It is seen as both right and noble to follow your dreams to the detriment of all your other desires. We live in dream culture—confidence culture, comparison culture, or even manifestation and affirmation culture, if you’re alt-ritual inclined. But how are we supposed to know what we really want? Somehow we are supposed to be life and future literate from the moment we are asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We are supposed to know what it takes to make ourselves happy and fulfilled, and we are not supposed to veer from that path. And I’ve seen friends driven to distress over dreams that, once they regained perspective, they realized were no longer even dreams for them. We are trained in work, in the falsity of a secure future when there’s no such thing; we are not trained to keep asking how to make the most of our lives right now.
It doesn’t add up, and at 9 hours and 46 minutes a day of half work, half utter disassociation, you find yourself asking if all this is worth it. And as the cost of living goes up but wages don’t, the function of giving everything to your job can no longer provide the return it’s supposed to: choice.
I often worry that I have made the wrong choices, that I have prioritized the wrong things. And I don’t quite know how to do the math that will give me the answer to quell the worry. Not because I am gravely unhappy, or at least I am no more unhappy than anyone I know—including my friend who gave up on ambition. See, she too has days where she is completely terrified that she will end up a “nobody going nowhere,” to quote her. But I worry I’ve made the wrong choices because I seem to always want something more, and almost everyone I know feels the same. Not goods or possessions (anymore), but more emotion, more vigor, more experience, and, the most prescient and seemingly hardest to achieve, a better world.
As someone who grew up at the median age of the burnout generation (a humiliating moniker for millennials), I can’t help but feel that all the false promises about social mobility and a new middle class turned following your dreams into a mask for severe workaholism and untenable self-punishment. Perhaps this is what happens when you start to grow up: You realize that work won’t love you like friends, that possessions won’t make you feel awe the way a sunset will, that dedicating your life to your job feels nothing like making your sister laugh or being there for a friend who is grieving.
On some days my friend misses her ambitions. They provide us with comfort, they provide us with structure, they provide us with an identity, and truth be told I love all those things. And on days when I don’t worry about my choices, I love my work. But some days I wish I could spend my life blackberry picking instead of watching videos about it on TikTok. I wish I could work in an animal sanctuary or be a fruit-bat conservationist.
See, I have quit countless things in my life: a degree as a veterinarian, a 10-year career as a drag queen, smoking, to name a few. But I am yet to work out how to know I’ve made the right choices, how not to compare or at least consider what life would look like down another path. Perhaps I need to get off my phone and start manifesting, or perhaps most people feel this way and it’s only because of moments of doubt and asking big questions that you can find surety and comfort in your life choices.