“You don’t sound excited,” my Tinder date observed as I described the 2-3 jobs I did in answer to the basic question, “What do you do?”
We met at Exit 1 of Chiang Kai-shek station and walked to a small, dark bar in Taipei. The bartender was slow and exacting, but made really good drinks. I was having my very first old fashioned cocktail, which was giving me a great introduction to whisky. Beer made me bloated and wine made me sleepy. Taiwan was known for its whisky, so part of my trip’s agenda was to try a new poison.
I told him I was at that point where all I wanted from a job was freedom–in both time and money–to do what I wanted with my life. I didn’t need to feel love. I didn’t need to feel passion. I didn’t need a fucking mission-vision. Just tell me what you want. Pay me decently and reliably. Leave me loads of free time and space. That’s it.
“Ah, but people will tell you, ‘No! You have to find your passion!'” he laughed, knowing society well. Isn’t that the life trajectory we’re all sold?
“That used to be me!” I said. I remember feeling secretly smug in high school and college, because so many of my peers couldn’t figure out what their “passion” was, no matter how hard they tried. But I knew. I wanted to be a writer. A columnist, to be exact.
I got what I wanted, only to find myself having to squeeze my muse dry in order to make a living. Ten years later, you should have seen the look on her face when I finally switched career gears and told her she didn’t have to pay my bills anymore.
These days, my work pays her, and she’s not required to do anything she isn’t compelled to do. If I never wrote anything ever again, I wouldn’t make an issue out of it. Being a “writer” used to be so ingrained in my identity. But if there’s anything this indefinite hiatus has taught me, it’s that there are other perfectly good ways to live. You don’t have to always be fulfilling this one role. There will always be something else; someone else for you to be that will entail its own complexities.
But it wasn’t just the financial aspect of writing. It was the exhausting idea of being part of a content mill. Of producing in order to fill space. Saying things for the mere sake of saying things. I started to feel like I was talking too much about life and living too little of it. I began to wonder what it would be like to shut up and just live in the doing. To not require myself to always have something to say. Because a lot of times there really isn’t anything to be said. These days, I tweet and that’s usually enough for me. There are many thoughts that don’t need to be expanded to 1,000+ words; many celebrities and events that are downright uninteresting (I’m capable of making them sound interesting, but I no longer see why I should–unless you pay me a good PR fee); many places and experiences I love but don’t wish to write about because doing them, being there, was enough.
In the long run, I realized I didn’t want to live a life where I always had to hunt for material. I’ve come to think of storytelling as a very special occasion. Some creatives might disagree, but they’re free to fill up the space I’m not taking.
To me, the word “passion” often sounds like an unsustainable amount of energy, especially given my temperament. I’ve always been very practical, technical, and chill. Getting into emotional highs/wringers is the exception in my day to day, not the rule. Even my writing is usually the product of me playing tetris with interview transcriptions. “What would make a good lede?” *salpak* “What would be good to follow it?” *salpak* “What would be a good finish?” *salpak*
“Who among my clients is the least efficient at making me money?” *cuts* *streamlines*
I don’t have a very ~passionate working process or outlook. Mostly I just see what needs to be done, and that money = time = energy are different forms of the same thing. I never lose sight of that equation, and a job worth doing is one that fits into that bit of math well (preferably lopsided on the money part, haha). Reputation also plays into this, so while I hate pandering to the adult world, I do what I can stomach to look good to fellow grown-ups–even though in truth I’m just a child with basic bitch interests, like travel and yoga.
I used to buy into that saying that if you turned your “passion” into your work, you’d never have to work a day in your life. I see that it works for some people. I thought I was one of them. But it turns out I like having delineations. I attend to my interests so much more effectively when my income not only doesn’t depend on them, but is also already taken care of. When playtime really is just playtime. When there is nothing I’m required to do. When writing is not my husband, but my man whore to whom I can say “leave me” at any point in time.
A job is a job, and my life is my life. And on any given day I have no idea what’s going to make me happy and fulfilled. There are times when it does come from work, when I’m learning new things and see all the other skills and perspectives I can acquire. When I feel myself expanding, capability-wise. And there are times when it comes from cocooning in bed and feeling my sheets.
Meaning for me doesn’t come in the form of one big, burning guiding star. It comes in much smaller, inconspicuous packages that I stumble upon along the way as I attend to the tasks and parts of living. My quarter life crisis started coming to an end when I stopped looking for the next big answer to the question, “What do I want?” and began settling into the idea that I might have to ask myself that every day.
No job can fill or keep in step with that. So pera at sapat na kalayaan na lang talaga ang usapan, hahaha 😛