Here is a promise, and a fact: you will never, in your life, ever have to deal with anything more than the next minute. However much it feels like you are approaching an event – an exam, a conversation, a decision, a kiss – where, if you screw it up, the entire future will just burn to hell in front of you and you will end, you are not.
When I was a teenager, being an adult frightened me. I had no idea how to be an adult. All of the things I would have to manage as an adult seemed overwhelming. There was just so much and it would never stop. It would never get easier.
Now that I’m in my 30s and can look back on my teenage years and with my 20s fading into my past. I am less afraid. But I still have no idea what I am doing. But that’s the thing. No one has any idea what they’re doing. We are all doing our best. We are all figuring out this thing called life one day at a time.
We are all faking it as adults. We all struggle.
No one has everything together and I want to say that out loud because it helps to hear it.
Recently, I read a post called Supposed to be where the author talks about his struggles with depression and weight.
So the first time I took a walk in the summer heat aimed at ‘starting a program’ I actually hoped I might die. I’ve written this before elsewhere and told people, but I’m convinced their reaction is to think I’m being dramatic. I’m not. I shuffled along those pretty wooded trails in that hilly park by our home in Georgia and by the time I reached a ridge where there was a slight breeze and the peaceful rush of the Big Creek below, I thought, very clearly, hopefully I’ll die here. A man the size I was at the time, with my uncontrolled hypertension, well, I was supposed to die in that situation.
He struggles and he succeeds. It’s not easy. But he finding success with hard work and determination. He is doing his best. We are all doing our best. This is something worth repeating.
We all struggle. We all do the best with the life we have. It’s hard for everyone. No one has a perfect life where they face no adversity. We are all trying our best. In the age of social media where everyone posts their highlight reel for their friends and family to see, we don’t post about the rest of our days.
Recently, I saw a video that puts this into perspective. It asks a simple question:
Facebook can be depressing because everyone else’s lives are better than yours… But are they really?
We don’t post about our sadness.
We don’t post about our failures.
We don’t post about the days we’re too sick to get out of bed.
We post the best parts of us.
But it’s not the whole picture.
We all fail.
We all struggle.
We all have bad days.
But we don’t share those. We fear if we do, people will stop following us. We’ll lose friends online. We will be facing a truth no one wants to publicly admit.
Life is hard.
We’re all in this together.
Let’s try to help each other.
I tell people “I work at the National Cancer Institute.” Not “I’m a contractor working for Terrapin Systems supporting the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health.” Partially because it’s a mouthful but mostly because they’re eyes glaze over and they want suddenly want to talk about the weather.
Being a government contractor often means having very little contact with the company I actually work for and pays my salary. I work on the client site. For the client.
I am one of them.
It’s a strange dissociation. Some contracting companies are very hands on. I’ll interview at their offices for their people initially. I will meet HR and Finance people in addition to the recruiter. I will meet my manager-to-be if I’m hired. I will know the faces attached to the phone numbers and email addresses. It all feels very real.
Other contacting firms might as well be ghosts. I’ve never met the people. Never been to their offices. I don’t even know where the offices are. Sure, I have an address but it’s still not real. It’s just a number on a page. I know they exist because my salary gets paid. And I get emails from people I don’t know and will never meet.
It’s a strange life, that of a contractor. I often think of it as being a hired gun or a nomad. Roaming from job to job. Learning a new language. A new culture. Then doing it all over again in a few years. In the world of IT Support, every job is the same. But every company is different. Changing jobs is all about unlearning everything I know culturally about where I am but transferring my technical knowledge and soft skills to the new place.
It’s like moving to a new school. All the subjects are the same. There’s a gymnasium and a cafeteria. There’s a track and rows of lockers. But everyone is different. I am the stranger. I have to make new friends. I have to learn new social norms and expectations.
I would love to live my grandparent’s ideal. I would love to work for one company for 20 years and never think about leaving. I want a company to invest in me. But that’s not the world I work in.
I will never work for one company for 50 years, retire and receive a pension. I will never be taken care of by a company I’ve committed my life to. That world no longer exists. I’ve never worked anywhere more than 3 years. I’ve been laid off in budget cuts. I’ve been fired. I’ve left for a whole host of reasons. My mother is fond of say I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. And it’s true. I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up.
