I have been trying to make sense of the world and failing. I lost the plot sometime long before the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic turned everything upside down. Even before the political, cultural and spiritual nightmare of the 2016 election, I was finding it hard to keep tied the worn narrative threads I had used to explain what the world is, how it worked and my place in it.
My priorities changed. I took less and less satisfaction in the work of my twenty year long professional career. The culture of my workplace had become psychologically treacherous, toxic, though the poisons hid themselves well behind a veneer of being “like a family”.
I was sad, stressed out, and anxious but couldn’t figure out how to articulate why. I began working with a therapist who quickly diagnosed mid-life ennui. It was easy enough to spot the symptoms of existential dread, a sense of impending loss and a generalized confusion that lay like a blanket across most everything.
Never a big taker of meds, my therapist prescribed poetry and a few books on mid-life. I came to understand my journey as mostly spiritual, an urge to grow larger on the inside than I was on the outside. Kinder. Simpler. More generous. I am learning to treat my anxiety like a compass, which can be used to navigate my way toward a better sense of balance, a sense of purpose and, perhaps someday, clarity.
In May 2020, I left my job for a better work situation. This was a time when millions of other people were losing jobs due to the pandemic. I wanted to write about my year-long job search experience because it was so surreal, dispiriting at times yet also fascinating. But writing about my successful career shift seemed wrong at at time when so many others had just been tossed out of theirs without a similar degree of agency.
And then, the challenges of joining a new work team while working entirely remote. This was also an experience I thought I might write to share what I was learning. But I had just recently stood in a crowd at the local Black Lives Matter rally, all of us masked against the contagion of virus. I felt a sense of solidarity and belonging, but I also felt the disconnect between the modest upsets of my most recent challenges and the generational fears of people whose worries went so much deeper — would they work, would their kids have housing and food, would they get killed for walking through a neighborhood or park or shot by police while reaching into the car glove box for license and registration.
Nobody should care what I had to say about career changes and joining a new work team.
I have come to think about the sustained existential collapse of recent years as a collapse of privilege. I am a white guy — 47 years old, college educated and fairly affluent. I was taught to expect to understand the world and that, most of the time, the world’s self-interests would align with my own. I came to believe that I could do the most good by not making trouble, by being agreeable and friendly which, it turns out, is not quite the same thing as being kind or useful.
Being kind and useful require making trouble sometimes. Being kind and useful means being disagreeable and, when required, unfriendly.
All of this is to say I am trying to understand what is required of me in this moment. What have I taken as true that is untrue? Where has the fear of being thought unkind become mortar to patch and preserve the crumbling status quo? Where has privilege taught me to expect I deserve the equilibrium of comfort, ease and unending entertainment?
What is this world and what is my place in it? What do I wish it might become?
And then, how do I stop myself from living in the world as it is and start myself living in the world as I wish it might become?