I wonder if you felt like this too, but, when you were leaving university, or maybe when you left school or college, you were suddenly faced with the rest of your life. It didn’t look like an intricate forest, an ant’s nest of pathways, spidering out before you. It was a highway, an electric power cable plugged right into death. It wasn’t exciting, this growing up thing you’d heard about. It was all about insurance, tax rates, rent prices, routes to work, public transport. When we were told about maturity and growing up – this is what it meant. It was about how much of a number you are, how much you contribute to the economy. It wasn’t the valuable emotional lessons you learn as you grow old and age, it’s all the money you’ll make for your boss while you take the emotional burden of it all straight to your grave. It was capitalism leaning on your shoulder and selling you a lie.
But the thing is… I had the absolute time of my life for three whole years at university. I’d only just managed to crawl my way, battered and bruised, from an emotionally turbulent adolescence and for once in my stupid little life I felt happy. I began to get scared, then, as my university days were coming to an end. I lived opposite a first year halls of residence at the time and I would hear them partying long into the night from my tiny little dilapidated room. The loneliness licked at the edges of my mind – I felt myself sinking in quick sand. I requested my room be moved to the other side of the house. This lease on life was put in front of me and now it was being taken away forever. It didn’t feel fair. I was miserable forever, and this one thing that I worked hard for is now ending and I hadn’t prepared myself for it at all. The long road of adulthood was yawning ahead of me. Working was what you did until you died. And that prospect terrified me.
I didn’t really have time to make any preparations, though. I had to jump before I was pushed. I had no safety net. I had no parent to coddle me. No financial barrier to stop me drowning. I had no money to my name. I had to hit the road, or I’d really have nothing.
I took whatever I could find – I was desperate, after all, for money, for a way to stop the spiralling misery. And it worked, for a while. The initial few months at a new corporate IT company had given me a purpose I didn’t really have before and I focussed on the job, as corporate and as alien as it was. The shine didn’t take long to fade. It was, after all, a corporate job, and the carrot on a stick only gets you so far. I quickly realized there was no real progression. No real skills to gain. Not anything that will help me grow as a person – only skills that will help me get other similarly dreadful work. But perhaps the biggest killer of all is how unhappy the ‘veterans’ seemed. They were woefully unhelpful to new employees, our questions burdened them, and they radiated an unlikeable aura unlike anything I’ve ever seen. They genuinely seemed totally defeated, both spiritually and intellectually, by this dreadful machine they’d existed within for years. Once I saw how hollow this whole thing was my brief focussed reprieve faded almost overnight. The swirling darkness began to lick at the edges of my mind again. Mindlessness, pointlessness. Nihilism. Again.
I felt all used up; a dried sack containing my biological organisms, connected by nerve endings only. Nothing inside: no light on in the darkness at all. I would pointlessly meander between the office and home, rattling along as though suspended on a coat hanger and being railed to my next destination. Liberated from free will, motivated merely by muscle memory. I was all used up. The loneliness was only the beginning.
I think it was a childhood dedicated to counter-culture, to punk rock iconography, to romantic ideas, but adult life, I realized, had never truly appealed to me. I never saw sense in insurance rates, in banking or in impressing the boss. Nor did I see value in social progression. I didn’t understand how any of this was going to make me happy, but I was expected to just do it and figure it out. Frankly the idea of growing up was frightening at age 20, but I eventually disregarded that as immaturity. That actually when you get there you learn some hidden life lesson. But you know what? All I learned is that as I approached my 30s I’d compromised everything about myself. I was every bit as bitter and hollow as those old ‘veterans’ were when I started at the company and I just hated myself and everything that I’d become. It wasn’t just the depression. It was this lifestyle I’d grabbed on to out of desperation. It was killing me from the inside.
I had become what I was afraid of becoming: Those dead bodies you see on public transport cattle trucks, being rattled into their dead end employment for 8 hours a day, all grey and washed out.
What seemed to accelerate this sense of alienation is all of that terribly boring adult stuff mentioned above was being done by people in my social circle, and they didn’t really seem to enjoy it either but went along for the ride in lieu of anything better. I just couldn’t understand it. I couldn’t connect the dots, couldn’t make it make sense. Why do they do this? Isn’t there more to life than mortgages, insurance, two kids? It just seemed to give them a headache yet, bafflingly, they didn’t ever stop. They just learned to live with it.
Success is a funny thing, isn’t it? I think we’re definitely supposed to think of success as a one way street. It’s money or power or social standing. But what if I’m happy now? With nothing?
I feel more connected to what makes me happy than ever, and I find myself acting more impulsively, without judgement, without fear of ridicule, knowing that if I do get ridiculed I know they come from a completely alien position of understanding to me. Their values are the ones I dislike. I know this from experience, from trying desperately to squeeze my body inside it’s skin. I know this. So why should I listen?
Because my friends are all tied up in obligations and responsibilities I’m uniquely placed to do whatever I want and I get to enjoy their pleasant jealousy. They congratulate me, they’re happy for me and it’s all very c’est la vie. But an extremely petty side of me secretly revels in the hidden jealousy. Maybe It proves I’m doing the right thing. That they’re apparently championing this thing I’m missing out on, a thing that makes them totally miserable and I get to wander off and enjoy the simple pleasures of life. The things they must rigorously plan to do, I can do on a whim, at any time, whenever I want. Or just… not at all. The irony is beautiful. It’s petty. Definitely petty. Immature too, but… to hell with it. I’m going to hold on to it for as long as I can.