Have you ever cried while on a work phone call? I have. Multiple times. Partly because the people I was talking to were really mean to me, and partly because I’m so unhappy with myself for making choices that led to me getting paid to listen to people agonize over tiny, pointless details.
I don’t cry out loud of course. If I can manage to hold back the tears until we say goodbye, I do, and then let loose as soon as I hang up. If I can’t, I ask them a question I know they’ll take a long time to answer, put myself on mute and sob. I always have a glass of water next to me – taking a sip slows my breathing down and helps me not sound like I’ve just been crying – so I have some of that as they wind up their answer and it’s my turn to start talking again.
It wasn’t always like this. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t to do with turning 30. I was doing the exact same thing when I lived in Sydney, and when I was 27, but I didn’t cry this much. If I was going to cry, it was because I was tired, frustrated, or I felt that I’d disappointed my boss.
Now I cry because I’m mad at myself. I’m mad at myself for choosing this path and selling out. I’m mad at myself for not working harder to do something more meaningful, more creative, and mad at myself for making this job the thing that brought me to and keeps me in New York. I’m mad at myself for being nearly 30 and still in a job I don’t love, and for not using the degrees I worked so hard to get.
“So, Justine, what we think is, we should be really focusing on this thing that doesn’t even matter and that probably won’t help us make any more money for our business, and that no one will even care about in a week, let alone a month or a year. What do you think?”
“Ha, what do I think? I think this is a waste of time. I think you’re wasting my time. I think you’re making the world a worse place than it already is, and that your company is pointless and ridiculous. I think I’d like to just hang up the phone, tell my boss I’m never coming back, and walk out. But I can’t do that because I’ve chosen to live in New York, and a condition of living here is that I need to make money. I hate you, I hate this, and I want to die.”
But I don’t say that.
*Unmute* “Yeah, I completely agree with you, we should be focusing on this thing that doesn’t matter! I’ll consider it and come back to you.”
“Good, because we really feel that putting all our time and energy into this pointless exercise will achieve a lot.”
“Yes, I’ll come back to you when I have a better idea.”
I deal with this conflict almost every day. On really bad days, I go for long walks in the East Village, Lower East Side, and Soho to remind myself what I like about being here. And every time I walk across Houston Street, and make the split-second decision to either turn right onto Mott Street or keep going and turn left up First Avenue, I remember what I love. The feeling that the streets have something to say. The knowledge that so many amazing artists, musicians, and writers have walked these streets before me. The way that so many crazy, smart, interesting people can exist in one place.
And when it’s time to go home, I walk to the N/Q or B/D train even if it’s further than going to an R or F stop so I can see that view of the city from Manhattan Bridge. The view that cheers me up in the morning, the view that makes me feel like I’m part of something special, the view that makes me put my phone away so I can take it in without distraction.
I know that if I was younger I wouldn’t feel this way. Working for this company when I was 26 was fun. I had time to decide if I really liked it, and I had time to decide what would come next. I didn’t ever expect to use that job to get to New York, but when the opportunity presented itself it felt right. I was 28 when I fought to come here. Now I’m two months from 30 and dealing with the reality that not everything is possible. Things do change when you get to a certain age.
I’m lucky (or, unlucky depending on who you talk to) in the sense that I don’t have a house, a child, or a marriage to influence any decisions I make. But that still doesn’t make it easy. I could give this up and start again. Go back to University and do something completely different. Be a student, be poor, be irresponsible again. Or I can suck it up. Continue hating what I do because I get to live in a city I love to do it.
I find myself feeling nostalgic for my youth, something I never thought I would say. Things have gotten progressively better for me over the years, and I’ve never been the kind to idealize being young. I don’t want to be a certain age again though, I just want that feeling of simplicity back.
I know what I want to do, but I know that I’ll need to work a little while longer to do it. I also know that seeing very successful people succeed at things I want to do is a double-edged sword. On one hand, I’m inspired because it means people can do what they want in life. On the other, it makes me very jealous and want to give up, because I don’t think my abilities are up there with theirs.
A lot of my friends have made big changes in their lives. Moving overseas, quitting jobs without backups and leaving cities they’ve been in for years to start over. And many of them have done so in their 30s. Amongst all of the negativity around ageing and not being in a certain place by a certain time, there are people who are doing what they feel is best for them, at the time they feel it will work. And you know what? It has worked. All of them are doing great things, and didn’t let that initial fear of failure or feeling of inferiority for not being at a certain place yet stop them.
There’s hope for me, and for everyone else, yet.