A Strange Dichotomy

When you’re a child, all you want is to grow up. To be able to sit at the adult table. To be able to go on that ride you’re too short for. To be able to drive. To be able to consider yourself a “big kid,” whatever that is. To not have to listen to what your parents say. Essentially, you want to be independent. To be your own person, make your own decisions, and live your life as you see fit.

This idea, while being the natural progression associated with growing up, changes when you start considering significant others. Suddenly, being accounted for by another doesn’t sound so bad. Neither does making decisions without simply your own input. Instead of being alone in the world going your own way, you start desiring the presence of another in your life. But the idea of individuality remains. In short, you’re kind of stuck.

Why is it that part of us strives for individuality, and another for cooperation and companionship? We seem to have this inherent internal disagreement. Thinking societally doesn’t help either. Part of society tells us to be ourselves, to go into the world our own person and forge our own path. Another part tells us that finding someone and settling down is the way to go. Sure, an argument can be made for keeping these two ideas chronologically separated, to be your own person, free, in your younger years, and leave settling down for later. Sometimes it just isn’t that simple.

This oddity isn’t restricted to relationships. We humans have a tendency to settle into groups. Of course, extroversion/introversion is a spectrum, and we each have our own desires, but in general, we like having friend groups. Part of us may want to follow the same friend group through life, moving to the same city after college, maybe even to the same apartment a la countless sitcoms. Another part may want to move to a strange city, perhaps foreign, and try our hand at something new. We may even want to travel the world, never sticking around one place too long. Why do our desires contradict?

This strange dichotomy seems to be an intrinsic part of life; that we will naturally find ourselves disagreeing within. Perhaps it does follow a more chronological path, and the balance of desires changes over time. Still, I like to think that there will always be a bit of both, that we’ll always have some kind of struggle. In some way, we may always be dissatisfied with what we have, which, to be fair, is a very humanistic trait. If we’re comfortably with another, we may long for a bit of individuality. If we’re alone, we’ll probably crave the company of another. Maybe we’ll find our spot and this will turn into a non-issue. Maybe we’ll always have a bit of a struggle in one way or another. But that’s

On Passion

There are those people in the world who love something; they breathe it, drink it, fight for it, and live for it every day. It can be music (who’d be a starving musician if they didn’t love what they do), it can be math (whenever they have down time, they’re reading about Euclid or topology or something of the sort), it can really be anything. These people live for their subject. They do it. They love it. You can see these people standing in line for auditions on Broadway, working 80 hours a week on campaigns, and searching deep into the night for a scientific breakthrough. These people do great things. They fight for their passion.

But what is passion? Why do some people have it, and others don’t or have too many passions. Why can some people, without a second thought, throw all their eggs into one basket, and someone else not know what to do with theirs? How does passion manifest itself? And where?

When you think of those singularly driven individuals, you can try to define passion as a strong enthusiasm or desire to be involved with, surrounded by, or enveloped in a certain topic or subject. They love government and politics, and, while it’s hard work, can’t get enough of the campaign scene. They love music, and can’t imagine themselves doing anything else, even if they’re working a job or two on the side to make ends meet. For them, they have blinders on, in some sense. When it comes with what to do, they only have eyes on their passion.

That’s not to say the people that aren’t in this sort of situation don’t have passion, they can be passionate about many things. They can love subjects and truly enjoy doing things related to them. They cannot, however, singularly focus themselves on one of them, and push themselves towards that and only that. Unfortunately, this can leave them in a bit of a pickle, primarily with the whole “what do with one’s life” business.

If there isn’t one thing you’re passionate about, how can you go off and push yourself with the same gusto and vigor that others, the driven folk, can? It proves a real challenge, one not easily confronted. Ultimately you’ll probably end up having to choose one passion, and go for that, even if that’s a somewhat dissatisfying plan of action. Because the other passions may push themselves above the other one, and you may struggle with staying with the one you chose. Is this the right course of action?

Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. In a perfect world, you’d find the one thing that combines all your passions, each included in some way big or small, and do that. And one should always have faith that there exists something out there that’s perfect for them. There is certainly enough uniqueness in the world for that. The best thing to do is probably just go out there. Pick a job that sounds interesting. If you don’t like it, find another. Eventually you’ll find your niche. Eventually your passion will find you.

