The other night I watched “I’m Fine, Thanks”, a documentary from director Grant Peelle and Producer Adam Baker, of Man Versus Debt. The film takes place around the country, capturing the stories of every day people who gave up their dreams to settle into a complacent lifestyle, many under the guise of the antiquated “American Dream”. Go to college, get a “steady” job, get married, buy a house, have 2.5 kids in the suburbs, and you’re guaranteed a life that is fine and dandy. Fine and dandy, at the expense of many an aspiration and young adult dream.
This is particularly poignant because most of the subjects within the documentary are otherwise successful folks from Gens X and Y. They’re your late twenties to mid forty-somethings, complacently living within the confines of antiquated happiness standards, set by the generations before us. Being in the business of career transition and creative entrepreneurship, naturally this piqued my interest, as it follows a lot of my favorite thought leaders on small business, creativity and life purpose (Chris Guillebeau, Danielle LaPorte, Jonathan Fields, Pam Slim, etc.). The film was simultaneously heart-wrenching and inspiring, watching countless people just like myself solemnly reflect back on “what could have been”, had they tuned out the sounds of adversity and critics, and followed their own creative instincts towards what they really wanted to do in life. And the inspiring part? No one was alone.
In fact, we are so much more in this together than we even know.
Now I can’t identify with the ‘settling on my dreams in the best interest of raising a family’ bit, because at 30, I’m newly married and without any offspring, and we probably will be for the better half of the next decade. We’re two young people living in a great, lively neighborhood Brooklyn, one who’s in the midst of growing her company, the other in the midst of excelling in his career, and without sounding crass – we’re at our peak professionally and personally, and we’re not ready to modify that yet to meet the needs of parenthood. Besides, my parents already have 2.5 grandchildren, so they’re all set for now.
The Dangers of Listening to Everyone But Ourselves
One thing we can identify with is the fear of waking up one day and realizing that you took a wrong turn somewhere out of pressure, and now you’re so far derailed that you wouldn’t even know the first step toward getting back on that track. One woman talked about how she took a prestigious job she didn’t even want, out of guilt – her parents received her offer letter and were so excited about the “good” news, she couldn’t bring herself to disappoint them by turning it down. Years later, she’s in a career path that’s as much a joke as the day she went for the interview on a bet. Pellee himself admitted to having everything – the family, the house, the job, but wrestling with knowing every day that his true passion was to be a filmmaker. But perhaps one of the most telling, because he’s so relatable, was a young, talented marketing executive, who admitted to “drowning my brain in Red Bull just to be able to respond to emails” each morning. And he’s certainly not alone – how many of us have become caffeine (or alcohol) dependent simply to drag ourselves in survival mode through the process of each day. That’s terrifying. And real. For way too many of us.
Through Brooklyn Resume Studio, I work with a lot of folks who want to change careers for varying reasons. I do the same thing here when I work specifically with folks who are looking to transition out of the 9 to 5, and who have their sights and dreams set on self-employment, freelancing, and small business as their next career move. Sometimes, one of the biggest value adds of working together is understanding one another, me having been there, and them having someone who understands that, even though they’re gainfully employed, maybe their situation is no less dire and in need of serious change as someone who’s out of work altogether.
I’m on that journey myself. We all are. Because when you stop trying, you stop setting goals, there are no more challenges, and nothing to work toward – you’re either bored, or dead. Someone had a great quote along those lines, and go figure, I can’t remember who it is, now that I’ve paraphrased it. But you get the idea. Anyway, this is less of a manifesto or essay on the despondent state of human nature, and more of a recommendation to check out “I’m Fine, Thanks.”
We Might Not Be Alone, But are We Collectively Doomed?
I speak of that sense of lonely unity as inspiring. But that’s really short-lived when you realize both the serious and omnipresent nature of it all. It’s inspiring in a misery-loves-company kind of way, but at the end of the day, I feel like it’s more of a cry for help from our generations, to whomever can convince us to change.
But here’s the thing – it’s not up to anyone else to give you permission to change, or to sympathize with your plight. And perhaps in knowing that we’re all feeling alone together, we can conclude that it’s time we start advocating for one another to stop being resistent, stop being complacent, to move past the fear and guilt, and realize that the only source of real, true, life-altering change is within. And it’s within every one of us. Now, that’s something we can rally around.