I know a man who is unhappy.
He feels, almost simultaneously, under utilized and inadequate.
His job defines him. Yet his job is menial and pointless.
He feels a great need to be the provider to his family yet he feels empty and can't provide for himself.
There are several people who might be reading this that will think I am talking about them or their husband. They are both right and wrong.
It's easy to write these words as I think about many men I know.
But mostly I write these words about myself.
This is the tragic condition of the American man in the early 21st century. It's the great stuckness of our generation.
I don't actually think it has always been this way.
Most men, I think, for most of time just did what they had to do. He had a job he did for his entire life. He stopped working when he was physically not able to do the job any more. He died soon after. The end.
I believe the movie "Clerks" pretty much encapsulates the pointless existence we all can sometimes feel in today's modern society.
It's about a guy, Dante, who gets called into work on his day off.
Dante's day is spent in the hell of serving a succession of customers while repeating the fact that he is "not even supposed to be here today".
"I'm not even supposed to be here," sums it up pretty perfectly.
This is not my beautiful life, as the Talking Heads remind us.
At the same time, we have given up following any gods at all.
Viking gods, Roman gods, Greek gods, single gods, multiple gods.
Most people now brush them all aside as children's stories. Even people who pray to these gods rarely actually mean it.
So our map is wiped clean. We look around where to go next and we don't have a clue.
We end up doing pointless things, serving inadequate bosses, getting stuck in broken, inefficient systems that somehow make a shit ton of money for the guy at the top.
I can speak from experience in telling you that no one wants you to buck the system.
It literally does not matter if you are are saving people's lives, if you aren't doing it in the way the system wants you to do it you will be fought every step of the way.
The fire department came this week and told me I'm not allowed to have a warming center in the lower level of my building because I don't have the right permit. But I do have the right permit upstairs. So, as long as people aren't sleeping in the building, people can stay upstairs to stay warm over night.
Systems are built almost instantly.
The houseless people that run our center said it was too much of a security risk to have people upstairs over night. (We have paying tenants upstairs and they don't want those people's offices to be at risk.)
Yesterday I agreed that we couldn't make that work.
But I woke up this morning realizing I had been duped by the system that I was a part of creating.
I am going to call them today and tell them to open a room upstairs to let people stay warm over night. I know they are going to complain. I know at least one tenant is going to complain.
Every time a person changes a system people are going to complain. And that complaining is going to blow back on you. Maybe the tenant will leave. Maybe the houseless will accuse me of overstepping my bounds on a houseless-run facility. "Fuck Sage" is nearly a motto spoken quietly by some who think I don't hear them.
But you know what: You have a choice in your life. You can decide to either be true to the mission or be true to the system.
I am a man on a mission. My mission is to shelter houseless people. "Fuck the system" is my motto.
Most people are true to the system. The system pays the bills. The system runs almost on autopilot. The system makes everyone's life (who is inside the system) cushy and satiated. Just feed the system, trust the system and the system will provide.
Very few people stay true to the mission. Staying true to the mission means chaos. Staying true to the mission means looking at the system with distrust and contempt. Staying true to the mission means constantly coming at the system with a sledge hammer. It's a state of constant flux and uncertainty. Because the truth is: the system is broken. Every system is broken. That's what the free market is: It is the destroyer of systems. Malls are now being torn down for Amazon distribution centers.
Governments and bureaucracies desperately try to do everything in their power to stay out of the raging river of natural selection. They are the system incarnate. They want to keep their power more than they want anything else. They will gladly watch people suffer and die as long as nothing changes and they get to keep their precious system and stay in power. "The system works" is literally their mantra.
Founders of companies who created something on an idea and vision will quickly lose sight of that vision and then become slaves to the system they created.
"This is just the way we do it."
I am a change agent. I am the destroyer of systems. I am the destructor of broken systems. It's who I am.
My purpose in life is to change the system. In fact, I am terrible at maintaining the system.
When things are hard and urgent and chaotic everything is clear and makes sense to me. It's so easy for me to see the path forward. In chaos there are actually very few ways forward. They are painful ways forward and that's why people avoid them. But if you want to get from point A to point B I'm the guy you call. I do the dirty work. I'll take you there.
But once we get to point B I get confused. The paths forward are too vague and unclear in my mind. I start to feel useless. I lose my energy.
I'm the startup guy. After something gets started you really should call someone else.
I feel bad for my wife.
She will readily tell you every one of these words is true. This isn't hyperbole. I am a bull in a china shop. I am a sledgehammer and everything needs broken and rebuilt in my mind.
But she is my Black Widow.
She keeps me grounded. If she tells me not to smash, I might get grumpy. But I won't smash. I'll go in a different direction.
But the reason we get along so well is she will often say: "Don't smash this. Go smash that." And then I'll go away happy with a better mission than the one I started with.
And this, my friend, gets me back to you. I told you everything above for a couple reasons. But mostly in this case, I set this stage to tell you I know a thing or two about change. I know the value of going in a different direction.
Life is a dance. And not a ballet. It's one of those strange, almost unfathomable, weird and, at times, ugly modern dances.
Life goes in fits and starts.
Life is stupid and pointless one minute. But life is also grand and cosmically critically important the next minute. And ultimately it will end in failure with almost nothing being accomplished at all.
But the way I see it, we get deeply lost when all we have is the system. The truth is: the system is cold, churning and grinding. The other truth is: the system only ever TRULY serves a few people at the top. The system spits out as little as it possibly can so the masses won't revolt against the system. The system is our great addiction. It is the opiate of the masses. It gives us less and less payoff. But yet we can see no other way. So we just work harder in the system hoping against all hope that the system will reward us in the way we need to be rewarded. We double down over and over again.
We then just become rats in a cage with a food dispenser that slowly, but surely, gives us less and less food until we finally won't take it any more. At our demand the system will then bend and give us a little more food and start the entire ratcheting down process all over again.
I'm not asking you to be a revolutionary of a broken governmental system. That's my journey.
I'm asking you to be a revolutionary of your own personal system. Smash your own system.
I'm not saying quit your job. I'm not saying get a divorce. I'm saying the revolution will happen inside of you first. I am now being YOUR Black Widow. Maybe the journey will end in divorce or quitting your job or getting a smaller house or selling all your things or moving to Alaska. But it shouldn't start there. You need to start smashing your own internal systems first.
The pain of pointlessness and uselessness is good.
It is the first step in a journey of a calling you have just begun to hear.
If you are unhappy go in any direction EXCEPT the direction you have been going.
If you always do chores on the weekend, go for a walk instead.
If all you do is play video games and watch TV and drink all weekend, do chores instead.
The smallest change in your pattern will be much harder than you think it will. You will say things like, "I could do that. But I just don't want to."
Do the different thing.
And while you are doing it, listen.
Listen to how you feel then. Do you hate the new thing? Do you like the new thing?
If you hate the new thing then do the new new thing. If you like the new thing do more of the new thing.
It's simple but so hard.
My point of all this is this: the pain and suffering are messages. They are the beginning messages of a much longer dialogue you could be having. I like to call it God. But I give not a single shit what you want to call it. Just listen to it. And don't be bull headed. Don't wait for the pain to get so terrible that you end up doing something stupid like: getting a divorce or quitting your job or running away from it all. You will just be attacking something that isn't really the problem. The problem is always something much more internal and personal than the outside force you think is causing you trouble.
There is no new marriage or new job or new location on Earth that will ever solve the problem of a broken internal system.
May you have a wonderful, terrible, beautiful, ugly, exciting journey. That's all it was ever meant to be in the first place.