Learning how to learn to weather a storm that is a result of another storm that may not even exist 1

“Kids used to wander and play at will around town or neighborhoods without concern. Parents just said what time to be home for dinner and kids were home then.  It was discouraged to just sit around the house.  I think a more creative and active lifestyle was the result,” Shelly, a Baby Boomer, says about her generation of hippies and free-spirited individuals as her son Tom and I sit in her upper-middle-class home.  She is in her late-40s, though her chipper attitude gives her an aura of youth.

“Now parents freak out when children aren’t in view of the yard or something.  I think this parental fear caused more dependent kids, eventually leading to less confidence and more anxiety and depression.  Growing up, I think Tom saw this, this stress his father would come home with.  I think that’s probably the biggest reason young people are having trouble finding their individual spirit.  They don’t want that daily grind, for the most part.  They just want to explore life without it being taken over by a career or whatnot.”  While she’s explaining all this to me, her paunchy Yellow Lab sleepily stares from the backyard veranda, drenched in sunlight.

Tom, a twenty-four-year-old college student wearing unkempt clothes, hides behind the loose strands of his brown-black bangs. He is on the verge of graduating from a reputable Bay-Area University with a bachelor’s degree in English Literature.  This comes after changing majors halfway through his junior year, leaving behind the engineering program that his family geared him towards.

“I was miserable in my first two years of college.  I’d worked my ass off in high school to get the grades, get into a good college and all.  I never gave too much thought to my major though, so when I went I figured I might as well take up engineering.  After all, that was the family business,” Tom says with a bit of contempt in his voice, “I thought I was going to end up being some type of businessperson, which sounded terrible to me.  But I thought I’d grow into it, that as I progressed as an engineer I’d magically stumble across some area of interest within the field.”

Tom waited well into his junior year of college for that spark of passion, hating his engineering classes all the while, before finally changing majors.  Following his lifelong passion for reading, he switched into the English program.  “It wasn’t an easy decision.  I’d been thinking about switching to something more fulfilling for a long time, something that I could see myself actually enjoying.  With engineering, I was thinking about how I could squeeze myself into society, how to make a living and transition into adulthood.  It sounded so simple and reasonable at the time; my dad has always owned his own engineering firm, and although I told myself I didn’t want to work there, I was fooling myself—deep down, I liked that feeling of security.  I had a profitable future all lined up for me, and no matter what I would tell myself, becoming an engineer was always lingering in the back of my head.  With English, I was doing what I’d always loved, what I still love. But at the same time, I had to leave behind this unrealistic future I had planned for myself as a wealthy engineer or businessman.”

What Tom thought would be fulfilling quickly became a disappointing grind towards some banal future. He found himself bleakly uncertain about what the tomorrow had in store for him.  Changing majors wasn’t the end of Tom’s crisis.  True, he had found his passion, but to chase this true dream meant to forfeit what many see as pragmatic actions that provide the means to live in a financially secure state.  Tom’s spirit and ambition vanished, his body complacently being carried by the tide towards that loathsome deep sea of depression and anxiety.

And in that sea, flailing in an ever-growing pile of tepidly treading bodies, Tom and countless others struggle to keep themselves afloat.

Tom’s existential dilemma is quite possibly easy to imagine. Perhaps it’s all too real. You might be in your 20s or early 30s. Generation Y is continuously becoming a group of individuals that may be defined by depression historically.  Not that Tom’s life is a strict paradigm for this generation or anything—you don’t have to live through this exact scenario to connect with his struggles.  Like Tom, droves of young people come to this depressing revelation as college students, probably because it’s the last stop before the final frontier that is “the work world.”  Consequently, countless students drop out of colleges every year– not because they partied too hard– because they were too anxious and/or depressed about the future to function, attend class, or even to get out of bed.  Others carry on until they get that dream job, only to realize after a few grueling months that this ideal career—the result of staying on track their whole lives—isn’t bringing them the happiness that society and their parents said it would bring them.  So they are faced with a daunting life decision to continue working a job they hate, or to quit and throw away all those unfulfilled aspirations in order to find one’s true place in the world.  Regardless, the crucial factor here is the nerve-fraying clash young people must face between expectation and reality.

