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Ask Esmond
The Nathan Shelkey Homepage
See below for the seventh column of ASK ESMOND!

Click on me to write Esmond a question or comment!!!!!!
Now, because it’s been months and Shelktone has waited so patiently, I’ll tackle yet another question.  Believe it or not, they’re kind of related.

Dear Ask Esmond:

Tax Time is upon us again, another year to reflect on what we've made and how we've made it.  When the tallies are done, two things jump out at me:

1) I didn't make much money
2) Most of that money came from a joyless job(s)

My mind inevitably ponder a few of life's basic questions:

-What am I doing here?
-Is this where I need to be?
-Where do want to go?
-Why haven't I gone there?

I've heard lots of post-graduate advice from people who have survived their 20's and early 30's and some of it makes sense and some of it doesn't:

-Get away from your friends - they'll give you a false sense of security.
-Don’t spend too much time in one place, see the world, live in different 
cities, explore your options.
-Follow your dreams, never compromise.

and conversely:
-Find a group of people that inspire and support you. Stick with them.
-Sooner or later you'll have to find a place to settle and grow roots. The sooner you do, the sooner you can build on that foundation.
-Have a back up plan, be practical, don't miss the finer things in life in search of an unattainable goal.

So what's the secret A.E.?

He narrows it down with “What’s the secret,” which kind of turns it into one question, but really, this is about sixty questions.  Nonetheless, I’ll assay to answer…

Some people switch cities from time to time.  They’ll try New York, and if things aren’t perfectly happy there, they’ll switch to L.A.  If L.A isn’t a bowl of cherries, they’re off to Chicago.  It gets strange as we get older, because people have a tendency to start with the big metropolitan giants, so that by the time they’re 40 they’re saying, “Yeah, I really think everything could be different if I moved to Omaha.  That’s really where it’s at for me.”

The problem with this method, of course, is that one eventually runs out of cities.  You’re left with yourself, wherever you’ve finally wound up, with all of your talents and all of your shortcomings.

Friends are the same way.  If we’re constantly hopping into new friendships simply for the sake of stimulating different aspects of our personalities, we’re not forming any real, lasting relationships.  And again, in truth, we’re left with ourselves.  Our friends are rarely to blame for holding us back from anything; they simply make a convenient scapegoat.

Plenty of people have found success staying in one city, hanging out with one group of friends.  Whether or not you succeed depends only on you.  The central issue here is really, whether or not you should “follow your dreams.”

Should one follow one’s dream without compromise, or is that simply tilting at windmills?  I’d be remiss telling anyone anything along the lines of, “Oh, come on, man.  You’ll never make it as an 
actor/director/musician/athlete/etc.  The competition is way too great, and you’re already too old.”  That’s simply not true.  People are succeeding in those professions every day.  Plenty of people “make it” in their dream careers, and horror of horrors, it’s not pure merit that determines one’s success.  Few goals are truly unattainable.  In truth, the only unattainable goal may be complete satisfaction.

I was reading Mamet's book of essays about a year ago, and of course, a lot of what he says is crap.  But he did make several points I really liked.  The first was, "Information is the new opiate of the masses."  I'm reminded of that every day at work.  The second was that nudity and sex scenes always detract from the story.  My inner 14-year-old desperately wants to formulate a solid argument against that so that I can continue to see things like Kate Hudson's breasts in Almost Famous, but I know I can't.  The third is sort of twofold...or, really, he made them as separate points, but to me they're closely related, and very closely related to your (and everyone’s) dilemma.

The first was that "Longing is integral to the human condition."  The second was that...I can't remember how he phrased it exactly, but it was basically that we all think back to our childhoods as times of pure happiness and freedom from care, but in actuality, that's just not so.  Throughout our lives we have been worried, fearful, dissatisfied, wracked with concern.  If you were to ask me, I'd readily tell you I had a very happy childhood.  I don't feel like I ever really wanted for much, I don't feel like I've ever endured any great suffering.  But when I think back more closely, naturally there were all sorts of reports I didn't do, an older kid who used to pick on me, wondering why I was no good at sports, all sorts of things.  Granted, these aren't "from where will my next meal come" or "how can I find shelter" or "why do the soldiers keep taking my loved ones," but you know, unhappiness is unhappiness.

Now, you know me.  I don't ever, ever want to be cynical or pessimistic or dwell on the negative.  But I thought a lot about these concepts, and ultimately, it was very freeing. See, I'm happily married, my day job is much better than I ever anticipated, I enjoyed my now-ended affiliation with a high school drama program, and now I have a few different creative opportunities from which to choose.  I live in my hometown among family and friends, and we're all generally healthy.  But am I sated?  No.  Satisfied? Not really.  I often make fun of myself - my complacency and my general lack of ambition.  But of course, just like the next guy, I want more for myself. 

 Like anyone of our TV-always-on generation, I grew up with constant fantasies of fame.  And while I'm over that, naturally I'd love to sustain a comfortable lifestyle through nothing but creative endeavors.  And perhaps one day I will.  But shouldn't I be happy with what I have now?  Yes, certainly, I should.  I have more than most; I am fortunate.  Is it, then, awful of me to want more?  This is my point.  No.  We can't help it.  We will always be, on some level, dissatisfied with our lives, and we will always paint a rosier picture of the past than was real.

All this in response to your basic question, "will I be unhappy if I never 'make it?'"  Yes, you will.  How could you not?  Be it friendships or geography or effort, you'll create a clear crossroads in your past on which to hinge any future dissatisfaction you might feel.  In other words, "will I be unhappy" is the heart of the question, and the answer is "yes, from time to time."  Any sort of  "...if I never start hanging out with a different group of people” or “if I stay in one city and never see what others are like” part is incidental.  I don't mean to imply that ambition is wrong or anything like that, and I understand that you understand the basic difference between occasional wistful regret and true, lifelong unhappiness that might occur if, say, the world at large embraces someone who's exactly like you in every way only a little worse at everything.  I guess all I'm saying is, if you feel you are at a crossroads, don't worry.  If you’re the type of person who can make the best of things, you'll do well.  All we can do is sit down, weigh the good and bad of our options, and make a choice. 
And of course from time to time we'll regret the choice we've made, but that's nothing we can help.

The “secret,” then, is simply knowing that a certain amount of 
dissatisfaction is an inevitable part of being human.  St. Thomas Aquinas referenced this when he attempted to prove the existence of God.  According to his (twisted, agenda-serving) idea, the fact that no one is ever 100% satisfied with every aspect of their lives proves that an ultimate perfection does exist somewhere.  To him, that was in God.  To others, it may be with a hipper crowd, or in London or Dublin or Memphis or somewhere better than (insert town here).

But in truth, it’s all up to you.