It’s Time For a Revision

 

A Manifesto

I’m tired and I want out.

Until recently, I was pretty sure I was in my choice of career, acquiring the knowledge and skills that would allow me to be a purposeful part of society. But perhaps the traditional career is not my cup of tea after all. Instead, perhaps I need to reexamine what set me on this path in the first place, and redirect my efforts into work that is more personally rewarding.

When I lost my job in 2009, I basically panicked. I have a wife, two kids, and a mortgage. I had to do something. Unfortunately, this obscured my ability to see any alternative opportunity. Like a drowning man, I lost hold of any rational view of the best course of action. I ended up being re-hired by the same company, doing work related to my former position.

Revision camp
As the panic has subsided, I am able to look at my assumptions. One is that I wanted a traditional career, the conventional man-as-breadwinner model.  It seemed a reasonable assumption, being the best way to make my mark in life and provide for myself and my family. However, I’ve realized that when my job was eliminated, the idea of my career had been eliminated too.

This has not been an easy realization for me. I wrote an essay that was published elsewhere about my conflicted feelings concerning my career, or lack thereof. (I was given a pseudonym by the publisher as protection from potential career damage.) I said there that for many people, and men especially, the career goes to define the adult self. Without the recognition that a career brings—amongst peers, colleagues, and maybe also the public—life lacks direction.

Now I’m seeing that I committed career suicide a long time ago–I just didn’t know it.

Honestly, though, I’ve never had a clear vision of my course in life. I’ve flip-flopped many times, with few consistent threads to hold it together. But I had a dream, an ephemeral idea of who I saw myself as. Essentially, it involved being an effective part of finding a solution to what I saw as the critical issue of my generation—the environment. And it involved doing so in a creative fashion, most likely writing.

But my dream had some flaws. Specifically, my pursuit of a career has been misguided in regard to corporate life generally and specifically work on environmental issues. Neither has been as satisfying or successful as I had hoped. I thought that, given enough time, the personal rewards would come, but it just hasn’t happened.

Time to set a new course.

A writer friend of mine once pointed out that the word “revision” actually is “re-vision”, as in “to see again.” Recently, I’ve come to see that my life, post lay-off, will require a revision.

But long-standing points of view do not change overnight. And I see, with the help of some time and distance, that my insistence on sticking to the corporate comforts and the environmental path was blinding me to other possibilities.

This means that I need to stop clinging to what I think I ought to be doing. Says writer Amy Gutman, “The more wedded we are to a specific outcome—the more we narrow our sights—the harder it may be to craft a fulfilling life with the materials at hand.”

Changing entrenched habits requires new methods. To borrow from the “tactical urbanism” lexicon, I need to take a deliberate, but phased, approach to change, making short-term commitments and keeping my expectations realistic. In other words, I need to make a choice, set small goals, stick to it, and take baby steps.

Furthermore, I need to see the problem in its component parts. Only then can I eliminate what is unnecessary and cast off the extraneous. What remains is what I need to live.

Thoreau wrote “I am convinced, both by faith and experience, that to maintain one’s self on this earth is not a hardship but a pastime, if we will live simply and wisely.”

A vision is forming, and I think I see a way. I’m letting go of the dream…to find a new one.

Note: See also the addendum to this post.

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My Facebook Experiment

A few years ago, I joined Facebook. Reluctantly.

The members of the band I was in at the time thought that social media was a good way to publicize our gigs. Everyone else in the band was already on Facebook, and I thought it would give the wrong impression if the bassist were the only one who was not. Up until that point, I didn’t see the value of it. Facebook

So I joined. But I had one condition.

I felt that if I had to be on Facebook–if it wasn’t my idea–then I would do it on my terms. And my terms were these: with a few exceptions, I would not initiate friending anyone; I would wait for them to friend me.

I thought it would look phony if, after having dismissed social media, I suddenly joined and started friending everyone I could think of. Also, and more importantly, I wanted to gauge the level of other’s interest in being connected to me. One way to do that was to wait and see.

And you know what? Very few people have friended me. The usual suspects have–I could have predicted with 95 percent confidence the small number of individuals who would friend me–but a surprising number have not. For example, there are some people with whom my wife is barely acquainted–but who I have known for years–who have friended her, but not me.

I have to wonder what that means. Does that say something about me, or about them?

I would like to blame Facebook’s automated “find your friends” feature, which mines your address book and friends everyone whom you may have, at some point in your life, listed an email address for.

But, more likely, it is that I have some fundamental misunderstanding of the rules of social media, because they are essentially the same rules that govern social interaction in general. It has something to do with how attractive you are, how talkative you are, and how comfortable you are with the medium. Things like intelligence and humor do not come across well on Facebook.

