target practice

We were honeymooning on Vancouver Island.

On the drive from Ucluelet to the ferry terminal in Nanaimo, the car fell silent. “What are you thinking about right this second?” I inquired of the beau. “That sign,” he said, gesturing to a black and yellow checkered road sign that warned of an approaching curve.1 “And driving.” A few moments passed. “What are you thinking about?” he asked me. “Narcolepsy,” I replied. “Like, can it happen at any time? Can you be running and all of a sudden, bam, you’re laid out on the pavement in a dead sleep?”2

Other things. Now that we don’t have a wedding to plan anymore, we think and talk about other things. Turns out that other things are like riding a bike: you may feel a bit rusty when you get back on, and those muscles may ache from disuse. But you never forget.

The beau and I spent a lot of time on our honeymoon talking about other things, and about The Future. The Future is something we’d talked about before, obviously, but during the whirlwind months of wedding planning we’d apparently lost sight of it. We were on a deadline, see. We were working towards something very specific. Then that thing was over, and we were suddenly like: okay, what now?

Indeed, The Future was a bigger question mark than usual. The very first day I went on vacation before the wedding, it was announced that the company I do contract work for was being bought by another company — and so I went into our marriage and our honeymoon with that uncertainty weighing on my mind. What will happen? How long will I have my job after I get back from vacation? Where can I start looking for other work? Where do I want to work? What’s the next step in my career? In my personal and professional growth? What do I want to be when I grow up?

Oh, god. That’s the million-dollar question. Just before my dad turned 50 this year, he went through his own employment rough patch. “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up,” he told me on the phone last spring, his voice equal parts amusement and bewilderment. “I don’t know if I ever will.”

Many people my age — and beyond — are facing life uncertainty. This is inherently unsettling, especially for anxious type-A folks just who want to know! What! The! Plan! Is! But we don’t. We can’t. And we never really will. We were brought up being told that we’d go to college, we’d pick a career, we’d land a great job in that career, we’d get married, we’d buy a house, we’d get a promotion, we’d have kids. If we hit all of those marks, met all of those goals on the life achievement list, we would be successful in our collective Futures. Somehow this was supposed to happen for all of us; male and female, black and white and brown, poor and rich alike. At least that’s what they hammered into us in the public school systems I attended.

I found out otherwise.

I like to think of it as the Great Unlearning. It doesn’t even have to be Great unless you’re in the mood for pretension. It’s simply the Unlearning. An unlearning. One of many, perhaps, that I will go through in life. Unlearning doesn’t invalidate any of the goals on the typical life achievement list. It simply refocuses your energies on only the ones you actually want, or enables you to alter them for your own purposes. Or even throw them out and start over. Reinvention, as they call it.

The strange thing is, I feel like I wouldn’t be as prepared for my own unlearning, great or otherwise, if I hadn’t first made a foray into the world of nontraditional wedding planning. Turns out that the path to unlearning weddings dovetails nicely with unlearning life — finding a space that allowed, even encouraged, me to create the wedding I wanted by extension gave me permission to create the life I want, now and in The Future. It’s difficult for me to feel embarrassed about my “different” choices when I know that others have chosen them as well. That’s not necessarily a brave or unique or trail-blazing sentiment, but it’s true. I’m a social creature who seeks acceptance. Funnily enough, I feel like I don’t need that acceptance as much anymore.

I spent our engagement defending our wedding choices to others, only to find that not much changes after marriage. The only difference is that instead of desserts and centerpieces, you’re taken to task over jobs, careers, kids, and houses. Everybody wants to know about Your Future as it applies to the life achievement list.

My Future? I don’t know what it holds. I only know that it’s now Our Future, and that we’ll be writing it as we go. I’ve also grown to realize that the only thing that matters about it is that it’s authentic. Authenticity has become a big corporate and artistic buzzword lately, but it’s the best word to describe what I mean: that you make every decision only because it’s the right one for you. Even if no one else is doing it, and even though that can be disconcerting.