We’re All Made of Fiction

We all love a good story. Be it film, TV, or literature, we as humans so often envelop ourselves into worlds populated by all sorts of characters doing all sorts of things. So often the stories that captivate us the most involve characters we can relate to, ones that represent some form of our own being. And while everyone is bound to like certain works of fiction and certain characters more than others, anyone can find themselves in any fictional character in one way or another.

The easiest way to represent this phenomenon is by looking at groups of characters that all hold something that we relate to. Look at the sitcom Friends. Sure, we may all think that we’re a Chandler, or Monica, or Joey, but there’s no way that anyone is solely comparable to just one of them. While someone may be childish and loving like Joey, they could also be very neat like Monica, and a free spirited eccentric like Phoebe. People are incredibly complex, and the combinations are infinite, barring any parallel universes that may or may not exist.

This idea is not at all limited to Friends, it can be found everywhere. You may have traits of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. You may look at yourself as predominately relatable to Ron Weasley, but also see much of yourself in Luna Lovegood. Of course this is only looking at one work at a time. Each movie you see or book you read, you can go through this process again and again, each time finding more representations of yourself. And then there are all the Buzzfeed quizzes that try to label you, based on a few simple questions, as a certain character, or even real-life person. You can take the same quiz again and again and get different answers, all the more showing how no one fits one mold.

Of course this doesn’t imply that real people are just an amalgam of countless fictional characters, but that these limited fictional characters (limited because how much can really be said about anyone in a two hour movie, or even a 400 page book) are boiled-down representations of actual individuals. The complexity of humans is immense, unfathomable at times. And while it can be comforting, enjoyable, and helpful to relate oneself to fictional characters, it will only ever be an approximation. The fact that no one can be perfectly represented by a character attests to how unique each and every person that lives and has lived on this planet really is.

What’s in a Dream Job?

Seemingly from the day you’re born, you’re constantly peppered with the question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” As a child, that question is easy to answer, because you can say pretty much whatever you want, however unrealistic it might be, and it won’t have any sort of lasting impact on your life. If you say you want to be president, then that’s great. If you say you want to be a chef, wonderful. A race car driver? Great! However, as you get older, and the realities of that question begin to weed their way into your very soul, it becomes an incredibly exasperating query to consider.

The problem with being asked virtually your entire life about what you want to do is that it becomes something that is rather romanticized beyond its actualities. With people always advising you to “do what you like to do” and “follow your dreams/passion,” you can quickly reach an impasse when you genuinely don’t know what it is you’d like to spend your life doing. Some people find their passion easily, maybe even knowing it from a young age. Those people can dedicate themselves to a single goal, and put every ounce of their being towards achieving it Therefore they can find success. Even if, in the end, they don’t accomplish it, they can’t be faulted for chasing their dreams.

But what if you don’t have a dream? Or what if you have a lot of dreams, all unrelated, and all equally interesting? What then? You could pursue the thing that you’re best at, since that would probably give you the best chance at success. Yet it’s often the case that the thing you may be best at isn’t really what you want to be building your life around. While it may be your best bet at success (here success is most easily defined as being better than the largest percentage of people), it might well not be your best bet at happiness.

The problem with the notion of a dream job is that so often that dream job is unrealistic, or seen as unreasonable to have as a dream job. Sure, the scientist who dreams of curing cancer or unifying the fundamental forces probably won’t, they will still likely contribute to the greater scientific community, and perhaps make important breakthroughs in other, related topics. Or the non-profit owner who strives to assist as many of the less fortunate as they can. They may not fix world hunger, but they will positively affect the lives of others, likely saving lives. These dreams can be commended, since they will still lead to something of benefit. But what if you don’t have that?

There are those, like myself, who have interests across the board, without any rising high enough above the rest to be considered a singular passion or focus. For these people, it can be difficult to decide what to do. In today’s society, you’re essentially forced into choosing an area of expertise, usually coming in the form of a college major. Yet that major may not be what you want to go into, because any major might not be what you want to go into. Physics can be as equally intriguing as government or history or geology, but you can’t do everything. You have to choose. And that choosing can leave you stuck.

For people who don’t have a clear dream job, as it’s often thought of, it can then be extremely disheartening when faced with the question of what to do with your life. For these people, they probably have something they might love doing, but it falls outside of an academic discipline or even a well-defined career. Therefore, it’s often considered unrealistic, or not shooting for the stars, or simply not lucrative enough. Here’s the huge contradiction:  with everyone telling to work towards your dream job, you’re subsequently being forced to choose a major and keep specializing as time goes on. You can then quickly find yourself getting stuck going to down a path that you’re not genuinely passionate about. What then?