Though traditionally labeled Generation Y, others prefer to call it Generation Me, either because they believe it to be a more accurate representation of the group’s mentality or because Generation Y just sounds like a bland sequel to Generation X—our generational predecessors.  After all, independence and non-conformity are all—perceptually at least– the rage amongst Gen-Y’ers, with the hipster culture defining this hyper-aversion to anything that society defines as the norm. This black and white view of how things are doesn’t take into account that the terms “society” and the “norm” are in fact undefinable and constantly evolving. This subjectivity, egocentrically perceived as panaceaic objectivity, has created a myopic trend towards dismissing anything that is acknowledged as good or enjoyable outside of an individual’s comfort zone. This is passive conservatism served with a contemptuous sneer.

Those born into the Great Generation (the youth during the early-to-mid 20th century) not only strived to be deemed as normal, but were almost required to fit the status quo.  If they didn’t, they would be singled out as an oddball, an eccentric, a fool, sometimes even a sociopath.  On the flipside, if you were to call a Gen-Y’er an eccentric, they’d be flooded with a surge of gratification and borderline smugness.

Typically, a generation is sectioned off every 20 years, though Generation Y spans an almost 30 year period.  By popular definition, the Baby Boomers were those born anywhere from the immediate post-WWII era up until the early-to-mid ‘60s.  Then came Generation X (Gen-X), the product of the late Great Generation and the early Baby Boomers.  Gen-X’ers were born roughly between the mid ‘60s and the early ‘80s, after Vietnam and Nixon’s Watergate scandal heightened people’s distrust in their government.  As a result, those in Generation X were less optimistic, though they were just as experimental as the Baby Boomers in terms of rebelling against social norms in order to achieve full-fledged individuality.  They saw the hippies die out as their social rebellion became less focused and lacked any tangible plan.  These so-called hippies weren’t really protesting anything except “authority” anymore.  The fervor of the ‘60s counterculture had faded away, leaving Generation X with an economically and politically unsound society.

Consequently, the yuppie portion of Generation X essentially rebelled against the hippie culture, rejecting that seemingly vapid and romanticized lifestyle.  The rebellion was served by well-coiffed sharks in business attire and working in offices who sought independence through high paying jobs rather than rallies and protests.  In that way, they could choose how to live without having to actually change the system.

Whether those in Generation Me were raised by hippies, yuppies, Baby Boomers, or Gen-X’ers, it hasn’t made much of a difference towards the young adults’ current attitude, which has evolved from the amalgamation of these countercultures and rebellions against social and popular values.  The Baby Boomers changed the status quo, fragmenting the preordained, single-tracked lifestyle of the Great Generation and giving their children more leeway in terms of what they actually want out of life.  Likewise, Generation X promoted success through individuality and ambition.  Although the Baby Boomers and Gen-X’ers were the catalyst for this move away from the one-tracked standard of living towards a more self-determined life, they did so in a way that worked with society, rather than actually changing it.

As Dr. Jean M. Twenge details in her controversial book, Generation Me, in which she discusses exactly why there has been, according to countless research studies, a growth in the number of depressed and/or anxious people amongst youth and young adults. “Born after self-focus entered the cultural mainstream, this generation has never known a world that put duty before self,” Twenge states in her introduction, “a generation unapologetically focused on the individual.”

Analysts believe that the mass media—television, music, magazines, popular fiction, newspapers, blogs, etc—to be one of two key factors contributing to Gen-Y’s new, self-entitled mentality.  For instance, a lot of Generation Me’s most popular songs revolve around the self and celebrate loving one’s independence “no matter what they say”, as Christina Aguilera croons in one of her hit singles, going on to state, “Words can’t bring me down.”  Apparently, Generation Me just doesn’t give a shit about anyone other than themselves, particularly when it comes to someone’s critical opinion about them or what they are doing with their lives. This has created a tendency for many to construct an overly idealistic approach to life while lacking the coping skills to deal with the real-world ramifications of constructing sand castles as a life path.

Back to the Future stands out as the best example of a Hollywood blockbuster which support and reinforce the generation’s focus on the ethos of individuality.  Although the movie was released to late Gen-X’ers, Generation Me ate it up.  Marty McFly, the films hip, self-confident, and rebellious protagonist—highly reminiscent of a typical Gen-Y youth—finds himself transported from 1985 to 1955, where he encounters his father, George McFly, who Marty quickly realizes is a highly self-conscious, repressed individual with an unearthed passion for science fiction writing.  George has been taught that his love for fiction is a whim, a mere adolescent fancy that will pass with time.  After Marty gives some revolutionary ‘80s advice, “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything,” George does just that, knocking out his obnoxious bully, winning over his future wife via his blast of self-confidence, and then moving on to become a successful, well-published science fiction author whose face beams with a joy that was all but absent before Marty inadvertently changed the course of his family’s history.  They move up in social status, becoming part of the yuppie elite.  Marty is even rewarded with a brand new truck and permission to take his girlfriend out on a camping trip, a token of karmic triumph for having passed on the ethos of individuality. Gen-X’ers, on the other hand, likely saw this happy ending as a tribute to the power of individual ambition within modern society. Generation X saw Biff, the film’s antagonistic meathead, as a manifestation of how insecurity and a lack of social status can limit one’s full potential. Generation Y sees Biff as society itself.

