Wednesday, August 19, 2009

taking control of the internal spotlight

One of the reasons I started this blog is because I have felt, for quite some time, like a part of the essence of who I am has been stifled and buried by my work. My current job, though satisfying in many ways, does not allow much in the way of creative expression. We all have days in which our work is not what we think we want, and on those kinds of days I think about the things I wish I was doing - knitting, writing, taking pictures, baking, or just spending time with my family.

Anyone who knows me well can tell you that I've had a number of "mini-careers" in my life. If you count high school and college jobs, I've gone from food service to catering to taxidermy to veterinary medicine to photography to law to geography to planning. Whew! I've attributed all of this jumping around to having a lot of interests, and I try to see it in a positive light. And I'm trying to accept that seeing this attribute of myself in a positive light is something I'm going to struggle with - maybe forever. Even though I think it's fair to say I've had success in several of these "mini-careers", sometimes my inability to identify my one chosen career leaves me feeling like more failure than success.

So much of who we are is tied up in our profession, or at least it seems that way when we meet someone new. What's the first thing we ask when meeting a new person? Usually - what do you do? It's been interesting being married to a musician and having so many people assume I am also a professional musician. Someday I might just start saying yes and see how quickly I get hired for a gig.

While we were on vacation I had the opportunity to reunite with some old friends who I studied abroad with in undergrad. We attended the Scotland Field School in Documentary Photojournalism at Ohio University. It was probably one of the best experiences of my life, even though many of the memories have dimmed due to the years that have passed, and due to the amount of alcohol consumed while in Scotland.

It was pretty wonderful to see that these friends of mine hadn't changed in the years since we'd seen each other last, and in many ways it was like returning to a comfortable, cozy, familiar chair to be chatting with them again. Both of these friends of mine now work in the field of photojournalism, both using the degrees we worked on together which, for me, has now been relegated to primarily hobby status.

Driving away from the restaurant, I felt a profound sense of sadness about what could have been for Carrie the photojournalist. I have had this feeling before - one of my very closest friends is a successful photojournalist. I have watched her career blossom from our time together as interns, when we were equals, to where we are now - her perfecting her vision as I toil away in my office, staring at a computer writing plans and answering emails, while I fear my good photographic eye will be lost due to neglect. I am nothing if not happy for these friends of mine and their success. But a part of me grieves the fact that my photojournalistic eye sits patiently in the corner of the room, hoping for a reprise even as I fear that my ability to catch up with the changes in technology might preclude me from returning to the field. Of course, technological challenges aside, there are many other things which preclude my return to the field - years with no photo experience, lack of jobs, poor pay, instability of the field of photojournalism.

There are people who say "I can't believe I get paid to do this". Is this not the most annoying expression on the planet? Perhaps people really do feel this way. I think if I am honest with myself, I might discover that no matter what I do for work, I may never be able to say that with any truthfulness. I want to love what I do - but I want to also get paid well for what I do, and I want to feel like I make a difference, and not be in a position of having to stifle my political views, and work good hours, and not get exposed to workplace hazards, etc. etc. etc. My specifics go on and on, to the point that I'm not sure any career would really satisfy me.

So, how do I answer this conundrum? What am I really meant to do with my life? I remember once visiting my pastor when I was in college, struggling with a feeling of "not fitting in" because all of my close girlfriends were joining sororities and expressing their school spirit while I wished that school would just be over. She pointed out that maybe my best days, the pinnacle of my experience, were still ahead of me. Perhaps college wasn't going to be this all encompassing, wear-your-colors-with-pride kind of experience for me. And I revisit that advice now and wonder if, perhaps, as much as I would like it to be, my career isn't going to be my pinnacle either. Perhaps my pinnacle is that I get to have a good marriage, a beautiful angel of a baby who melts my heart every day, friends who mean the absolute world to me, a family I love, a home I feel comfortable in (most days, when it's sort of clean), meaningful projects I work on in my spare time, a church that I call home and where I feel loved.

I don't know if this is the answer. I do know I'll probably always be searching for who "I" am, what the right field is for me. I am not going to be a one act show - and that is not to say that one act shows are bad, it is just to say that I am not going to have one act, because I don't have a long enough attention span to fit all of my drama into one act. And I don't know when the next act starts, or what it's going to be, but in the meantime I'll keep trying to love it all, keep trying to write it down, keep on keeping on. And I promise, old friends, to try to only enjoy your company, and not let your success take control of my internal spotlight and shine it too brightly on what could have been. Instead, let's just have a nice meal together, look the other way when my daughter refuses all food except butter packets, and laugh at how we've changed so much and also not at all.

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