And if that feels like high school, it’s because…well…it is like high school. In a recent article in New York magazine, writer Jennifer Senior points out that research indicates that all our social skills–the ability to pick up on cues or fail to do so–we learn as adolescents. Quoting work by Gabriella Conti, she says ” ‘Adolescent popularity,…it’s about interpersonal relations. High school is when you learn how to master social relationships—and to understand how, basically, to play the game. ” Or don’t.”

Underlying all of this is being able to effectively interact with people and make yourself interesting to others. This is a skill that is, for the most part, independent of media, although Facebook does amplify the extent to which one has mastered it, thus requiring the refinement of one’s social toolkit to avoid being annoying.

I’ve heard people say how connected they feel on Facebook, but these are people who were already connected in the real world. For me, Facebook has not upped my feeling of connection. Rather, it is one more avenue of communication that I suck at. Most days, instead of updating my status with some inane personal detail, I find myself thinking, “Why bother?” and “Who cares?”

The bottom line is that social media is little different from any other social situation. Those who understand the rules are rewarded, and those for whom the rules remain mysterious are marginalized or even penalized. I know of a number of people who’ve tried Facebook but have since deactivated their accounts. “It just didn’t work for me,” one guy told me.

I continue to use Facebook on occasion. Often I go more than a week without even logging in. Sometimes I wonder why I use it at all.

The Enigma of Hair

For nearly 15 years, I hated my hair.

I know what you’re thinking–it’s a long time to be in conflict over something about which one can do little. A few years back, I reached a sort of truce with my hair and began to accept it for what it was. But it is an uneasy truce, one that threatens to erupt into conflict again at any moment.

So you can imagine my surprise when a woman I’d never met before stopped me recently to tell me I have “gorgeous hair.” I was flattered. Furthermore, it made me reassess my feelings about my hair.

Me at 4 years old.

Me at 4 years old.

When I was born, I had straight, blond hair. Somewhere around 8 or 9 years old, however, it began to darken and curl. Having lived with one kind of hair up to that point, I was unprepared for this change.

Curly hair does not run in my family. Both of my parents have essentially straight hair. Of my two sisters, one had straight-as-straight-can-be hair, and the other has what I would call wavy hair. My younger brother has wavy hair too. Mine is undeniably curly.

My mother tried to blame the change on me, that I was not taking care of my hair properly and so causing it to curl. In hindsight, I see how ridiculous this is, but at the time, I listened to my mother. So I washed it excessively, combed it excessively, and tried different hair cuts, all in an attempt to bring back the flaxen hair I had. It was no use.

Me at 11 years old (with orthodontics).

Me at 11 years old (with orthodontics).

I was at a loss for how to care for my new hair, and in fact was doing more damage than if I’d just accepted it and let it be. This being the late 70’s, what I wanted was hair like David Cassidy–long, rich, flowing hair. I tried to grow mine longer, but it went cockeyed, poofed, and frizzed. I looked more like Gabe Kaplan, and I wasn’t amused.

Hair is a strange thing, if you think about it. Every other mammal on the planet is either completely covered in hair or is completely naked. People, on the other hand, have this strange patch on the tops of our heads. It doesn’t seem to serve any functional purpose, so we create meaning for it. Native American men grow their hair long as a symbol of their strength and cultural identity. Sikh men grow long hair as a symbol of piety. Buddhist monks shave theirs off, also to show piety.

Me at 15 years old, with frizz in full swing.

Me at 15 years old, with frizz in full swing.

It’s hard for an individual to be accepting of what one’s been given when culturally we don’t seem to know what to do with our hair.

To this day, I normally don’t think of my hair as an asset.  So to have a complete stranger tell me my hair is gorgeous came as a bit of a shock.

“Really?” I said.

“It’s like Richard Gere hair,” she said, smiling.

Wow. Who knew?

All of Life is a Performance

All of life is a performance.

When you get up in the morning, you enter the stage and you don’t exit the stage until you go to bed at night. All day long, you are in front of the audience, both your admirers and critics. And just to keep things interesting, it is always improvisation. There is no director, no stage manager, no script. We each must seek our motivations and speak in character.mic3

As with all performance, you will have some “on” days and you will have some days when you are really off, days when you’ll want to hide backstage and not re-emerge until the next show. You will sustain injury and heartbreak. You will experience an entire change of cast. But the show must go on.

If you act out of character, or refuse to appear, you may be boo’d or deserted by your fans. Critics will wonder aloud what happened to your mojo.

When the performance is over, when the show finally closes, your obituary is your review. The friends and the critics will finally weigh in on what they thought of you. Sadly, you will not get to read these reviews. In fact, while the performance is running, you may never know for sure what anybody thinks. But you must perform anyway.

Because all of life is a performance.

[With a tip of the hat to Erving Goffman. I’ve not read The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, and can only say that this piece was born of my own experience. But I did read Asylums in college and was deeply impressed.]