The Career Script: How To Justify Your Life’s Path To Anyone You Know

Funny People
Funny People

Due to a family circumstance, I was back in my hometown this weekend. Because of this circumstance, I ran into a lot of people I haven’t seen in awhile — mostly family friends of parents, who still haven’t realized that the “you’ve gotten so tall!” thing is about six years too late.

Nonetheless, there was a lot of obligatory judgement going on. There isn’t always a ton to talk about with someone 30 years your senior, so the conversation inevitably shifted to the goings-on of the younger person (me). Namely, life after college, and how the whole career thing is working out. Generally, I don’t think this is done with intentional malice — rather, it’s just basic conversation that conveniently allows the other person to think less of you.

“It’s pretty solid,” I’d say. Then I’d go into some lengthy thing about working hard, paying your dues, and deflect the conversation over to my girlfriend. She’s an impressive human so her whole thing often gets approved in 2-3 sentences, but no matter how well you’re doing currently, the conversation will always shift to a few years down the line:

“Is this what you ultimately want to do?”

The answer is always a bit more complicated, is it not? Nobody says that to a five-year old kid having a blast at Chuck E. Cheese, do they? Probably because that’s a terrible example, but watch how I force this into making sense:

The kid having a ball at Chuck E. Cheese is supremely happy, having a tremendous time doing what he’s doing. In that sense, he’s attained a level of happiness he probably wants to maintain for the rest of his childhood. Yet, if he continues on the Chuck E. Cheese grind for the next 10 years, the 15 year-old version of this kid will be completely miserable. He’ll be bitter, disillusioned, and feel like the 24 year-old at a frat party. He’ll feel stagnated, helpless, and maybe he’ll start dealing drugs. Fifteen at Chuck E. Cheese, you’re probably dealing drugs. Back parking lot.

Career hierarchies generally do a good job in preventing this sort of Chuck E. Cheese stagnation. An entry level job is different than a mid-level job, which is different from being 43 years old, dicking around in your own office all day, and justifying your ridiculous salary by the fact that your kid’s summer camp is expensive. This represents a natural evolution (Oddish –> Gloom –> Vileplume) and it allows people to do different things based on their experience, skill set, and ability to talk about prostate exams.

But the very notion of spending all your time catering to some sort of long-game hierarchy at the ripe (medium?) age of 23 — a hierarchy that will definitely be completely different by the time we’d hypothetically reach the top — feels a bit off. Not to mention, somewhat unnecessary and impractical. How many adult humans in the world have said the words “yea, what I did in college, it’s pretty much the opposite of what I do now?” Given that I’ve heard different versions of that sentence five times in the past week, I’m gonna say a lot. Which begs the question, what did their career scripts look like? They must’ve been nightmares to read. Where was the plot?

We live in a land of more internships, less mindless summer jobs. Adventure (via @studyabroad) has become increasingly pre-meditated. Just like people who commute between downtown Manhattan and New Jersey, we’ve become rather reliant on the PATH — we study hard in cheat our way through high school, go to college, do some self-discovery, but make sure that self-discovery figures out some sort of direction that can become a stable career. We graduate, then spend the next 45 years attaining “success” in that field.

I think that when you become so focused on what you wanna do just so you can comfortably answer questions at dinner parties, you kind of forget what you want to do — when you follow the script too closely, you forget that sometimes the best stuff in the movie is actually improv. This might be the most heavy-handed metaphor of all-time, but it works pretty well. Getting too bogged down in scene after scene– trying to memorize line after line, you ultimately forget about what the script’s even about. Why you wrote it in the first place, why you’re spending night after night staying late, chasing this thing that you want so badly. Ambition — whether inborn or forced upon you via #societalpressure — is great to have, but every now and then, you need to let your script breathe. Every now and then, you need let yourself breathe. And whether that breath be a 2 hour nap on an office couch, or a two year stint working at a dock learning how to cook seafood, you just need to make sure its fresh. Because if there’s anything to be learned from low-budget commercials of mediocre skin-care products, it’s that rejuvenation is everything.

So, the next time someone 30 years your senior asks you about career-ey stuff at a family function, consult your script. You’ve been working on it pretty much every day, so it’d be an insult not to use it. But, when you get to a point where answering is either impossible or uncomfortable, hit up some improv and ask them whether or not they’ve tried any of the chicken parm. It’s probably pretty excellent. TC mark

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