[After vowing to get back into a weekly publishing schedule with this personal journal of mine this year, I have once again this summer lapsed into big periods of inactivity (although this time for the justifiable reason that my job search has recently ratcheted back up into high gear). Nonetheless, I'm going to be cranking out several ideas for journal entries in rapid succession for the rest of the summer, literally once every four or five days for at least the next four or five weeks, so I appreciate any of you who want to get back into the habit of regularly visiting, or saving yourself some time and just subscribing to the RSS feed or my Twitter account.]
So as regular readers know, I've been seeing a therapist now for the last, oh, year, year and a quarter of my life; I'm not seeing her to address any particular problems going on with me, but rather merely because I had a chance last year to start seeing her for free, as a side perk of my enrollment in the DevBootcamp alternative educational program, and I enjoyed the process so much that I decided to continue seeing her in private practice after I graduated. We typically spend our bi-monthly sessions just loosely bantering about what's been going on in the last two weeks of my life, and sort of examining each event to see what can be gleaned from it; but recently I've found myself pondering a question in a way that's lasted over multiple sessions, regarding what exactly an "existential crisis" is, whether or not I'm actually going through one this year, and what that says about the type of human I'm becoming right now versus the way I used to define myself as a human for decades before that.
This was all prompted by an article I recently came across at one of those "lifehacking" websites I'm so addicted to, which was talking about how an existential crisis needs to be defined not just as a series of big changes that happen to a person in a short period of time (which is how popular culture usually starts and ends the definition), but also the feelings of disconnectedness and uncertainty that follow such big changes, as the person in question sheds all the things that they used to be so sure about, lives to start a brand-new life, and therefore can never be sure again that those new decisions are the right ones for them. This, the article was saying, is the true moment an existential crisis occurs, not during the changes themselves; because if you were so unquestionably certain that the life you were leading before the changes was the right one for you, then you have it proven that that wasn't the case at all, it's nearly impossible to then approach the life you're now living after the changes and be able to say, "Yep, okay, now this is the life that's unquestionably the right one for me," because in the back of your mind you know that you might always be wrong about this one too.
That's essentially what's been going on with me for the last year, and I don't mean simply the decision to put my arts center on indeterminate hold, go back to school, and try for the first time in twenty years to get a 9-to-5 office job again, this time in a brand-new field I've only just learned and that I'm directly competing against bright-eyed Millennials for. For while this is certainly the catalyst that's fueled everything else, the fact is that I've also been spending the last year training myself to be less reclusive and more outgoing; to have a better understanding of where the lines lay between loose acquaintances, close acquaintances, and true friends; to try to start seeing the inherent good in the human race again, after a Bush Era that turned me into a cynical, fatalistic piece of shit; to kick-start my romantic life again, after being voluntarily celibate for the last twelve years; to start eating better, exercising more, drinking two liters of water a day, and all the other things that middle-agers have to do in middle-age to not get diabetes and lose a fucking leg; and to finally gain a control over the very last of my substance-abuse issues, namely my over-enjoyment of pot in my forties, after spending my thirties permanently giving up smoking, hard drugs, and drinking to excess.
And before anything else, let's be clear, as I've also discussed with my therapist multiple times, no one's holding a gun to my head and forcing me to make all these changes; I could literally go out tomorrow if I wanted and become that 47-year-old who's still performing at poetry open-mics at midnight on a Tuesday, who's still scoring easy sex from misguidedly impressed 22-year-old girls, who's lubricating that easy sex with copious amounts of cocaine which uses up every spare penny of extra money he had, who's still working a series of demeaning minimum-wage jobs so he can better concentrate on his "big break" of getting a chapbook published by an obscure basement press, selling 200 copies, and having the excuse to go on a ten-city tour that barely breaks even by the end. That wouldn't necessarily be such a bad life, if these were the kinds of priorities I decided I wanted to have as a human being; and so when I choose to do something radically different, something monumentally more difficult and that is mostly filled with rejection and frustration, it's important to remember that I'm doing all of that by deliberate choice, because I had grown unhappy with my former lifestyle and am now choosing to do something fundamentally different instead.
