What do I want?

What do I want?

That’s a hard question for me to answer. I’m not used to thinking that way. For the past eleven years, I’ve been in a career that I don’t have any interest in pursuing. Eleven years ago, I had lost what in retrospect was a short-lived job as a music minister in the church. Nevertheless, that job had represented the culmination of all my career aspirations to that point. And really, it had represented the culmination of all my life aspirations as well. Ministry has a way of becoming both.

But it was gone, and I had to find something else quickly. So I found a headhunter, did a job search, and ended up at the company that I’m still working for today.

I have told that story many times to illustrate how my life is fucked right now, and why everyone should feel sorry for me. This was something that happened to me. Life (circumstances, other people, whatever) conspired against me. All I could do was react to it, as best I could. The ship had gone down, and I had survived by clinging to a life preserver.

I’ll be honest; I still don’t think I’ve gotten over that loss. Even my choice of phrasing—”right now”—shows you just how present this still is for me, even after all this time. I still think of my current career as a temp job, and that any day now I’ll get to switch to something else. I’ve been telling myself this for a very long time.

But I don’t think that this tells the entire story. “Eleven years ago” wasn’t the first time that I decided that my own needs or desires weren’t important. I had already been in the habit of thinking that way. The job I left in order to start working at the church was itself born out of necessity, as was the job I had before that. I had no real interest in either one, but we needed the money.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with getting a job and making money, but I didn’t take the time to consider how I might try to match up “we need the money” with something I might actually enjoy doing. I saw both of those jobs as interruptions of a dream that I was pursuing (namely, to be a musician). But I did what I had to do. And I hated it, and resented the situation that had created this necessity.

Prior to that point, I had been enrolled in a post-graduate program at a nearby seminary. It was in fact the reason why I had moved to the area in the first place. I was going to get a master’s degree (focusing on “Christianity and contemporary culture”) to help me with music ministry. Because I had felt that that was my calling in life.

This “calling” had first started to coalesce in my mind when I was a junior in college. At the time, I was struggling with a psychology major and was looking for a way out of it. I had no interest in psychology as a career, but I had initially chosen it as a major because I didn’t know what else to do. But since becoming a Christian at the end of my first year in college, a new path had opened up to me. I could be a Christian musician. That sounded a lot better to me than psychology.

Because I already knew that I wanted to be a musician. I had known it since I first started playing guitar when I was seventeen. I hadn’t really wanted to go to college at all (because what did that have to do with being a musician?), but I felt that I had to, because that’s just what you did after highschool. It was time to pursue a career and make money.

It’s been “time to pursue a career” for a long time. And I’ve allowed fear, insecurity and obligation to keep me in that place. So what do I do? Quit my job? Honestly, that sounds like a great idea to me right now. As I sit here and read over this, I see patterns that I’d never put together before. A constant battle between what I want to do, and what is expected of me. I don’t think I’ve ever resolved it.

At this point I have to sigh and roll my eyes a little. Of course my dream couldn’t be something like “being an accountant”. There’s a clearly defined career path for that. Not to mention my own career, which seems to have become something related to information technology and compliance. There’s a clearly defined path for that as well. And if I may say so, I’ve actually done pretty well for myself at it.

But I don’t care. Oh my God, I don’t care. I could leave my job tomorrow and never look back. But then what? The abyss of uncertainty that would lie before me is the same thing that I have always faced whenever I start to seriously consider a career switch to “musician”. Because there is no clearly defined path for that. Most musicians have day jobs, and never quit them. It’s not something you do for money. And we still need money.

But I do know that music is the only thing that has made me happy.

This is where I’m going to leave it, because the fact is that there is no neat or easy resolution to this. When I was a Christian, one of the biggest things that annoyed me about Christian music was how a song would introduce a problem, and then resolve it by the final chorus. That’s not how life is. It’s not how my life is. I don’t have an answer.

But I would like a final chorus.


One thought on “What do I want?

  1. Eric M.

    Great post, Pete. Growing up an artist and musician, I can relate. The reality that I would not be able to turn either of those talents into a career of my choosing forced me into making some poor decisions in my early adult life, and I spent way too many years working dead-end jobs. I’m still always asking myself the “What do I want to do when I grow up?” question.

    I’ve been filling time as an IT support guy for the past 10 years, mostly because it pays the bills. A career by definition only. I’m excellent at my work and my employers think I’m great, but I have zero interest in moving up the IT career ladder. To make matters worse, I’ve peaked in my job role. At my last review, I was told that my scores were purposely lowered because giving me the highest scores would leave no room for improvement on paper and that I would be eligible for a higher support role, but it doesn’t exist. That should have made me feel good, but it didn’t. Sure, I could jump ship for slightly more money and a better working environment, but that’s it. The whole thing just reinforced the idea that I need to strike out and find something else.

    The one aspect of the job I really enjoy is helping people. I’ve always liked easing the burden and suffering of others if possible. This hasn’t always been a blessing in my life, but it has taught me humility and compassion. It has made me a better person. Is there a career out there that embodies all of that? One that still pays the bills? Should I even be considering a career change at this stage in my life? Everyone I know is always encouraging me to go back to school and do something like teaching. I’m quickly approaching 40 with a child on the way, and my current salary keeps a roof over our heads and pays the bills. The last thing I need is to be racking up student loans when I should be focusing on saving for retirement and my child’s education. Do I sacrifice the stability of others for the chance at something more personally fulfilling? I’ve never been a risk taker, and I’ve always sucked at putting my needs above the needs of others.


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