For our future selves, authenticity may mean having kids, or it may not. It probably means buying a house. It definitely means moving, and it definitely means a lot of traveling. It means being unconcerned with who’s driving what new car. It probably means that we’ll never have a matching set of furniture. It means dropping out and tuning in. It means going to hockey games, art galleries, and punk rock shows. It means keeping our distance from suburban chain store hell. It means good friends from all walks of life. It means taking risks. It means avoiding complacency. I hope that’s what it means, anyway. At least for right now.

As for my job? That’s even more hazy. The acquisition process at my company has been simmering since September, and it’s just now starting to reach a slow boil. Representatives from the other company are in the office today, and it looks likely that the final paperwork is almost ready to be signed. Coworkers have been steadily jumping ship since the announcement, and the ones who remain have been wandering the cubicles this week, hugging each other in preemptive goodbyes.

It’s kind of a sad thing, and it’s kind of a scary thing. But that’s what The Future is like, sometimes. Before the buyout, I was on course to being hired as a full employee after the new year. Now, my new year is a giant blank slate. I can plug in the variables at will.

I don’t know what’s coming next, but truthfully? I’m kind of excited to make it happen.

__________________________________________________

1 We were fascinated with this sign. We couldn’t get a picture of one on Vancouver Island because on the way to Ucluelet it was pitch dark, and on the way back it was pouring rain. And the city of Vancouver is apparently lacking in dangerously curvy roads that require vigorously checkered warning signs, so we never saw them again. An extensive Google images search did not yield one, either. What the hell, man? Are we the only people who care deeply about road signs in British Columbia? Whatever. So I took two different pictures I found while searching the internet and quickly photoshopped them into closest approximation I can muster:

YES, THANK YOU, NOW I AM HAPPY.

2 Yeah, okay, I could have just Googled it if I had internet access in my arm, but I don’t, so I was stuck with doing it the old-fashioned way where you sit around pondering the mysterious ways of the universe with NO WAY TO FIND THE ANSWERS.

13 Responses to “target practice”

  1. This is probably my favorite post. You are a brilliant writer, and you hit the nail on the head, but did it playfully. No, playfully eloquent – is that right? I don’t even know, I just know that I love this.

    You’re so right, the questioning never ends, EVER! My parents made the choice to retire to Arizona. They always wanted to live in the desert, so they scrimped and saved to make their retirement dream come true. In turn, they were shunned by some people in the family for “abondoning” everyone. Seriously, in this modern age of travel, moving one state over is “abondoning?” Anyway, I’m just saying that it’s lame that we have to defend our lifestyle choices to people who it does not even effect.

    If you’re not hurting people, animals, or yourself, do what makes you happy! Sorry, I just can’t be okay if hurting people, animals, or yourself makes you happy…I’ll start to judge you.

    Lyn, I’m so excited for this new window of opportunities that you’re looking out of. Make it happen, lady!

  2. Did I ever tell you about the narcoleptic I used to go drinking with in the wild summer of 2005? He once told me, unasked, that he had fallen asleep during sex. Twice. With the same woman. Who was understanding. Both times. Because she was also narcoleptic.

    Coming from anyone else, I would have doubted the veracity of this story. But since it was this particular guy…it actually makes sense.

  3. Great post, Lyn. I am still hoping maybe someone will start paying you those inordinate amounts of money you were hoping for some months ago. Then you could just blog for us.

    Whatever happens I know you and Beau will face it with the guts and hopefulness you have always written with xx

  4. If you do wind up having to find a new job/workplace, maybe you’ll have new coworkers who don’t comment on the healthiness of your lunch.

    *cough*

    Mmmm, the Great Unlearning. It’s so incredibly frustrating, but it’s so freeing as well. “What? You mean all of those things that you told me I was supposed to have/accomplish/want/need aren’t necessarily true? Wait, what’s this? I’m actually having/wanting/accomplishing/needing things that I never expected? Get OUT.” Once you unlearn all of the “have tos,” you’re open to do whatever the hell you and your family/partner need. I’ve noticed that as my group of friends undergo the Great Unlearning, there’s a lot less of the questioning of each other’s Futures and measuring ourselves against the Life Achievement List.

