If you’ve noticed, I haven’t written a column in a couple of weeks. I want to chalk it up to being busy with my freelance clients, but I’d be lying.
The truth is, I’ve lost my motivation. I’ve lost my drive. At 43, I’m having an identity crisis regarding my career.
As a freelance writer who gets to make his own schedule, work from anywhere, and work on exciting projects for clients, you’d think I’d be happy with my job.
For the most part, I am. But there’s a small, nagging part of me that’s feeling, as Paul Westerberg of The Replacements would say, unsatisfied.
Don’t get me wrong. I love being a freelance writer. I love my clients, the opportunities I get, the freedom that comes with what I do. But as I get older, I go through periods when I feel any dreams and aspirations I had as a kid slip away. I worry about all of that potential I had as an idealistic young man is gone, and that, because I am a middle-aged father and husband, that I am now becoming irrelevant in society, that my time to contribute something beautiful and wonderful and creative is gone, that I should just step aside and let the younger generations live out their dreams of becoming famous and influential and important.
Silly, isn’t it?
But it isn’t just me. According to an article in Quartz last year, it isn’t family or health that’s the strongest predictor of men’s well-being. It’s job satisfaction.
I’ve had a few conversations in recent years with men my age about our jobs, about where we are in our lives compared to where we thought we’d be in our lives when we were in high school or college. And most of them agree, we’re not where we thought we’d be, and not in a good way.
Let me go back a few decades.
When I was in high school, and into my 20s, I just knew I’d be a famous artist of some sort. I straddled between being a successful cartoonist and a famous memoirist. I’d be a creative genius and the world would recognize my talents and celebrate them.
At this point in my life, that’s hardly the case. Lately, I’ve been wondering just exactly what the hell I’ve been doing with my life. Where my writing career is going, and if I’m aging out. Or, that maybe I’ve missed my chance to be what I really wanted to be as an adult.
I can see a collective nodding of heads from side-to-side, a collective sigh of disapproval from many of you, as you say to yourselves, “Another privileged white boy complaining about his first-world problems.”
But I’m willing to bet there are quite a few of you who can identify with what I’m writing. You’ve had your days where you’ve questioned your career choices, questioned what kind of impact you’re making in this world, and how meaningful your job is.
I’m lucky. I get to write this column for Ark Republic. In my more than ten years as a professional writer, I’ve been fortunate enough to write for some of the largest publications out there: The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Week, MOJO Magazine, Slate, Vice, and others. But my journalism career (certainly not including this column) seems to have dried up a bit and I’ve had to rely on my copywriting gigs to support my family and me. And that’s cool. Again, I’m counting my blessings. But I feel like I could do more creatively. I feel like my career as a creative writer, as someone who still has something meaningful to contribute to the world, isn’t over.
Or is it?
Am I simply chasing dreams that will never become reality? Am I being selfish? Am I showing my privileged ass? Should I feel guilty about the way I feel as a middle-aged man? Because I do.
The thing is, I shouldn’t. No man should.
The stigma for too long is that as both men and women age, they are required to get a steady job and abandon their childhood hopes and dreams so they can provide for their families. We are taught that to pursue anything creative once we become parents is selfish and a waste of time. Our time is over and we must make room for our children to pursue their passions.
Meanwhile, almost one in 12 U.S. adults suffer from depression. And to an extent, it’s because we tend to put our needs last. It’s just what we’ve been taught to do as adults.
But while we’re being encouraged to take better care of ourselves when it comes to physical health, we’re still ignoring our mental and emotional well-being. And that includes our career fulfillment.
Yes, the stigma of what a responsible adult is in America is changing. I’m an example of that. I’m lucky to have an incredibly supportive wife who encourages me to pursue my passions. The problem is, I don’t always allow myself to. And when I do, guilt weighs on me. And so does rejection on occasion.
That’s why I took a break writing this column. Because I doubted myself, doubted that what I was writing was having any kind of impact. But what I failed to recognize is the impact writing this column has on me. It’s my chance to write about topics I feel are important, to interview people I feel are making a difference in the world, to express myself in ways I don’t normally get to. It’s my chance to help others, even if it’s just in a small way.
When I started The Man Project a few months back, it was meant to help others. But I forgot along the way, that more than anything, it was meant to help me better understand myself, with the hope that my breakthroughs become other people’s breakthroughs, too.
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