Everyone who knows me, knows that I struggle with focus. Not the narrow, task-centered, short-term focus associated with getting a piece of query code to work, or explicating a compelling bit of philosophy or literary criticism, or even with driving. I'm pretty good at that, and on rare occasions even experience that thing I've heard called "flow" wherein I get pretty much inside the current moment, zenishly.
No, the type of focus I struggle with is of that more existential, life-encompassing sort, that leads to a certain large-scale aimlessness. Many people reference it with the phrase "I haven't figured out what I'm going to do yet, when I grow up." Which becomes more ironic yet utterly serious with the increasing age of the person making the utterance. Frankly, although I have always harbored a senseless dislike for the phrase itself, it really subsumes this focus problem of mine quite succinctly. So there, I've uttered it – with a modicum of redirection, of course.
"I'm only on my fourth career, and I don't expect it to be my last." This is a phrase I have taken to using quite a bit, lately, although it's probably just as sophomoric, ultimately, as the one just discussed above. Let me try to make this more concrete: I can envision myself doing so many things that I rarely envision the same future for myself from one hour to the next, much less from one day or week or month or year to the next.
One minute, I'm dropping everything, moving to Lisbon and working on "my book." (Not sure what book that would be – obviously figuring that out would be a good, though not indispensable, first step).
Next minute, I'm going to business school full time, possibly in Europe, and then moving on to become some kind of high-powered IT manager.
An hour later, I'm traveling to Korea and finding a position as an English teacher.
Another time, I go to Tunisia, with a sincere commitment to become fluent in that beautiful language, Arabic.
I occasionally imagine sticking with my current job, gaining new skills in the area of programming, development, and database architecture.
These and many many others are all equally possible, even almost equally plausible.
Recently, I had another job interview. This time, with a fairly high-powered "guru" of the software development world, for a position I really had almost zero qualifications for but some definite degree of interest. Naturally, the context of a job interview forces one to spend a good deal of energy on working out plausible futures, which can be shared and conveyed to the person doing the interviewing.
And somehow in that self-selling moment, all the different possible futures – one specific instance of which is suddenly under a bruising, close, interactive scrutiny – become shockingly, painfully, embarrassingly and equally implausible, and I become stranded on my isle of bitter insecurity and pointless daydreaming. It all seems drowningly futile, like one of those dreams you cannot wake up from.
For the briefest of moments, I experience one of those intractable gasps of aching nostalgia for that least aimless yet really most intentionally purposeless period of my entire life: I yearn for the psychiatric ward.
Because it was so explicitly, irredeemably FUTURELESS. Which made it super-easy, from an existential standpoint.
Because the future is scary.
So I guess this is one of those flexion-points, where I might decide to step away from my current future, and toward another. But a friend (a colleague) made an observation to me the evening before the interview – really, also, an observation OF me. He pointed out (and somehow had figured this out despite missing major portions of my biography) that I was a serial quitter.
And maybe I should get over that?
The hardest future to adopt, in other words, is the one currently coming at you. Alternate futures are easier, perhaps. Am I destined to always be a refugee in my own alternate futures, in exile from my own alternate pasts?