    Yes, I capitalized it. I felt it necessary.

  5. This is beautiful. Thank you.

    I also love the word authentic. I got connected to it as one of my favorite words back in college days a million years ago when one of my mentors used it because it was one of his favorite ideas.

    Wedding planning also has given me more courage to go on the path that is right for us in other ways too, post-wedding. I never would have seen that coming pre-wedding-planning, but it is such a great thing…to have a better understanding on how to unlearn and be okay with what follows. To be more okay with people not liking or understanding your choices in life and standing your ground anyways.

    Good luck forging your path and I wish you only the best with your future job stuff.

  6. This so eloquently expresses many of the things I’m feeling now as well. I hadn’t really thought of it as tied to planning a wedding, but I think you’re right that it does — the wedding-planning process reinforced the notion of crafting an event that reflected me and my husband and made us happy, and now I’m working on crafting a life that reflects and energizes me.

    I had a kinda pre-interview the other morning for a new job and came away from it with the realization that I just want a job where I can be myself. (This job I was interviewing for was not one of those.) I don’t want to have to pretend to care about things I don’t care about, I don’t want to have to read, write, edit or speak any inane corporate-speak non-words and I don’t want to deal with the old guard of the city. It seems that sort of thing will take a while to find, but being able to be completely myself (authentic) in my career is my ultimate goal, whether it means working for myself in some capacity or finding a badass company to be a part of… time will tell.

    I also wanted to say that I find it extremely comforting and encouraging that your 50-year-old dad is still sorting out what he wants to be when he grows up. Killer post.

  7. Wow, big issues. The unlearning is something that I struggle with. I learned things happen or work a certain way growing up. When they don’t, I struggle with the results. I can trail blaze my own path without problem, but I depend on the assumptions of my childhood for things out of my control to continue doing their thing and am shocked as I grow up that many things don’t function like clockwork. There are so many variables in life, and this has been a hard lesson for me to learn.

    I think a future of uncertainty is both exciting and terrifying. Not knowing what you are going to be leaves you open for so many possibilities. You can shape your future. But even with all the shaping you try to do, there are things you can’t predict that will shape you even more. So the end result is all a mystery.

  8. first: that sign is awesome…what’s up with the checkers?

    second: i completely understand and am going through the Great Unlearning as well. i graduate from college in 10 days and i could land on a career path better if i had picked out of a damn hat. you’ll get through it…if it helps: isaiah and i have been thinking about a creative-business-venture we can do together…and as soon as we starting thinking of that and got our non-work-related dreams together, working any old job and one in my field, at that, isn’t so hard….for some of us, the grind is just a stepping stone to get to the dream…and for others, the grind is the dream for its stability, benefits, retirement. just don’t try to convince yourself that the wrong one suits you, you know?

    hm.

  9. Unlearning – great word for it. I can’t say I’ve done too well with unlearning the “shoulds” of life as culture dictates them; I’ve pretty much followed the “proper” script till now. I am however slowly undergoing a Great Unlearning of the great expectations of life. I think another thing we’re taught through fairytales and movies and culture is this story that at some point you arrive. You finish school and start a career and tada! you’re set! or you meet your “soul mate” (another myth there) and you live happily every after. I think we’ve all managed to shed that extreme view early enough, but I think part of it perseveres. At least personally I think I kept/keep waiting for this arrival when I’ll feel at peace with myself and my life, when in reality that probably only ever happens in moments of time…..and then we struggle some more and ask questions some more.

  10. This post made me feel hopeful despite the uncertainties. Perhaps society is going through an unlearning. Perhaps we all need to.
    Thank you for writing this.

  11. Great post. I’m in a similar boat. Very very excited but anxious. And I agree with Moz, someone needs to start funding you. For reals.

  12. I think the checkers are supposed to represent “this outside-of-the-road area here be trouble, best you stay on the curve.” It’s for when missing the turn involves you driving straight into a rock or off a cliff into the ocean or something.

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