if I’m not depressed and suffering perpetual writer’s block coupled with pent-up, frustrated creativity?)
Things aren’t so bad. I’m very fortunate. I’m safe and cared for. But g*ddammit, I wish I could just write books…which don’t provide health insurance so what are you gonna do? Being a budding writer is amazing, and wow, I wish I could do it full-time, and I also know that’s really really hard to pull off.
Figuring out who I am and who I am not are growing pains that I know will get me to a better place. We don’t all have to or need to love our sources of income. We just have to fulfill our duties so we can do thing things we love without the worry of how that’s going to put food on the table. Passions and paychecks more often than not do not go together. I don’t know if I’m making myself feel better or worse by writing this, but it helps.
Being imperfect is messy, uncomfortable…and necessary if I AM going to live an authentic life. I’ll get through this. I always do.
The next time someone asks me “What do you do?” I’m going to say, “I write.”