Dear Fuck Up,
I hope you’re doing well and surviving this horrible period of lockdown. I have a vague and probably impossible to answer question.
My life is beige. Every day is the same. I go to a job that is mainly boring, but sometimes okay. I live in a shitty apartment, but hope that if I stick with my boring job that I will get a raise and move into a slightly less shitty apartment. I have a small but nice group of friends and several hobbies, but feel like I rarely have fun or am excited.
About five years ago, I made this big plan to improve my life. I got a post-grad degree and changed careers. Now all I have is a pile of student loans and an equally dull career but with longer hours.
My problem is that I can’t figure out what I actually want in life, but I do know that it can’t continue like this. I’m 34 years old, and the thought of living in my boring, samey life for another five years, let alone 40 years, fills me with despair.
Is there any sage wisdom you can give me on how you identified what makes you tick in life?
As someone who has spent most of my adult life in varying stages of chronic depression let me be (probably not) the first to say: Welcome! It sucks here. People often have a rather melodramatic conception of depression—that it’s keening and sorrowful and involves wan young women writing bad poetry. Mostly it’s just boring. The sameness you describe is typical of how I experience my worst bouts of it, and also, strangely, why it’s become hard to tell how quarantine has been affecting me.
Everyone is living like a depressive right now. The monotony, isolation, the odd sleeping habits, the feeling that dishes are asexually reproducing in your sink. I used to understand all of these things as outward symptoms of my inner life, but I’ve come to realize that they can be causes and not effects. Am I truly depressed or just acting like it? Is there a difference? Perhaps not.
And if the structure of a day or week, sufficiently repeated without difference, can create the sense that I must be depressed, what about the structure of the world? That these are sad times and it feels bad to live in them is hardly insightful, but lately I’ve been wondering if it’s not so much the sadness but the sameness. Watching wicked people prosper over and over, having the same conversations about powerful men and the consequences they will never face, witnessing suffering that was easily anticipated and avoided, asking again and again what can be done about it and being told again and again, essentially, “nothing.” For a moment, early on in this present calamity, it felt like perhaps this could be a real rupture, but by now it’s clear our response will be more asking and more answering with “nothing,” more suffering, more pointless conversations, more prospering for a few of the expense of the rest.
Which is all to say, did you truly think that you could make all of that okay by finding a job you like? That sounds flippant and I’m sorry, but so many of us bought the lie that what we do for money gives life meaning that it’s important to point out how hilarious that is on the face of it. Are there people out there with fulfilling careers that help them withstand the vagaries of a cruel world? Yes, sure. Do a lot of them come from families with enough money to withstand the vagaries of a cruel world? Also yes.
The vast majority of people have jobs that are boring, at best. I recommend cultivating a healthy resentment toward your work. Put in just enough effort to keep your job and no more. The fantasy that an exciting career is enough to sustain a life is one of the most harmful of the modern age—you were never going to find meaning there.
I don’t think we really find meaning at all. We build it, most often with others. The only real antidote I’ve found to a sense of ever-present sameness is to attend to things that grow and change: living things. Care for something alive—start with something small and pitiful like a plant, if you want. A cat; a friend; a neighbor. Be wasteful and unproductive in your pursuits.
Take this terrible opportunity we all have right now to note what you miss most, and that’s probably where you will find a few things you love. I got laid off and I frankly don’t miss my job much at all, but I would give up my last paycheck to spend a few hours in a shitty bar with my friends.
A Fuck Up
Got a question? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.