It is important to gain perspective away from the keyboard. To remember there is more to life than sitting behind the keyboard and reporting like as it happens. Sometimes when I sit and photograph an event happening or write about it, I am not truly living in that moment. I am a reporter on the scene, live from my life.
It is really important to keep up my sanity and get out to live my life. This afternoon I did just that. After having to work yesterday morning, my wife and I took a walk around the downtown area of Bethesda, MD where we moved this past February.
Moving to a new place in the midst of winter is always a challenge to explore an enjoy. It is so cold, it is not pleasant or enjoyable to go out and see this new city you now call home. Now that spring has sprung, it is a perfect time to walk around the city and see the flowers in full bloom.
It is also a perfect temperature to spend a couple of hours touring local shops and browsing all the wares and goods for sale. We also spent some time looking through a local flea market which is always exciting because you never know what you might find.
We ended the afternoon with frozen yogurt being our only buy and with a half-dozen new restaurants on our “to try” list. Overall, it was a perfect spring day ending with dinner with Annie’s father since our mothers are both over 4 hours away. So we chose the nearest family member we could to enjoy a meal with.
Originally written this summer, in the days leading up to my marriage to a wonderful woman.
So today I got my haircut. A long overdue errand which rendered me looking more like my driverâ€™s license (taken during a particularly lazy and long-hair growing effort in college) and less like the sleek, sexy, fiancÃ©e, to be married in less than a month man who I am.
And I had a thought as I was attempting to communicate to Donna, a nice but nearly impossible to understand Asian woman who was cutting my hair how much the hair cutting experience has changed since I was growing up. I grew up in a small town where there were two barbers. I went to one, Potterâ€™s Barber Shop, religiously. The fellow who owned and ran the place was named Mark Brennan (I believe, his last name wasnâ€™t Potter as everyone in town assumed who did not know him).
I went to his shop from an early age. I was taken there by my parents at first then starting going on my own not only because it was familiar to me. But I loved the atmosphere. Mark was a jovial man and loved to talk sports. Iâ€™d listen to the old timerâ€™s talk about the Redskins and the Orioles (this was long after the Washington Senators and long before the Washington Nationals). As I grew Iâ€™d interject and weâ€™d shoot the breeze about sports. Local, college, professional. It didnâ€™t matter.
It was great fun and great banter. Later in life when I was middle school I did a little bit of work for Mark. You see, he also started running a sports card business out of the shop. And I helped kids with cards from the case, and rang up customers for cards as he cut hair. He paid me in cards since I was completely hooked on them at that point and clearly didnâ€™t have a good understanding of money.
But I was happy and he was happy to have me since he could focus on hair while I sold cards and when we needed his advice, he would pause, provide it, and keep on cutting. I loved my first job there. I was always excited to come home with my new packs of cards and see what gems were hidden inside.
That was part of the fun of card collecting as a boy. You never knew who you were going to get in a pack of cards. What rookie card would one day become valuable. What special edition card youâ€™d get a hold of. Who you could find, then trade to a friend for a card you wanted. I was a big Karl Malone fan. Partially because we shared a name but mostly because I just loved the way he played. He was a big man who had a soft touch. He could pound the boards just as easily as he could hit the 20â€™ jumper. I loved to watch him play with John Stockton, The two of them were magic on the court.
This all hit me today as I was sitting in the chair, surrounded by women in curlers, a cacophony of voices young and old, and the din of a hair salon. And I thought back to that simpler time and simpler place. Three chairs. One case of cards off to the side. A couple different boxes of cards lining the back wall, a tiny bathroom, small coat rack and about a half-dozen chairs and benches along with a generous selection of magazines to read or thumb through.
I miss those hair cuts with Mark. Shooting the breeze about the upcoming football season. Looking at the row of autographed pictures he had from the various Redskins and other professional athletes he had met. I feel like that was a simpler time in a simpler place not too far away from where I am now. A mere 60 miles to the west. Over a mountain and into a sleepy little country town.