I have finally decided why I am alive. And despite this sounding a lot more dramatic than I mean for it to, it’s entirely true. Up until about a half a year ago, I had no real clue what I was doing and was finding my initial introduction into the working world lacklustre and depressing. I questioned if I had even “made the right decision”. I was supposed to be travelling the world, going on adventures, and breathing it all in with young lungs, walking it all with strong legs, photographing every second non-stop. Not sitting in a poorly cushioned chair, finally experiencing back pain for the first time of my life, wondering if it was a sign of me aging or a sign of a really shitty chair and my newfound sedentary existence or some sort of combination of the both.
I was disappointed at the lies sold to me about adulthood. To finally be given some sort of freedom and then be tied down by the simple fact that day to day adult life – or maybe life in general – is not all that eventful. We look to film characters or the few graced with the income and mobility to do and see it all, expecting our lives to unfold just like that movie, just like that person’s. But it doesn’t. Because there isn’t a lighting crew or a perfect script. And no one ever goes to the bathroom in films. (That should have been the dead giveaway if you ask me.)
But a few months into my new job, things sort of shifted. Once I made junior designer, I was finally making a paycheck that I could live from. At 27 I could finally be the kind of adult I always wanted to be. I’m counting every penny, and I have a set amount of days I can take off, but I am okay with that for the time being.
You see, for the first time in my life I have that adult kind of responsibility. I am responsible for getting shit done at work because I have a lot of people counting on me. I am responsible for myself because if I fuck up, I and I alone will be stuck with the consequences. I am sure this sense of responsibility coupled with the fact that I am working really hard on myself on an emotional level has lifted me out of that general 20-something-year-old-malaise that is infecting millions of people my age everywhere. But the biggest part of why I am finally feeling as if I have some purpose, is because I finally do.
I come from a really privileged background, which I am very thankful for. It paid for my college education and allowed me to stay in Germany for as long as I have before making junior. But with privilege comes it’s own set of challenges and chains. You have every possible opportunity open to you, but in a way you cannot fully exercise any of it when you are technically still a child under the thumb of parents with the purse strings. But with financial independence comes actual freedom – even if that freedom is tempered by a 10-7 work schedule.
For so long I dragged my feet, never really making any full professional commitments because I didn’t technically have to. I had the luxury of being indecisive. Dinner was going to land on the table regardless of what I did, and it was probably going to be served by a waiter in one of my favorite restaurants. But this indecisiveness also lead to stymied ambition and made everything fall really flat.
I like to think that I am a conscious person. That I am the kind who considers things and fights against all forms of inequalities. But over these last few months, I have to say that I can truly see things I never was able to see before – hard as I might have tried. And it makes sense when you think of other forms of privilege – but somehow I never made the full connection that just as a white heterosexual will never know what it is like to be a black homosexual, a person coming from a privileged economic background could not actually begin to understand what it was really like to struggle.
But living from my own paycheck allows me to finally see why buying toothpaste for 50 cents less DOES make a difference, or why I can’t actually eat out every night if I still hope to have electricity, or why I cannot afford to be careless because I will go into debt if I am. Granted, if anything really goes pear-shaped, I know that my parents can help me – which means I still do have privilege at my fingertips, should I choose to use it. But I haven’t done so yet, and don’t plan on doing so either.
I think a lot of people who grew up privileged are at an emotional disadvantage. When everything is at your fingertips, nothing is really that meaningful. Of course you try hard and your own merits help you land opportunities. But to never have to truly work for anything of any monetary value – be it your rent or the occasional consumer good – makes acquiring them really meaningless. Having to keep a budget, breaking down and crying after having to pay an 80 Euro fine and knowing you have less than 200 euros to make it until the end of the month is incredibly hard, but it also makes succeeding at work, earning your keep, and paying your own bills that much more meaningful. And when things do work out, you feel that much more victorious.
Listen, I am not saving the world. Nor do I have any delusions that my “work” will further mankind. I work for a payback system, for Christ’s sake. But I am finally the master of my own world and my integrity comes from the fact that I work fully for everything that comes my way. And this has given my life a newfound sense of purpose and meaning. And this, in turn, makes everything else I hope to experience and achieve in life finally have meaning once again.
I want to travel the world on my own budget (even if I have to do it constrained to my working contract). I want to see it all. Every god damned last beautiful thing that this earth has to offer. I want to be a mother. To raise a family. To live consciously, and most importantly, with kindness and integrity. Because as lacklustre as real adult life is, life is what you make of it.
Now I’m not going to feed you any of that “If-said-“successful”-person-can-do-it-so-can-you” bullshit, because let’s face it. People living picture perfect lives have generally worked hard, but have also had luck or some sort of privilege which has helped speed up the process. But what I am saying is that we define meaning in our lives, and we decide if we grow to be people worthy of our own respect. We also decide what perspective we will view the world with. And even if those weekend adventures are only that and not a year-long excursion through, say Southeast Asia, it is no less exciting or meaningful. I mean, I’m still trying to convince my boyfriend to pitch our tent in the living room and have a staycation one weekend with me. Because with good company, a good heart, a bit of imagination, and a positive outlook, every day turns into an adventure.
editing: Rae Tashman