October 08, 2008

The Struggle of Struggling

Nothing is ever exactly the way we want it, is it? Things can even go according to plan, and it’s still not the way we want it. Even when they don’t disappoint, even when they surpass, it’s still not the way we want it. Even when I have every reason to be happy, to be satisfied, it’s still not the way I want it. That’s when I become discouraged. When I start to think I’m really not making any progress, or not enough progress.

Because, damn it, I have no earthly reason to be unhappy and yet I am. And I don’t want to write about it and I don’t want to think about it and I just mope around the house struggling with this blocked energy and becoming frustrated and thinking "soon." Soon I’ll be able to push past this and get back to work and everything will be fine. I just need a good night’s sleep, a good cup of coffee, a little bit of downtime, a nap, a nice afternoon snack, a little break from class or meetings or commitments. Maybe tomorrow I’ll have a little more perspective. Soon. Then I make myself buckle down, get a little work done. I wonder if maybe I just start to work, be productive, I’ll get caught up in it and forget this ridiculous malaise.

Then I start questioning myself. It shouldn’t be this hard, should it? What am I struggling against? Am I trying to do something that isn’t really in my nature? Trying to mold myself into being the person I think I should be? Is that the source of this stress? I wonder that I’ve been faking it for so long, even I have begun to forget that it was never something I was comfortable with. I begin to think of the importance I first placed on this thing. It was a survival mechanism and now it has become my whole life. I have based my worth on it and gauged my progress by it. I have planned my whole career around it, and my spiritual life too. It has become the cornerstone of my ethos, but it is that which I struggle with the most. I always have.

It is people. Other people.

The statement in my professional portfolio begins “Architecture exists to improve the lives of human beings.” My whole life, since the age of fourteen when I watched the cool kids in the lunch room appearing to be happy, has revolved around improving the lives of human beings. As if that could somehow validate my own life. As if that could prove I was worth something. As if I could be as happy as those cool kids. As if…

Intellectually, I know there is no “as if.” My life is valid. My life is worth something. I can be happy. Easy to say. Easy to type into an unresponsive and uncriticizing computer. Yet the blocked feeling remains. The struggle remains and it only adds fuel to the fire of the nagging question. Have I wasted the last ten years of my life?

No. It took me four years to drag up the gumption to go back to the University after dropping out the first time. Those four years were not wasted. I spent an extra year trying to learn Japanese and I can barely remember a few phrases and haven’t gotten to Japan yet. That year was not wasted. I’m going to spend an extra year getting a second graduate degree. That extra year isn’t wasted. I have years of internship, years of study, and years of exams to look forward to in order to become licensed, registered, and certified. And if, at the end of all this, I decide that a career which revolves around people, around human beings, isn’t for me, then will it be wasted?

No. Despite that assurance, I’ve barely even breathed a whisper within my own mind. I tried to write it out several times, hoping that as often happens, I’ll write myself to some sort of conclusion, but I’ve always abandoned the effort. What if I’ve changed my mind? Does that make me a quitter? What if I tell all my friends and family and classmates and coworkers I don’t want to be an architect after all? I don’t want to be a planner? I don’t want to “improve the lives of human beings?” At least not that way. And what will it mean for me? Will I regret it? I cannot deny I love my work. I’ve considered alternate paths before, but they’ve always been parallel. I’ve wondered if I should try construction management, architectural engineering, or interior design, but architecture was always the most suited. And the most difficult.

No. I want to be an architect. In most ways I already consider myself one, though I’m not legally entitled to the term just yet. I think it, live it, breath it, so I figure I can call myself it, if only in my own mind. But what if I’m not suited to it? At least, what if I’m not suited to the version of what I think it is? There are plenty of architects out there who don’t give a damn for people (though they may give it lip service), plenty who are artists in search of a perfect form, or a novel expression, or technological innovation. Yet, that’s not what architecture is for me. Architecture is a tool, a means to an end. That end is improving the lives of human beings. And when it comes down to human beings, I’m really not terribly suited for dealing with them, despite all the trouble I've gone to to acquire the skill. Despite all the fake confidence.

Even I forget that sometimes. So I plan a weekend workshop, full of disparate personalities, conflict, energy, synergy, ideas, enthusiasm, inspiration, fun, and trial. But mostly full of other people. And I think somehow I’m going to be able to lead all this, to facilitate, to manage it, enjoy it, survive it.

And I do. I pull it off. I do all that and more. Yet somehow I am deeply and fundamentally unhappy. It’s been two days and I’m still moping around. I’m still “recovering.” It shouldn’t be this hard, right? Why am I making this so hard?

There is an easier way. I can see it. I can imagine it. I am even managing to live it a little bit every now and then. I could write. I could find myself a cozy little hideaway, a cabin in the woods, an old farmhouse, a tenth floor apartment in the city, a cute fixer-up in some pre-war neighborhood. I could just…write. I’ve always written. It’s only one of two I’ve always done. (Okay, three, if you count climbing trees.) I’ve filled graph paper notebooks full of building plans and hard drives full of stories. My favorite toys were Legos and, as soon as I learned to type, my computer.

I could still “improve the lives of human beings.” Couldn’t I? I know how much reading has touched my life. I could do “research,” travel, learn all sorts of things. I’ve been wondering about a scene I’ve been planning which involves rock climbing. I’ve never been rock climbing.

So instead of doing my work, going to my classes, my meetings, I just do enough to scrape by, mope around the house, and struggle. My mind is filled with “if” and “maybe.” What if I do decide to take my life in another direction? What if it doesn’t work out? What if I decide I miss architecture too much? What if I stay on this path and realize far too late that it really isn’t for me? What if I don’t get out while I’m still ahead? What if (my greatest fear, the one that almost overwhelms me) I screw up and instead of managing to help people, actually do the opposite? What if this is all just a bad case of “grass is greener?”

I’ve given myself time to think about it. It’s been a year now and these whispers haven’t subsided. I’ve been telling myself I still have time to decide. I have two more years in college. I’ve been so looking forward to these two years, to these great classes, to this final, wonderful project. I can pursue my other joys. I can write. Maybe in two years I could even get published. That would broaden my options. Maybe in two years I’ll find the confidence I’ve been looking for. Maybe I’ll just realize this is a case of pre-graduation jitters. Maybe I’ll get over it. Maybe I don’t want to.

I get so tired of this struggle. Angst isn’t my thing. I don’t even want to commit it to paper. I don’t want to give it substance, make it real. I’ve never really given much credence to catharsis. Ironically, feeling shitty makes me feel shittier because I feel like I shouldn’t feel shitty at all. This is the suffering of suffering. Maybe there is something to this whole catharsis thing, to getting it out, getting it down on paper. Or maybe I’m just letting the boogey man out of the box. After all, there’s really no decision to be made, no conclusion to come to. Not this time. I just have to let things work out as a they work out.

I can always keep telling myself soon I’ll feel better. I might. But what’s wrong with feeling the way I feel now? I guess it’s just time to stop struggling against the struggle.

I did always enjoy the most difficult path, didn’t I?

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