Endless trains of the faithless

I am tired. There has been a feeling growing inside me for a while now. It has manifested itself in doubts of worth and questions of value, in musings of “what are we all really trying to do here?”

My livelihood is largely dependent on me spending my days in an office behind a computer fabricating projects for myself to help market a company that treats me very well, but leaves me largely unfulfilled. I am simultaneously thankful and miserable.

I think I am one of the few people who is grateful for this pandemic-induced slowdown. I needed the break from routine. Do you know what item has been on my to-do list since the beginning of this work-from-home transition? I am slightly ashamed to admit that it’s “how not to return to work after this.” You know, after things inevitably go back to normal.

I did what I was “supposed to do.” I went to college, went to grad school, got a job, worked hard, got promoted, left for a better job, and have over doubled my salary in less than five years of full-time work. I’m proud of my professional growth. I’m proud that I was able to get myself out of debt rather quickly. I’m proud of what I’ve learned, the experiences I’ve had, and the ability to fund my independence. And I know it is a privilege to now say that I’ve lost track of how often I sit at my desk pondering the pointlessness of it all. What a waste. There certainly has to be more to life than this?

I cannot stand the idea of returning to “business as usual.” Don’t get me wrong. I want to work, to be creative and useful, but I’ve reached a point of being able to question the purpose of my actions, to desire deeper meaning if I’m going to devote valuable time to it. So much of our world is built on a system that only exists because we worship at the altar of more. We work hard to make money to buy things we largely don’t need. And we often assign value to our work based on what else it allows us to do (i.e., I am going to work everyday to make money to pay off my student loans. Or, I need this job to support my family). Often without the external impetus, our jobs are otherwise mostly meaningless and I, for one, end up filling the void with shoes. 

I don’t want to be a slave to this system. And yet, I’m at a loss for how to escape it. While there is good, arguably important work being done in the world, I think the majority of people are simply contributing to the maintenance of capitalism. Myself included. 

When does it end? How do you stop the wanting? How do you let go of the addiction to more? When is enough enough? With things like healthcare, rent, and insurance payments designed to keep us in line, we become obedient and quiet parts of the whole. We are educated to work in the system, we buy into the system, we feed the system, and we die in the system. It’s the proverbial wheel that we all keep spinning and it keeps us from truly knowing ourselves and each other because we’re all existing under this fog in our brains that says we’ll be happier if we have X, but X is a moving, unsatisfiable target.

I want my work to inherently hold value for me, not because of what it can provide me materially. I know I am responsible for discovering and assigning value as I see fit throughout my life, but so far I am struggling to find what work would satisfy my need for meaning. I can only hope that in questioning I’m getting closer. 

I have been working through this personal essay for over a week and it just occurred to me that I may be asking too much of a job–that my work and my job may need to be different things. Is it so impossible to find meaningful day-to-day work that also pays the bills, though? I simply don’t want to live in the standard 40-hour detention cycle just so I have healthcare and can take care of myself.

I think, at this stage in my life, I am being called to go deeper. Instead of building up or out, I need to go back in, to find what feels true to me before I can continue building outward. I’m feeling a need to simplify, to get back to basics, to define my essentials. Maybe then I’ll find work that feels worthwhile.

In short, if you’ve read this far, I have no answers. But here’s one of my favorite poems that sums up how I’m feeling quite nicely.

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