The Now What

I like to refer to the period of my life I’m currently stuck in as The Now What and, yes, I feel fully entitled to Zach Braff about it.  I say Zach Braff about it, of course, but I might mean Jesse Eisenberg about it.  I’m not sure who the celebrity poster boy for post-graduate lament is these days, but Braff has  a better ring because I can totally use the word “braff” as a verb whereas Eisenberg is a bit too bergy to stand on its lonesome.

See what I did that?  I braffed.  I braffed hard on a berg.

Now, I probably forfeit some right to raise my fist here because, in a lot of ways, I am fortunate.  I realize this.  Nobody wants to hear a 22-year-old middle-class white male who grew up in a suburban setting and got his bachelor’s bemoan all the unfortunate circumstances that have befallen his largely-sheltered, largely-secure life.  I’m not on a street corner.  I don’t have a radio voice.  My story won’t make the ten o’clock news until I draw my pistols and shoot at the moon (crater-faced bastard had it coming, though, if you ask me.)

Nobody wants to hear the same ol’ angst-laced diatribes about that transition between backpacks and business cards.  And really, I’m not here to do that.  That’s not my aim.  That’s not the focus of The Now What.

The Now What, instead, centers around a generation of self-entitlement.  I’ve been conditioned to think the same, so I hardly applaud my distance from the pack.  It seems that we were all raised to think we were special.  Spelling tests and geography bees, we were always the smartest.  Bright, so bright.  So much potential.  And they always told us all the same and we took it to heart: we were special.  All those a-pluses, all the papers returned with beaming comments and paintings displayed outside the cafeteria, we were all so special.

Until we weren’t.

I have this feeling, based on no substantive proof whatsoever, that the generation before us found compliments much harder to come by.  Asskickery was far more commonplace.  For that generation, everyone wasn’t special.  Most were completely average.  Mentors were less complimentary.  They were reserved in their praise, in their penchant to deem one as different from the rest, as trending toward greatness.

Now, a macaroni painting goes for six thousand self-esteem points on the open market and even the glue-eaters with their untied shoes and pennyrich nostrils find themselves showered with verbal sunshine.  Copper-mining has never been more glorified.

While this was happening, we were all informed that college would save us all.  Everything was toward college.  You had to pass all your fourth-grader recorder and kazoo tests to get into the gifted classes in middle school, which completely determined your high school curriculum, which could make or break your ability to get accepted into a good university.  You didn’t want to be a trashman after all.  Those little games we played, where the paper was folded in seemingly seven million pieces and each revealed a different fate?  Nobody ever wanted to be the trashman.

Somewhere along the line, we associated trade school with failure, with dropouts and delinquents, the kids who just didn’t care.  We said that building engines was for the dullards, we said that welding metal was for the weak, for those that never could quite navigate differential equations.  We spat on the blue collar because it conflicted with everything we were told: higher education would save us all, and anyone choosing to claim otherwise was doomed to drive a garbage truck.

But what happened?  We all went to school.  We were all special there too.  Professors couldn’t hand back papers fast enough, all boasting brilliance.

And then we graduated.

Hey, maybe we weren’t so special after all.

I really think that somewhere along this line of educational advancement, some sense of self-entitlement filtered through.  Like we were supposed to be better than because that’s what society told us.  And it’s obviously not the case for every one, but it’s a prevalent mentality, and an extremely damaging one at that.  Beyond the threat to the integrity of America’s infrastructure, which cannot be adequately maintained when blue collar jobs are denigrated in favor of promoting the bachelors-plus rat race, I fear there is bound to be some extreme damage to the psyche of the American post-grad, who believes employers should be bidding on his/her greatness upon exiting academia.

I can say, in my case, I wish I had done things differently.  I was never really the type to be able to afford an unpaid internship — always had to make money — but I wish I’d done one in retrospect because it would have really helped with my current pursuit.  I also wish I’d worked harder on a backup plan if my field failed me, because right now, with things less than rosy, it’s seriously all I can do to get out of bed and go to a job entirely unrelated to anything that captures my interest or inspires any sense of self-worth in my 9-to-5 being.  It keeps me up at night, the stress, the anxiety, the thoughts of going in tomorrow and tomorrow being the rest of my life, rational or not.  I toss and turn all night with these thoughts flooding my head.

And certainly the trashman laughs when he wakes me up the next morning.  Though I guess now, it’s the trash robot.

