“She’ll sob for hours staring at the wall. Nothing I say helps.”
I happened to overhear this as I sat outside of El Cortez in Brooklyn last week preparing for a night of Karaoke with an old friend. There were two guys, perhaps late 20’s early 30’s, having a conversation. They were just drunk enough to be entirely oblivious to my presence but still perfectly articulate. Score
The Boyfriend: “She got a badass degree doing some sort of high-risk-youth social work, but as soon as she finished and found out what the jobs in her field really looked like she totally abandoned it.”
The Friend: “Man, that sucks…another one chewed up and spat out.”
The Boyfriend: “Yea…she’s still bartending, and she likes it and all, but every once in awhile she’ll get hit with these waves of hopelessness that she’s never gonna do anything with her life. Some of the other bartenders have been there for like 10 years, “lifers” y’know, and she’s absolutely terrified that she’ll wind up like these people…waking up at 4:00 p.m., working nights, partying on the job…forever. Plus it totally sucks for her, cuz these people are her friends, but she hates them in some weird way for showing her what her life might look like if she doesn’t figure it out.
The Friend: “At least she makes good money though right? I mean, she could totally take some more classes during the day and keep lookin’ for her thing.”
The Boyfriend: “I suggested that. The thing is, she’s $50k in debt with student loans, and the thought of going back to school only to have what happened before happen again is just too much. She’s already locked into the bartending gig because of the money she makes and the loan payments and whatnot. She feels like it would only trap her more…and honestly I totally agree…the system’s fucked man.
The Friend: “Yea, I getchya…what about some sort of side-hustle? Didn’t she do some jewelry shit on Etsy a while back?”
The Boyfriend: “Totally! Get this man: She had this one friend that worked there that had been making her own hot-sauce…y’know…just for herself and for friends. But she took it pretty seriously, honing her recipe, bottling it herself and doing label art ‘n all that. Last year she happened to be at a barbecue with some friends who had a band staying with them. These guys weren’t big time or nothing, but they loved the shit out of her hot-sauce! Long story short, they had some buddy back home in Portland who owned a pizza place…”Sizzle Pie“…dunno if you’ve had it…but the place is something of an underground-culty-staple there. They took some bottles back home with them and BOOM…licensing, production and distribution deal out of nowhere!”
The Friend: “NO WAY! That’s amazing! How lucky…
The Boyfriend: “Well, yes and no…and this is what I’ve been trying to tell her. By her own account her friend worked her ass off, maybe she never thought it would lead to where it led, but she still bled and sweat into “her thing”. No doubt there was a lucky break in meeting the band dudes, but if she hadn’t already put all that time into it nothing would have happened. And chances are, if the dudes never came along, something else would’ve.
Her sauce is obviously more than just “pretty good” or it wouldn’t have been picked up by the joint in the first place, so it goes to reason that being as good as it is, it would’ve been appreciated by some big wig somewhere eventually. I guess my point is that hard work creates luck…or at least if you work hard enough for long enough the probability of luck gets greater and greater.”
The Friend: “I can see that. So what now? Is she gonna start a hot sauce line?”
The Boyfriend: “….maybe…I sure hope so (laughs). The tough thing for her now is comparing her results to this cinderella story. Every idea she has she follows up with ‘…but there’s no way it’ll turn into that.’ or ‘there’s no way I’ll have those results.’ And I totally get it…It’s damn near impossible not to have some sort of expectation on whatever you build, but when it keeps you from starting…that’s the real problem.”
The Friend: “Totally paralyzing huh? Damn…Well shit, I wish her the best of luck. Gotta just start I guess. And isn’t she just wanting something that gives her life purpose anyway? Purpose doesn’t have to be defined as financial success, even though I guess money coming in could validate your purpose to some extent. But yea! If she could find something she cares about then the end result wouldn’t matter right? At least not as much? Sounds like she’s much closer than she thinks actually…
The Boyfriend: “Hmmm…I guess you’re right. She definitely cares enough about not having purpose…that’s probably the most motivating factor you could ever ask for. Damn…the despair she has NOW might just be the missing link she never had before! So long as it motivates and stops being paralyzing like you said.
The Friend: “Totally!”
Freddie Mercury: Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
The Boyfriend: “Shit! I’m up! Come on, I’m singing Bohemian Rhapsody…watch me make a fool out of myself doing something I care about with no expectations of success.”
They struggled to their feet and stumbled inside. I sat there delighted.
I whipped out my phone and began furiously taking notes piecing their conversation back together. I’d found a diamond in Brooklyn. These two dudes had leaked such a wonderful illustration of the pains of student debt, the trap of a well paying job, and that awful cocktail of envy and demoralization when you witness friends launch their thing successfully. And when they finally settled on that paralytic despair duo of not believing in your passion and not knowing where to begin…the spine-chills physically shook me.
But then their takeaway! So rich and poignant:
Follow your passion with no expectations. Chase your curiosity!
I must disclaim: I took an ounce or two of liberties when reconstructing this conversation, but let me reassure you; this conversation happened, it was heavy, and there was hope!
The pain and fear and hopelessness is very real, but so are the solutions.
Give your thing a whirl! Just START! Be a fool if you need to.
You will be in great company