Spoiler alert: This one’s all about me.
I finished this semester. Finally. I’ve explained why before, so that’s not what this is about. This is about what this semester has taught me.
This was a pretty awful semester, which is a pity because I was riding high for the first half of 2013. Over the summer, I remarked to one of my friends I felt like I was trying to be the “best possible me”. I was ridiculed for it, but I stand by it. However this semester, I have not been the best possible me. That’s not to say it has been all doom and gloom. A lot of good things happened—even a couple great things. Those things were few and far between; diamonds in the rough, if I can add another cliché.
I floundered with all of this struggle; the pressures of this semester weighed heavily on my psyche. I hated things this semester. I hated my job. This job I chose to continue doing for another year… I hated it. When I was home over the summer, I was telling everyone proudly that I was going back to China to volunteer for a third year. Then I ended up spending most of the semester miserable. Utterly miserable.
This called into question everything. Why was I so unhappy? I was so sure about my decision; could I have been so wrong? Could I have been so delusional in thinking this was the right thing for me to do?
I have this habit. When I cook dinner (I’ve come a long way in the kitchen), I listen to podcasts. Most of the podcasts I listen to are related, in some way or another, to comedy. One night a couple weeks ago, I was listening to an episode of You Made It Weird—a podcast hosted by one of my favourite stand-ups, a guy named Pete Holmes. He was talking with another comedian, Jonah Ray, about working as a comedian, inspiration and happiness.
Jonah was talking about writing for The Soup and hating getting out of bed in the morning. Pete interjected the idea that what you do is what you’re doing. You acclimate and become accustomed to this, and your dream job just becomes a job.
Huh… I paused the podcast.
I nearly burnt the vegetables in my wok.
I’ve written almost ad nauseum on this blog about Peace Corps being my dream. However, with the poopy semester I’d had, I couldn’t justify this with my distaste for what I was doing. Hearing these two guys talk about hating writing jokes for a living really helped me put it into perspective and come to terms with the conflicting feelings I’ve had all semester.
(I mean, these guys are doing what I dream of doing. Don’t get me wrong, Peace Corps has been a dream, but it was always a good one. My selfish, fantastical dream has always been comedy. I’d leave this life of volunteerism behind in a heartbeat if it meant being a successful comedian. Sorry, Dad…)
Even if I was upset this semester, even if I was angry, disappointed, stressed and miserable, this is still my dream. It’s okay that not every day is frolicking through a field of butterflies. I can still love it.
Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered eccentric, if not subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential. As if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth. You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out and I guarantee you’ll hear about them. To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.
The webcomic at the beginning of this post was something else discussed on the podcast. The illustration was done by Gavin Aung Than on his blog, Zen Pencils. The quotation was said by Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes.
Me, teaching in China… This is my success, because I said it is. Regardless of whether my semester was good or bad, I should be proud of what I’ve done, and what I’m still doing.
I have a winter of travelling to look forward to, then one more semester, and I couldn’t be more excited. I am using this quotation as my mantra, because I will be happier for the trouble.