There’s this thing that Rob does every day, when we’re having a conversation and someone’s occupation comes up. “Linguist?” he’ll say. (Or “Doctor?” Or “Sommelier?” Etc.) “I could do that.”
He says it, and I know what he means. He’s talking about a feeling that I had for a very long time, a feeling that went away completely only after I became a mom. He means that this world has limitless possibilities, life is too short to box yourself into a set way of life, and figuring out one’s life, identity and choices is a scary process. He means that the subjective nature of happiness is often frightening: humans are fickle, and we often change our minds. He means that a job title has different connotations to different people, and we often agonize over how to reconcile our own career needs and desires with those of the people we love and admire. He means that it would be awesome to land a job that seems less of a chore and more of a vocation.
I get it.
Eight years ago, I risked family estrangement and took a year off from school. I remember the long conversations with my parents that led up to the decision, the long letters I wrote to them and placed in glove boxes and on kitchen counters, the heated and very dramatic conversation in which I declared “I don’t care if I have no savings and have to live in a shoebox, just as long as I’m writing!” My father had asked me about starting a family, supporting my own kids, and being a responsible mom, and I had simply shrugged it off. Not until my writing career is off the ground, I’d said. All this as I was rebelling against the traditional career of choice for Filipinos: nursing.
We make plans, and God laughs.
Now I’m a mom, living in the Philippines and taking up nursing. The only writing of mine that’s frequently published are non-fiction pieces that end up as web fodder for money. The daily balancing act of mommy/etc. drains me to the point of deep eye circles and extended bouts of sickness. And my dreams? Those lofty aspirations made when people were still asking me “What do you want to do when you grow up?”? They’re still there, but they’ve taken on a different form.
The glossy, sweet-smelling dreams that I had as a youth are now ripped off the page and placed preciously before me, in real life. They are wrapped in pristine packaging, smelling of lilacs and lavender, shiny and large, looming like some fantastic gift from God. And in this real life state, where I cannot simply lift the lid and transform my life, I must work for the contents of this box.
It’s not easy. The box is sealed tight and larger than an SUV. It has layers: one box inside of another box inside another one… How many boxes there are, I don’t know. So I smudge the wrapping and tarnish the bow and take an axe and chainsaw and lock-picking kit to each box, and slowly, slowly, slowly, I see the shape of something materializing. Something that excites me with each step I take towards it. Something that reminds me of integrity, character, hope, faith, perseverance, and hard work. But also: something that I’ve been working toward for so long, under such duress, that its shape and size are completely new to me. And even though I’m doing everything I can possibly do to hold my dreams in my two hands, I also know that beyond all the boxes and bows, there may only be air.
Beyond the distractions, the whirs of progress going on around it, the sheer magnitude of this undertaking that seems so overwhelming, lies the task itself and the resolve it takes to reach completion. It starts the process and is the ever-renewing well of desire that makes the rest of the journey possible. And it’s this grain of dedication that is often the hardest to achieve.
Because you never really know what you’re getting.
Because, sometimes, life becomes a different version of itself than you’d imagined.
Because the hypothetical future you had as a child must be replaced by tangible choices, which take time away from other tangible choices.
Because you make these choices, all of your choices, in the dark, with only your gut guiding you.
And all of these facts make it impossible to know if you’re doing what you’re supposed to do, if you’re doing things right.
So, yeah, I get why Rob makes this declaration every day, about so many different jobs. I totally understand his desire to keep the folds of possibility open to any and all amazing opportunities. I feel for him and I will support him in anything he chooses.
But also, I hope for the day when his seeds of dedication are planted firmly in his soul. Because even though we can never predict the future, there is a certain solace found in working towards an end, in watching those seeds grow, in comforting each other through the hard parts. It’s the journey that makes it all worth it, and the goals that define the journey. Maybe it’s the writer in me – the part of me that needs to understand plot and conflict – but I for one would like to know a little more about what we’re working towards, even if all we get is air.