It wasn’t only the mass media that taught Gen Y to challenge restrictive social customs and to follow whatever farfetched dreams our whimsical brains would conjure up.  Our parents, too, conditioned us to shoot for the stars. We could (and still can!) do anything we set our minds to, anything that will make us happy.  And whether the dream is to become a renowned astronaut, a Hall of Fame baseball player, a chic rock star, a brilliant rocket scientist, a famous movie actor, a distinguished engineer or the next president of the United States, we were told it was well within our grasps.

As we grew up, Gen-Y’ers cradled these dreams like newborn babies, nourishing them with impractical thoughts of success and wealth. And although we cannot expect to become world-famous rock stars or prominent scholars, the possibility does exist.  It’s that nugget of possibility, that morsel of hope, which drives some Gen-Y’ers to attack their dreams with a vicious sense of ambition and self-confidence.  A seed of unchecked ambition has been planted in our psyche, rooting us to these expectations; and the more we hope to (no not hope to), expect to achieve such lofty dreams, the more that seed will grow, thicken, and solidify into dreams of grandeur.  That is, until those expectations come face to face with the harshness of reality.  As Chuck Palahniuk’s notorious anarchist, Tyler Durden, preaches in thecult classic novel-turned-film, Fight Club, “We are the middle children of history, raised by television to believe that someday we’ll be millionaires and movie stars and rock stars, but we won’t. And we’re just learning this fact. So don’t fuck with us.” Although exaggerated, Durden’s spiel captures the bitter frustrations that torment Gen-Y’ers as they come face-to-face with the real world, as opposed to the world their parents so convincingly envisioned for them.

It’s not that people like Dr. Twenge—those who agree with the hypothesis that young people today are more depressed and anxious than ever— are against individuality and the fall of restrictive social conventions.  It’s important to find a balance though, Twenge maintains, so that the pressures that come along with individuality don’t overwhelm us.  When we are given the whole world to us on a platter, there is an inevitable sense of anxiety that lingers in the shadows of this almost limitless freedom of existence. These shifts in thought are crucial turning points in human existence, changes of philosophy that define an era and the people who inhabit it.

“Those first two years of college were death for me,” Tom continues on, “Just months before I had been a kid at home playing video games without a care in the world, watching classic films with my dad, reading whatever book I felt like whenever I wanted to.  I attended three different high schools, so I never made any real friends once I hit junior high.  The friends I did have all kind of split off into their own cliques and social circles.  What used to be playing foursquare or wallball during recess became mere talking, like we were being told to become adults by getting to know each other on some deeper level.  It may sound kind of ridiculous, but that was all too much for me, and I felt I couldn’t hide those insecurities, like they were seeping out of me without my control.  And so my best friends were my parents, which may sound a little sad but it wasn’t bad at the time—I was content being a teenaged child, if you know what I mean.  I didn’t want to grow up, and although I didn’t know it at the time, this subconscious urge to stay dependent on my parents was nourished by that aversion to what seemed like an unbearable adulthood,” Tom said, staring intently at the gaudy carpet pattern sprawled throughout his parents’ home. “I couldn’t imagine myself at dinner parties like my Dad, entertaining friends or clients.  I tried to imagine it, picturing myself as the new CEO of his engineering firm, in charge of pleasing and maintaining clients and employees.  But all this would do was throw me into a dizzying panic attack, where my whole mind feels like its spiraling out of control.  It’s a very strange, surreal experience—not at all a pleasant one.”

“At the time, he really didn’t know what he wanted to do, which is fine by us,” Shelly said of Tom, “We just want him to be happy and to do whatever makes him feel happy.  Something that fits his interests, which takes time to figure out, we know that. Peter (Tom’s father) and I always let him know he’s got all the time in the world.  No matter how long it takes to find that something special, something that will put food on the table for him without being forced to work a job he can’t stand, we will be there for him.”