But still, whenever I now do the kind of New Agey stuff like yoga or meditation or a gratitude journal* that 25-year-old me would've kicked my ass for even contemplating, I'm coming to realize that it's hard for me to even define who I am as a human being anymore, especially knowing that all the new decisions I'm making about my life these days may turn out to be just as wrong for me as the last set of decisions I ended up rejecting. It makes me realize that it was my unwavering arrogant self-confidence as an artist when younger that served as a self-fulfilling asset towards being a success as an artist; it's the cocky surety that you're going to be a success that convinces many others that you deserve to be a success in the first place, a trait I see all the time now among the twentysomething developers and entrepreneurs I deal with in my new career in the tech industry.
[*For those who don't know, a "gratitude journal" is when you do a rundown of every pissy little thing that happened to you over the course of a day, then see if you can somehow find something positive to say about the experience instead. So if I had to do a bunch of unnecessary walking in really hot weather, I might say instead, "I'm grateful that I recovered well enough from my 2009 bike accident to be able to walk around in the city in the middle of the summer to begin with;" if I can't afford some little thing I wanted to do, it's, "I'm grateful I have at least enough money to not be homeless;" if I have an annoying conversation with a friend, it's, "I'm grateful that this person wants to be my friend in the first place, to the extent of sometimes being annoying about it." It's easily the number-one thing I do in my life these days to help naturally stabilize my mood without the need for mood-stabilizing drugs, an activity I combine with secular meditation to achieve a powerful sense of calm about the various random ups and downs in my life (or as the Buddhists put it, "unattaching yourself from the suffering inherent in human life"); but to be sure, I can see 22-year-old Jason furiously rolling his eyes at me all the way from here 25 years in the future.]
It's funny, I think, how these motivational talks by wildly successful entrepreneurs and other "thought leaders" are always talking about what a great thing failure is, what an amazing learning opportunity it can be and how all entrepreneurs should be looking forward to having giant failures of their own; I mean, I understand what they're getting at, but believe me when I say that having a big spectacular failure right in the middle of public, like I did last year when CCLaP ran out of money and was forced to shut down, is about the most humiliating experience you can ever go through, a kind of fatal embarrassment and ultimate Simpsons' Nelson "hah-hah!" moment that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. I mean, now that I've gone through it, I see what these entrepreneurs mean; once you do have a spectacular public failure and then live to see another day, you realize that life is merely a series of rolling ups and downs that are always destined to repeat themselves, and that you would be wise not to tie your sense of self-worth or self-identity too closely to any of these life goals, whether that's a company you've started or a marriage you've recently entered. (An ugly divorce certainly qualifies as a spectacular public failure, in terms of it fitting every single detail I'm talking about today.) But it's not a fun process, that's for goddamned sure, and it seems that the only people who can truly embrace it are those who have gone on to have a big further success, and can now look back on that failure with the benefit of distance and hindsight.
That's the challenge facing me these days, going through my existential crisis as we speak, is that I lack the confidence to state anything with certainty right now; whenever I do volunteer work in the tech industry these days, for example, it's always as a deliberate plebe who simply does what he's told, never daring to suggest a leadership position, and anytime an interview coach tells me, "You have to really convince that interviewer why they should choose you for the position over all the other candidates," my only response these days seems to be, "Fuck if I know, buddy." That's my onus these days, to try to shake off that blow to the system that occurs whenever you make a big giant disruptive change to your life like the ones I've recently been making; it's at that point that I think my existential crisis will finally be over, and that I'll finally start making some headway again in things like my romantic life and my job search, which just marked its first anniversary a couple of weeks ago.
And how is that job search coming? Well, that's the subject of my next essay; so I hope you'll have a chance to stop by next Tuesday for that, or to subscribe to the RSS feed or my Twitter account and get notified when it's ready.
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