The morning after my birthday, I wake up and, just as I’d suspected, I’m still drunk. I go on to accomplish all the perfunctory tasks you do to get over a hangover (except continue to drink) and struggle out my front door into the morning sun. It’s a beautiful day, but I can’t notice, because I hate everything about the sun and the morning, like commuter bicyclists with their rolled-up pant legs and constipated looks as they nervously ride along the busy, uneven street.
The cold air helps me wake up. Going through the list for the day I’m thankful that I’m the only one who will be in the office. I check my email. Nothing urgent. On the train I collapse into an empty seat and put my head against the window. I think about how much I hate my job, about how the devil running this train charges too much for transit to and from my own personal hell. And I do this everyday! This is the slow, monotonous repetition of time passing. My eyes are fixed, my brow furrowed. I’m staring down a twelve year old on a school field trip. I look away. Every day I get to look at my pale, fragile little boss wondering if that is what I’ll look like twenty years. Every day I think: I could crush this little man. But maybe that’s the thing. He’s a chump whose six figures go to the one daughter’s soccer equipment, the other daughter’s severe mold allergy. This is just a job. I’m set to get a little raise in the next few weeks and soon enough I’ll be out, free from the dull corporate hymn. Wait, I’m ahead of myself, I’m still woozy and drunk. A young man, who might be lost, thumbs a ride towards Tierra del Fuego. No, I still need this job. It’s past ten. I should have been in my office over an hour ago.
Now here’s where the drunk millennial gets fired. Actually, publicly humiliated.
I get out of the train and check my email. Immediately, I’m taken off guard as I read a message referring to me in the third person. I look at the other recipients: the president, the CFO, and Human Resources. This must be in regard to my pay raise. I look down the thread. And then, from my boss, “Obviously, we’ll use this time to give him the bad news instead.” Suddenly my hangover recedes. The man is dropped off in Panama, at the Darien Gap. I get another email. It’s from one of the other partners in the firm: “Don’t know if this was supposed to be sent to me, but I hope it didn’t go to the whole firm.” It did. A few minutes later an email comes from our IT guy: “Please do not email Gertrude,” our president, “as the email is currently experiencing some technical difficulties.”
I call my coworker Jillian, “I think I’m fired,” I say into the phone.
“I’m so sorry. I don’t know what to say.”
“The whole firm got the email?”
“Yeah, oh my god, I’m so sorry. Where are you?”
“I’ll call you back.” I hang up before she can answer. The usual self-conscious and ironic thoughts race through my head: I just lost my job, how did this happen? Why did this happen? What do I do now? A brief pause. That went terribly. A nervous laugh. Should I start looking for new jobs? What kind of jobs will hire a screw-up like me? What did I do to lose this job? Why didn’t they warn me? Am I incompetent? Since my ego has turned this occurrence into an evaluation of my quality, I can’t remember that I actually hated this job. I used to be the guy who was too good for his job, now I’m the meritless pauper.
The young man prepares to cross the jungle south into Colombia.
A week passes, a month. I wake up one morning and remember that a little over a year ago I was in Africa with severe food poisoning attending a funeral for two friends. A few months from now I’ll wake up happy I got tossed from the 9-5 grind when I did, because it helped me discover what I really care about. Some time after that I’ll be drunk, forced to assess my values again to get over heartbreak; and a couple months after that, I’ll realize that we weren’t right for each other, and that I’m better off without her. Give it more time and we’ll be back at the critical self-analysis part. It’s all part of the plan, even if there is no plan—that’s what being a narcissistic, retroactively rationalizing human being is all about. You get to decide for yourself what the things that happen to you mean; and at certain junctures, you are given the opportunity to reimagine your life’s trajectory to make it a journey instead of an everyday commute.