The Problem With the Question: “What Am I Doing With My Life?”

COVID-19 completely upended my career. Dance, events, and entertainment don’t go hand in hand with lockdowns and social distancing. Coping with the uncertain future of my livelihood hasn’t boded well for psyche. I have missed being on stage, lining up for auditions frantically trying to find a stapler to get my headshot and resume together (yes I am THAT person), and dancing my heart out next to like-minded souls in class.

Dance has been my purpose, passion and drive for as long as I can remember. Who is “Katie” without it?

The full-fledged identity crisis has been real; a feeling I’m sure my fellow artists can relate to.

Despite this inner turmoil, the earth has kept spinning and life has continued. Funny how that always seems to happen. I’ve pivoted accordingly. 2020 took me on a circuitous journey from the COVID 19 frontline all the way to Tasmania, Australia. Now I’m living in a camper van cruising up the east coast of Queensland. My life must look wildly bizarre to outsiders peeking in. To be honest, it’s pretty wild living it.

One pesky word has continually has entered my head through it all:

“Should”

I “should” have a clearer idea of where I’ll be in 5 years. I “should” be working towards a career goal. I “should” have it “figured out” by now.

These feelings are exacerbated by perceived societal expectations and social media. I scroll past friends, peers, and strangers giving updates on various successes; “I started grad school!” “I’m opening a business!” “I took 4 zoom dance classes today!” “I have become a real estate agent!”

Society has created a recipe for living in the recent decades. Mind you, this formula is being rewritten with the rise of the gig economy and technology, but this was the expectation I grew up believing.

  • Go to school K-12.
  • Go to college.
  • Start a job.
  • Maybe go to school again.
  • Start a family.
  • Progress in that job.
  • Buy a house, buy a car, and buy other “things.”
  • Continue to work to pay for those things.
  • Retire.
  • Die.

Throw in a dash of  “summer vacation”, a sprinkle of “volunteering in South America”, and dusting of “Saturday nights with the girls” into the written out life recipe.

Fellow artists and gig workers who live unconventional lives can commiserate in the anxiety these societal standards have a knack for inducing.

I made it through the first two steps, then took off on my course. Somehow I’ve ended up aimlessly wandering around Australia doing an online job with no career potential living in a van with no idea what’s next.

But wait…

I’m freaking living in a van traveling around Australia!!!! That’s pretty cool!!!

I can step back, silence expectations, and rationally recognize how lucky I am.  But alas, telling my prefrontal cortex that I can’t compare my journey to others and that I’m doing aye-okay doesn’t mean my sub-conscious obeys.

Recognizing it’s okay to go against what’s “normal” and accepting that it’s fine are two different things. The pressure still pummels down on me.

I am stubbornly ambitious and obnoxiously self-critical. These qualities are to blame for my sleepless nights and to thank for my exciting adventures in life. It’s how I excelled in college, booked professional dance gigs, traveled the world, and made it to Australia (the application and quarantine process took A LOT of time and A LOT of funds I had to work hard to earn.) Living for the moments and planning a future full of more great moments is a delicate seesaw to try to balance.

Thus, the “shoulds” persevere as I fling myself down an anxiety-ridden vortex over the question “what am I doing with my life.”

Recently something amazing has happened… I’ve finally had a major eureka moment:

Why do I need to know what I want to do with my entire life at 27…almost 28?

I graduated college at 22, and if I retire at 65 (yeah yeah wishful thinking…), that means I have 43 whole years in the work force (with 38 to go). That’s a long time! Why am I in such a rush to dive into consistency and structure?

What if societal standards and expectations are just wrong?

For the majority of humanity, homo sapiens have hunted and gathered, exploring the land and finding purpose through relationships and tribal life. Worrying about the stock market, sitting at desks, and obsessing over news are relatively recent developments. The standard “acceptable” timeline for the flow of life milestones was designed to create a well functioning society that could produce and consume goods and services while keeping the aging population comfortable and paving the way for future generations.

It leads to a functioning society, but does it lead to happiness?

In the above timeline, young adults go straight from college into the workforce. Life doesn’t pay for itself, after all.  The expectation is to get your career going with an entry level position to begin the long-haul of working your way up the ladder.

There are 2 problems with this:

  1. How can you possibly know what you want in life when you’ve had the crutches of education guiding you thus far?
  2. Where’s the room for freedom and exploration?

Physical capabilities and mental curiosities are much different at 22 than 65. You have the ability, drive, and stamina to jump out of planes, go on 10-mile hikes, endure 110 degree heat, and bounce back after food poisoning.

If you follow the timeline prescribed above, the best years of your capabilities could be spent in the pursuit of a comfortable life at age 65. (Mind you, some people’s passions and ambitions perfectly align with the standard formula, which is great! If you’re like me, however, the timeline just doesn’t fit.)

Our allocated time of freedom is given to us when we can’t take full advantage of it. Many old timer’s throw about the  phrase “youth is wasted on the young.” Yet, the standard life formula doesn’t allow the young to fully live.

I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. I don’t have any 5, 10, or 30 year plan. I still don’t know how to fill the empty hole the lack of dance has opened up. But I’ve come to terms with the fact that that’s okay. I have plenty of time to figure it out.

Life is meant to be lived. I can confidently say that I am doing just that.

Hungry for more?

“Go Get a ‘Real’ Job!”: A Case for My Unconventional Profession

The things that are “essential” allow provide food for the body, the things that are “nonessential” provide food for the soul. Here is a case for why my profession is “real.”

3 Comments Add yours

  1. chapter18 says:

    Makes a lot of sense..

    Like

  2. man who needs direction any way?

    Liked by 1 person

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