I started a new job last week. It's taken a lot of mental work for me to be comfortable talking about it.
I felt like a failure when I moved home. I felt ungrateful. I felt lost. But mostly, I felt like a failure. I had graduated from a top university, landed a decent job, rented my own apartment alone, and gained independence in every sense of the word. And yet, I was miserable through the core of my being in a way I'd never been before. I couldn't even identify it at the time. It is only in retrospect, now, when I am aware of the happiness and gratitude I can feel on a daily basis, when I notice how much more easily smiling comes to me, that I am aware of the darkness of the past year.
I've been reading a lot. Books are what I gravitate towards when I am lost. I seek guidance from authors whose words have the power to embrace and heal me. JB MacKinnon's The Once and Future World provided a healthy dose of optimism and perspective-shift about the changing planet. In They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, Hanif Abdurraqib's exploration in music and culture gave me a deep appreciation for Carly Rae Jepsen and the power of essays. Both he and Michelle Obama (Becoming) revealed the deep confusion and uncertainty they felt in their 20s, and I've held onto their words with great hope. They made my confusion feel normal, maybe even positive. Ken Liu has inspired me to write, although my struggle with fiction seems eternal, as my own true stories constantly push themselves through.
I felt like a failure for moving home because I was afraid that it seemed like regression. More accurately, I felt like a failure because I thought of it as a regression. It took a few books, but I've finally realized that the decisions I've made in the last six months have led to more personal growth than I've experienced in years. I feel more open and vulnerable to the human experience, to questions of history, identity, and purpose. I feel compelled to learn about a variety of subjects, take on personal projects, write, exercise, and engage in my community. In the context of a logical career, perhaps I've regressed, but I've gained so much more.
I went from working at a design consultancy in Boston to working at as a film processing technician at a small photography lab in Irvine. The former required a degree from a top university, internship experience, and a significant amount of luck in timing. Landing that job was difficult, and for a few months, I felt spoiled and ungrateful for walking away. The job that I have now requires a high school diploma and a passion for film photography--both things that I had before I left for MIT more than five years ago. This fact alone makes it difficult for me to explain what I'm doing now to other people, particularly those who I don't believe will take the time to understand my decisions (or are unable to due to their own life experiences).
For now, I've given up a nice salary, a sense of independence, a clear career trajectory, and the status of a steady corporate job. I've gained proximity to family and friends, knowledge about an aspect of photography that I'd otherwise never be exposed to, experience in a job that requires mostly physical capability, comfort of living at home, time to pursue my own hobbies and passions, and an increasing sense of clarity about what matters to me in the world. I've been able to spend time with friends, old and new, in ways that challenge my perceptions and intellect. I love being able to eat dinner with my mom on a daily basis, to see my grandma every weekend, and to hike in the mountains whenever I want to feel sunlight on my skin. Maybe it sounds like I'm running from real life. Maybe I am. But maybe I've just decided to choose a slightly different path than the one I thought I was meant to take, and maybe that's okay.
Mary Oliver wrote in Upstream: Selected Essays : "The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time." For the first time since high school (when I promptly squashed it), I feel the call to creative work, and for the first time in my life, I'm allowing myself to give it both power and time.