The soul is undefeated in the battle of brain versus heart.
As I got back into my old Jeep after the fateful encounter with the cab driver who’d convinced me to quit my first job out of college to find my purpose, I battled the traffic on the George Washington Parkway heading back to my two-story townhouse in the hip, I-can’t-quite-afford-Georgetown-yet, Arlington, VA. I was also battling something much stronger. Something that was bubbling up from the depths of my own heart and soul that had been deprived for the last year. I got home and threw up.
That night, I barely slept. I kept searching the internet for things like, “what should I do with my life?” “how do you find a job you’re passionate about?” and “how do you quit your job?” I couldn’t quit my job, right? I mean everyone told me that I had to stick it out a year. The guy at the career services office in college said that anything less than a year would look bad on a resume. My parents told me, “Give it a year.” It seemed like everyone in the world was telling me to give it a year.
When the hell did the magical job gods determine that a year was some sort of magical measurement of accomplishment? And why was I so quick to listen?
The battle of brain and heart
That’s when a thought came to me: I am going to quit my job. Then another thought came to me: No, I’m not, that would be crazy. And back-and-forth my brain and heart went for the better part of a week. I couldn’t think of anything else. I would go through the motions of parking my car, walking into the office, sitting at the computer, making phone calls – but it felt like I was in a bubble. I was fantasizing about walking into my bosses office, and saying, “I quit.” What would happen? Would all of a sudden, some sort of Society Rules Guard come out, handcuff me, and say, “Hey you’re not going to cut it here, get back in line!” But, what about my income? What about health insurance? What would I tell people at happy hours? What about that damn suit I maxed out my credit card for? Oh, and maybe more importantly, what would I do instead?
And so, on a fateful trip on the Metro to a sales call I decided to get off at a Barnes and Noble in Dupont Circle. I saw this cool-looking, reflective, and free-spirit guy journaling in a little black sophisticated journal. On the back, barely viewable, it said “Moleskin.” That’s what I needed.
As I walked into the bookstore, I felt smart again. They have to put some sort of aerosol drug in bookstores that just makes you want to read everything, even stuff you never would be interested in. I stopped and read the back of a book of poetry. Hey, that could be cool to get into poetry. I walked up to the second floor and found a spot to read. Hey, look, I am a cool guy that can read poetry in the middle of a workday. One poem I read sold me to buy the book. I never even liked poetry really. It is insane how the universe does things to cause you to come face-to-face with a message you can’t un-hear. This was one of the signs I only remember in hindsight. Reflection is a gift. I just dusted off the thin, hardcover book still in my office at home.
A job so good I’d be finishing it for the rest of my life
Here’s the poem that rattled me once more:
Everything Else in the World
by Stephen Dunn
Too young to take pleasure
from those privileged glimpses
we’re sometimes given after failure
or to see the hidden opportunity
in not getting what we want,
each day I subwayed into Manhattan
in my new, blue serge suit,
looking for work. College, I thought,
had whitened my collar, set me up,
but I’d majored in history.
What did I know about the world?
At interviews, if asked about the world,
I might have responded – citing Carlyle –
Great men make it go, I want to be one of those.
But they wanted someone entry-level,
pleased for a while to be small.
Others got the jobs;
no doubt, later in the day, the girls.
At Horn & Hardarts, for solace
at lunchtime, I’d make a sandwich emerge ”
from its cell of pristine glass.
It took just a nickel and a dime.
Nickels and dimes could make
a middleman disappear, easy as that,
no big deal, a life or two
destroyed, others improved.
But I wasn’t afraid of capitalism.
All I wanted was a job like a book
so good I’d be finishing it
for the rest of my life.
Had my education failed me?
I felt a hankering for the sublime,
its dangerous subversions
of the daily grind.
Oh I took a dull, well-paying job.
History major? the interviewer said, I think
you might be good at designing brochures.
I was. Which filled me with desire
for almost everything else in the world.
That line, “…all I wanted was a job so good I’d be finishing it for the rest of my life” stuck to me like packing tape. That’s what I wanted. I wanted to cry. I don’t cry.
I finally emerged from my dark cloud, Stephen Dunn book in hand, and walked up to the clerk. “Where are your moleskins?” I asked. She pointed them out, and I bought two. Those fateful little books. Journaling is not a peaceful exercise like they say. The minute you put a thought on paper, is the moment it becomes permanent. You can’t wish it away and cover it with other thoughts. What I would write in those journals would stare me down every day until the moment I acted and decided for myself how my life would proceed.
Those tattered little journals haunt my house to this day.
As I rode the Metro back to my office, I started writing.
My advice: Your soul is calling. Listen.