I don’t know. Clearly. It can be mind-numbingly frustrating to be in this situation. Maybe you have an idea of what your dream lifestyle would be like (because let’s be real, it’s not all about careers, it’s about the whole package – family, friends, location, etc. – that goes with it), but that isn’t considered what a dream job should be. Alan Watts argues in one of his famous quotes (often recognized from its opening line “What do you desire?”) that you should forget about money, and become a master in what you love, and that eventually you will be able to support yourself with it. If you don’t have one thing you love, however, or that thing might be considered unrealistic, what do you do then? It’s a monumentally difficult question to answer, and something that can’t be ascertained on a whim. But maybe Alan is on to something: maybe you should give that “dream” a chance.

While Knowledge May Be Power, Ignorance Most Definitely is Bliss

As a child, all you want is to be older. To be able to do more things, know more things, and see more things. But there’s a point you reach, where it suddenly seems like you’re sacrificing some unmeasurable amount of happiness due to your enhanced understanding. While you might know what’s best in the long run, or at least a logical course of action to take, it can seem counterproductive to having a good time. It’s something I’ve been realizing gradually now that I’m in my junior year of college, and something that troubles me. But it’s also just so fascinating.

The easiest example of this, for those that might not totally get what I’m saying, is playing video games. Video games are fun. A lot of fun. That’s their primary objective. But in doing so, they become a massive time sink. Therefore, I find myself delegating less and less time for them. There are many times that I felt the urge to start up Skyrim again, but what with homework, applications, work, and just wanting to feel productive (a huge part of it), I never do. Nevertheless, I know that I’d have a grand old time playing it. And that’s what I’m getting at, that need to feel productive you get as you age cause you to end up spending less and less time on those traditional “fun” things.

That being said, going for a hike with friends after fresh snow doesn’t feel like something that needs to be time-sensitive. So it’s not all fun things, just some. It’s the things that make you feel like you’re not growing as a person, at least how I see it, which causes the problems. That growing can happen in a number of different ways. When you’re hiking with friends, you’re making memories, getting some fresh air, and spending time with people you care about. The same can’t really be said about video games. Even playing video games with friends, something that feels a bit more productive than solo gaming since you’re spending time with others, still seems like something that could stagnantly go on and on.

The thing is, this idea of “growth” is just a construct of my mind, formed from my own experiences with the world outside my brain. Of course, as stereotypically articulated, it was partly made by society. Yet there has to be more to it than just that because there are people that, at least it seems, that aren’t affected by this like me. These people exhibit a particular skill: the ability to live in the moment.

Obviously this isn’t a crazy conclusion, since the obsession with growth is dependent on an interest in the future, and how one’s actions in the present affect it. It can come in all forms, from actively doing homework or writing applications, to getting enough sleep so you’re not struggling the next day. The problem is that it all seems to make sense! You don’t want to feel exhausted in the morning, so one would imagine that doing beneficial things in any way is worth it.

The cliché fear-of-missing-out isn’t the root of this, however, that much is clear, because at least for me, it’s by no means a clear choice between fun and responsibility. It’s the small chance that what you’re passing up could lead to something fun and memorable that’s often the issue. For example, do you stay in and read, clean up, and do a little research on internships, or do you go to those parties that, a majority of the time, you don’t really get anything out of? It’s a question that’s easy to answer: one option requires substantially less energy, and has less potential for awkward encounters, to accomplish than the other.

What’s funny is that the future is unknowable. Duh. But still, should one fret over something that, just by its very existence, is impossible to have any amount of confidence in its contents? Then again, from experience, you can predict, and statistically understand, what might come to pass, and how you could change that to benefit you in the way you desire. It’s the “responsibilities,” and related things that you can make happen, or at least try your best to do so. You cannot force fun. That’s what makes fun such a unique part of human nature. It’s something that just happens. It’s natural. You can’t construct it like you can construct an application or a time management scheme. Those things are not fun.

Ultimately, one needs a balance of both living-in-the-moment enjoyment and future-thinking responsibility. “Compromise is key” rears its head again. The achievement of that compromise, however, is the challenge. Some people, myself among them, find it almost impossible to turn off the part of the brain that constantly thinks about things outside the present moment. It’s a blessing and a curse, I suppose (read “I hope”), since while always being distracted and slightly stressed, it does breed thoughtfulness and preparedness. Which is powerful.