Thursday, February 04, 2016 4:11 PM
When I was a young firebrand, I felt that a job was a fallback position—that exceptional people (like me, of course) should strike out on their own and do great things, free from the bonds of nine-to-five servitude. Two things escaped my notice at the time—one, that exceptional people worked just as hard, even harder, for themselves than other people worked for their boss—and two, that working people had something that even exceptional people don’t have—they were needed to get a job done. It’s nice to be needed. At one point, when I was working in the early days of office computing, I was very much needed—it was a great feeling.
My working life back then was exciting—my father was starting a small business and I was helping with the computers—new and exotic at the time. The energy of growing a business combined with the innovation of computers—whose software, hardware, and operating systems changed with alarming frequency—kept me hopping. Computers were unusual and they brought with them new ways of thinking—I spent a lot of time explaining things to people—things I had had explained to me only a short time beforehand. There was a lot of learning, and teaching, involved. And the computers made us so competitive that the business grew swiftly—bringing its own challenges. If I were young again, that’s what I’d do—start a small business—there’s nothing like it for adventure.
Lately I’ve been trying to accept that my infirmity went on for too long, that restoration of my health (such as it is) came too late, and my senior years arrived too early—and that these three combined present a good case for me to accept that any professional life I might have had has gone by the boards—that mere existence, mere dependency, is the best I’m going to do with my near future. I recognize that living off my disability, without any struggle to regain my place in the commerce of the day, is a surrender—but I’ve spent some time fighting to stay alive, to stay sane—and it looks like that is the only challenge I’m prepared to face. Excusing myself from the greater struggle, that of wresting a paycheck from the wide world, is just another lesson I’ve picked up from my teacher, my cancer, my mortality.
My illness has taught me that there is a realm beyond that of ‘try harder’—I’m a little annoyed whenever someone suggests that I could do more. When a nerve is severed, no amount of ‘try harder’ will ever reconnect it; when a muscle no longer contracts, when the skin is numb to the touch, ‘trying harder’ doesn’t enter into the problem. When a mind that once served me so well that I look back on it now with awe, decides to atrophy—I cannot regain my genius by earnest effort any more than by wishing on a star. While I’m pleased and excited that my health is so much improved from what it was (what Billy Crystal, in “The Princess Bride”, describes as ‘mostly dead’) it is just as important for me to accept that my old self is gone—all my assumptions about my abilities, my knowledge, my stamina, my capacity to learn new things—they’re all misleading taunts, memories of a healthy me that hasn’t existed for decades.
So I’m giving up on finding a job—if I’m dissatisfied with myself, how could I expect anyone else to find a use for me? If anybody wants to call me on this—or explain how I should just ‘try harder’—well, you know what you can do with that sentiment. There are seven billion people running around—I think we can do without one pair of shaky hands, and things will still roll along pretty much unchanged.
The biggest problem is that I remain a neo-Calvinist by nature—and I’m unhappy without any hard work to do—I feel most needed when I’m being pushed to meet a deadline. Drawing pictures was always my go-to busy-work—but shaky hands and draughtsmanship don’t go together. It’s a conundrum. I’m trying to teach myself to enjoy being unneeded—but context is everything, and I’d love to have one—a context, that is. That’s what a job really boils down to—I’ve had different jobs at different salaries, but behind it all, whatever job it was was always a context to my life—a framework for my self-worth. Only exceptional people can stand alone, assured that they are of value, even without a paycheck to show for it—but even exceptional people need a target for their efforts, a challenge to strive for. Perhaps it’s just ego on my part—I’m disappointed with the lightweight challenges I’m prepared to meet—and I miss the days when people sometimes expected the impossible of me and I was able to deliver. Applause, applause—yeah, those were the days.