“What job would you have if you could have any job in the world?” I was asked recently. On the face of it, the question is a fun little exploration that lets the mind wander through a playground of the ideal, picking up little scraps of hope and insight along the way. It’s a great question to ask, because it puts one in a position to ask, “What in this world matches best with my personality?” Afraid of dogs? Vet or mail carrier is probably not for you. Love talking about anything and everything at length? Politics or radio might be a good fit. Are you accustomed to pain and degradation? You could be a star in BDSM porn or customer service!
It’s a great thought process for kids (with the notable exception of those last two options) because they have their whole lives in front of them. For a thirty-year-old, it’s a completely different question because, perhaps due to a change in brain chemistry at this age, the question sounds eerily like, “If you’d had the passion, talent, or natural ability, and hadn’t been met along the way by constant rejection, what would you like to have done?” It may sound like I’m dismissing the exercise out of hand as unadulterated masochism, but that’s not the case at all. It’s actually quite freeing.
As a kid, I used to daydream that I unearthed an alien spaceship, gathered some friends, and went off to explore the universe. We met aliens of all sorts, fighting some and befriending others, and braved dangers and wonders only the mind can create. And yet, for some reason, not one thing–not the space pirates, not the brain leeches, not the giant lizards that puked lava, not even an entire galaxy of sucking black holes–none of it was as dangerous as returning to Earth. Upon every return, we encountered overwhelming hostility, inadvertently led something dangerous to Earth, or in some other way had to endure undue hardship. Almost every day, I would daydream a new installment of these adventures until I had lived for years on that ship.
But it’s time for a reality check. I can dream up a bunch of jobs I’d like to do, but what are my qualifications? One idea I’d had was to try and carve out a niche for myself as a humorist. I can write words and and speak sounds, but this post was meant to be humorous, so unless there’s a job out there devoted to making people depressed (aside from being Lars von Trier), I may need to shelve that one for a bit.
Now, if there were a job out there for a spaceship pilot, I’d be golden.
Of course, there is a school of thought that says a job is a job, and it doesn’t need to be anything you love. You do your work and go home, and in the off hours you practice your art or whatever it is that makes you feel human, even if, for your entire life, those efforts go largely unappreciated. It has worked for many. Einstein did it. We even create fictional characters like Dexter, who can work one job and then go and rack up a decent body count after work. But Einstein finally broke out of his doldrums and earned a professorship, and even Dexter felt the irresistible urge to go full-time.
So what do you do when you choose a profession in which only one out of about ten thousand actually make a viable living? You make backup plans. And you make backup plans for the backup plans. And you make backup plans D, E, F, G, and when you run out of letters, you create a new alphabet. You try not to let plan B fall through, but when it does, you pause, break something you care about, and then move on to C. By mid alphabet, the urge to break stuff is gone and you’ve practically picked up the next plan before the one before it falls through–and whether or not that preemption is the cause of the failure, or whether or not the dissolution of hope is destructive is anyone’s guess.
You try or pretend or try to pretend that you’ll be as happy with plan Q as you would have been with plan B, but as you put on your boots and prepare for plan R, it hits you. No plan will ever be as good as plan B. Ever. Plan A was always a dream and is reserved for the gifted few. If you can even remember what your plan A was, congratulations. Plan B tasted so sweet, a plump fruit picked from the vine that grew from the ashes of A, and you chase that feeling again, hoping that adventure into new territory will resurrect a long broken dream. Maybe you’re right. Maybe you’re wrong. All you know is that there’s a universe of stars out there, each one with wonders to terrify and delight. And behind you, on solid ground, is only heartbreak and the longing for something that never was and can never be. So you set out and never look back, just an object in space.