The Now What, for me, is more frustrating than I could have ever envisioned.  It’s supposed to be temporary but it feels like the only reality I’ll ever know.  It’s debilitating at times, which further frustrates me because I probably shouldn’t let it get to me as much as I do, shouldn’t let it decide whether I go out or not or allow myself to enjoy the little things in lieu of spending another second worrying about the wear of the waiting room.

Because personally, I want to be significant.  I want to contribute something that matters.  I want to do what I love.  And, hey, take a number.  Right.  I get it.  Hardly unique thoughts.  But still, it’s such a struggle to force my way through banal tasks thinking about all the ways in which I’m not contributing anything, in which I’m doing nothing for myself or anyone else.  Yet still, it feels like such a selfish thought process because there are far less fortunate out there and they would walk the wrong way down a four-lane highway to perform the same meaningless tasks in order to make a living.  Much as some might scoff at the image, I’d commend it.

It just seems a little more condemning to a 22-year-old with no real worldly sense or life direction thus far.  I’ve got a lot to learn and I always concede that.

I know that next stop is soon, and that’s what frustrates me the most, still being on this train.  All the flickering fluorescence and top 40 tunes escaping out of my seatmate’s headphones just remind me that I’m still on the train, still seated on that faded fabric.  It’s not that I’m above the commute, it’s just that my stop is next, you know?  And surely it’s around the next bend, the next switch junction or whatever.  I’ve seen the rats scampering along the side, minding the killer rail.  They’re running toward something, aren’t they?

I just feel like, when I’m out of The Now What, I’ll be so much more sure, or at least as sure as a stupid young person can be.  I’ll be sure of what I want in my life and who I want it with, and where I want it all to be.  Right now, there are all still masked by hypothetical-thick mist.  Like, counter-intuitive as it may be, I don’t want to try until I’m off the train and on a relatively-certain path.  I don’t want to express interest or invest energy at this stage of the ride.  And that’s really stupid sometimes and I need to be reminded of that.  Still, it’s true.  Right now, it just feels hard to commit to anything no matter where it falls on the scale of significance.

I hope, in retrospect, my $50,000 worth of college prepared me for something after The Now What and doesn’t simply prove to be an ego massage I’ll spend the next two decades paying off.  Muybridge, Aristotle, DuBois…where are you now?

Anyway, I don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for me, but The Now What does suck and I feel completely entitled to write it.  Hopefully I find something soon, something that gives me more purpose, more confidence, more direction and generally just allows me to sleep well again.

Because right now, I’m totally braffing my life away.



One Response

  1. From experience, let me just say that getting a new job in a field you’re not completely passionate about is not going to improve anything. Literally, the thing to do is to find a couple companies that inspire you that you would absolutely love to work for, then contact the owners / anyone you can get a hold of with the intention of speaking with them about how they got into the industry. Travel to meet with them for 30 minutes. Tell them about why they inspire you. Follow up from time to time over the next couple of months and if they haven’t already made you an offer, at some point say something like, “You know, I’m passionate enough about what you’re doing to come work for free for a month or two. I will do literally anything in the company, but I just want to be a part of what you are doing and get my feet wet.” At the end, if it really is working out and you are passionate about it, that will show and you’ll be brought on full-time. If it doesn’t work out or they don’t have the cash, you can use it as experience on your resume and get another job you like. There is nothing a business owner wants more than having people that are passionate about a company’s mission.

    You’re right about a sense of entitlement with our generation. However, think about the kinds of jobs you would like. They would not even be realistic or on the radar if you didn’t have the education you received. The fact that you are even aware of the vast possibilities that are out there is a huge gift. People that don’t go to college (80% of the population or something?) don’t have that frame of reference. So, being entitled is a good thing. Unfortunately, we still have to suck it up in the beginning, find a mentor, and prove ourselves. The one thing you do know is that you will never prove yourself working shitty jobs you don’t care about.

    I’m not completely sure what you want to do, but, based on what I know, my concrete advice would be: Move to Chicago or NYC, get a job doing anything, take classes at Second City or similar, get up to the writing level, make friends in entertainment, work on as many projects as humanly possible, leverage your new network into creating a real opportunity. Get out of Indiana. It’s unlikely there are a ton of people who are more experienced in what you want to do there. Move to a big city and, yeah, it’s going to be hard with debt, etc. but everyone has a pretty tough time in the beginning, especially if they are trying to do something great. Suck it up. Do it. Even if it doesn’t work out exactly like you initially planned, you definitely won’t regret it.

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