As always, the only thing linking the two items mentioned in this post in my mind is that they both start with the same letter of the alphabet.
I know that Fleetwood Mac’s song Go You Own Way is actually about the breakup of a relationship, but the moment I first heard it, I knew it was going to be the theme song of my life for its title alone — and not just because of my dislike of bandwagons, crowds, and conformism generally. Nor is this about standing out in each and every aspect of life: My “fashion sense”, for example, (if it can even be called that) is — with one exception to which we’ll be getting later in this blog post series — fairly conservative. I hate the feeling that people are or just might be looking at me because of something I’m wearing; this invariably makes me suspect I’ve missed something that’s flat-out wrong with my clothing (open zipper, specks of dirt, T-shirts worn the wrong way round, trouser legs too short or too long, unraveled seams … the list is practically endless).
BUT as a general matter, I prefer to be around people who have a clear sense of their own self and individuality and arrange their lives accordingly. I believe that we are all masters of our own destinies, and we’re on this earth only once — so we owe it to ourselves to make the most of the lifetime that we’ve been given. If fitting into the traditional mould fulfils all that you expect from life and takes you where you want to go, that’s fine for you. If it doesn’t, though, you had better sit down and take a long, hard look at your options. The latter was the case for me.
When I was in my late twenties, I had secured the job that I had, until then, thought I wanted to secure; I’d secured it faster than many others in my field, I had attained a level of responsibility that I had had no earthly expectation to reach this soon, and it was a position coming with life tenure: even if progress on my career path had slowed down further down the road, I knew that literally short of me committing a crime, nobody could take my job away from me and my future would be secure. And in an insecure labor market, that should have meant a lot; not least given the fact that even the entry bar for the job I held then was a fairly high one to begin with. Yet, I had had to leave certain alternative options unexplored in order to embark on this career path — and several years into the job, just at the point when I was promoted to a position that under normal circumstances I could only have expected to reach several years later, I began to foresee that some 10 or 15 years further down the road, I would almost certainly be dissatisfied and looking back with regret on the options I had left unexplored. It wasn’t necessarily a “road less traveled” thing in the sense of Frost’s poem, but there was decidedly a fork in the road, and the two paths branching off from it were inexorably leading further and further apart from each other. So, after a considerable amount of soul-searching, I decided to set the clock back, return to where I’d started, and explore the other path after all. *
In the environment where I was moving at the time, this was pretty much an unheard-of thing: A friend and former coworker told me several years later that it was still being talked about as something totally out of the ordinary (this might no longer be the case to quite the same extent today, which, if true, would of course only be to the good) — and the President of the institution where I had been working until then on one occasion asked me outright, in light of the fact that my step also involved a move to a different country: “So who is the gentleman to whom we owe losing you?” I spontaneously blurted out, “So you’re the one who started this rumor!” (only to turn crimson and apologize as hastily, explaining that the whole thing really didn’t have anything to do with anybody but myself) — but his question, though not meant in ill will, had angered me because exemplified another way in which I was breaking the mould in the perception of the time. While right and left, my female friends and coworkers of the same age as myself were getting married, pregnant, or both of these (in whichever order) — and had all resolved to somehow find a way to reconcile work and a family, in most cases foreseeably at the price of setbacks in their career paths — I had just taken a step in the opposite direction; and I knew that if I was going to make a success of my venture, I couldn’t rely on anybody but myself. If assistance and support was going to come my way eventually, that would be great (and in one instance in particular it did, and I was very grateful for it); but it was not something I’d be able to count on. So, too, with romance and a family. And yet, all of this, I could easily accept; self-reliance had always been a big part of my life until then already. What did worry me considerably more was that the whole thing was very much a “putting all my eggs in one basket” kind of situation: not the sort of thing I’m ordinarily inclined to at all, least of all if I don’t even have the slightest way of foreseeing where I’ll be even a single year later, never mind three, five, or ten years further on, and if or how precisely I’m going to realize the goal I have set for myself. But there was nothing for it; and even though I’ve since had to “reinvent” myself professionally several times — let alone explain my decision to reverse course in just about every single job interview, of course — I’ve never regretted my decision. I can’t begin to adequately chart the breadth of life experience to which my new path has taken me, far beyond what I had been looking for at the time (not all of it positive, of course; and some of the lows were really low, but obviously all the more important), and professionally, I’ve not only been able to gain the experience that I had been looking for but I’ve also been fortunate enough to be given the chance to do some work that, although it had long interested me, I would never have thought would actually come my way. None of this would have been possible if I hadn’t made that one crucial decision all those years ago. Of course there is no saying where I would have ended up instead — but I am more convinced now than ever that even if all the promotions I could still have hoped for had actually materialized, I would always have felt that I had missed out on something much more fulfilling.
At my high school graduation, I was one of three students chosen to briefly speak about our expectations for the future: While the other two chiefly spoke about their hopes and / or fears, I said that although I didn’t view my future life with rose-tinted spectacles, I was curious where it was going to take me and what challenges I was going to come up against. It turns out that I’ve ended up setting my greatest challenge myself — and while I neither expected nor found it to be all plain sailing, I think my 18 year old self’s curiosity has been more than satisfied so far. And I’m not done yet! 😀
High school graduation — starting over — commencement: first stage successfully concluded!
(Photos: various private sources)
* For purposes of this post, there’s no point in going into further details — I shared some of the background, though under a different topical aspect, in the first paragraphs behind the spoiler tags at the end of this post on BookLikes.
Impersonal Living Spaces
Model apartments / houses and similar show pieces of course, as well as furnished corporate accommodation — but essentially, any and all living spaces that don’t tell you anything about the person(s) inhabiting them; be it because they’re furnished more with an eye towards being trendy (fake book spines or generic books, anybody — or book spines turned towards the wall?), or because of their soulless furniture, or because they’re so thoroughly sanitized that you could literally eat off the floor without fear of catching any germs … if you weren’t too scared of being scolded for leaving food stains behind instead.
A home should, of course, first and foremost feel comfortable (to its inhabitant(s) if nobody else); but ideally it also tells you something about the person(s) calling it their home — some of the path they have traveled in life, their priorities, preferences and likes, etc. And I’m not necessarily talking about long-term accommodation only … personally, I tend to start making a “home” (of sorts) even of any hotel room where I’m spending more than a single night: I move some of the furniture (somehow chairs and, occasionally, tables and reading lamps never seem to be where I need them to be); I don’t plug in the electric water heater where it’s (presumably) meant to go but where I need it to be in relation to the table, bed and TV, I rearrange the bedding in a similar fashion as I’m used to, etc. And my actual home tells you everything about me from the fact that red is my favorite color to my love of books, the fact that I share rooms with (two) cats, that I place a premium on comfort, that I am not exactly organized, as well as some the places where I have lived before and cultures I am particularly interested in.