Leaning back in her chair, Tom’s mother Shelly tapped her finger to the left temple of her head as if trying to force her brain to articulate something she’s been feeling for years. “With parenting in the old days if you came home late you would have to answer to your parents.  If you stepped out of line you knew the consequence and were punished by your parents.  Work was expected to be performed by the children within the house and as soon as you were legally old enough you got a job you earned an income. Money wasn’t handed out like candy. Boys did paper routes, mowed lawns. Girls did babysitting. It wasn’t much money, but they felt good about it and were glad to do it.  All of the children’s entertainment was paid for this way such as movies and gas.”

Over the years, parents became worried about hurting their children’s self esteem and it became less of a matter-of-fact that a child got a job. Boundaries became less clear. “Children were being raised differently, with more anxiety and expectations.  Parents used to not worry about their children’s safety as much, and because of that they projected less anxiety on their children.  Parents changed to not raise their voice around the children, stopped spanking them,” Tom’s mother went on, as if speaking on the subject triggered a feeling of catharsis, “Spanking became confused with beating and was considered abusive.  Parents in the ‘60s were also influenced to rebel against the establishment of earlier generations and held a more, ‘anything goes’ mentality, which lead to the self-esteem-parenting movement.”

Generation Me learned to expect a lot, to choose whatever we wanted be, and to let it all hang out.  And that is exactly what we did.  Not only do we expect a lot from ourselves, we become discouraged, stressed and depressed when we eventually realize that our individuality is limited.  Suddenly, we find ourselves at a turning point.  We realize our own limitations, and that our dreams don’t always come to fruition so quickly, if at all.  As it turns out, this complicating incongruity between our expectations and the reality of those expectations have had a tremendous impact on Gen-Y’s mentality. In the work world people hold official titles, have salaries, collect paychecks, and otherwise offer themselves up as respectable members of the community. These perks, however, are shallow and meaningless to much of Generation Me.  Instead of adapting to what society is pushing on Gen-Y, we are showing tendencies to chase our own passions, regardless of whether or not those passions fit in with beneficial morals and lifestyles.  You can still be an independent person and benefit society.  We don’t give a fuck what our superiors, parents, and educators do or tell us because they were the ones who told us to question authority and decide for ourselves.

According to Dr. Twenge and her research on the connection between depression and anxiety in Generation-Y’ers.  “Being young has not always carried such a high risk of being anxious, depressed, suicidal, or medicated.  Only 1%-to-2% of Americans born before 1915 experienced a major depressive episode during their lifetimes, even though they lived through the Great Depression and two world wars.”  Juxtaposing the Great Generation with Generation Y, Twenge asserts that, “Today, the lifetime rate of major depression is ten-times higher, between 15% and 20%.  Some studies put the figure closer to 50%.”  That would mean that half of Generation Me has in some way or another experienced a depressive episode.  Quoting a study conducted in the 1990s, Twenge notes that 21% of teenagers between the ages of 15 and 18 had already lived with depression and/or anxiety at one time or another.

Twenge relates countless studies on the matter, often drawing upon her own social experiments.  For example, she conducted an experiment that linked anxiety to depression, “gather[ing] data on 40,192 college students and 12,056 children aged 9 to 17 who completed measures of anxiety between the 1950s and the 1990s.”  She was taken aback by the drastic changes she found.  “Anxiety increased so much that the average college student in the 1990s was more anxious than 85% of students in the 1950s and 71% of students in the 1970s.”

Yet despite research that appears to back-up Dr. Twenge’s hypothesis connecting the increase in depression and anxiety to Generation Me, there are always the critics  who belittle this connection.  Even though much of her research doesn’t revolve around antidepressants or any other medication, much of this research is muddled up and skewed by the impact that antidepressants have had on psychological research. The cushion of error and potential for unnoticed anxiety or depression confounds in the studies Twenge cites.  As Siddhartha Mukherjee, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Columbia University and author of Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, affirms in his New York Times article entitled “Post-Prozac Nation” that, “There are problems in analyzing published and unpublished trials in a ‘met-trial.’  A trial may have been unpublished not just to hide lesser effects but because its quality was poor—because patients were enrolled incorrectly, groups were assigned improperly or the cohort sizes were too small.  Patients who are mildly depressed, for example, might have been lumped in with severely depressed patients or with obsessive-compulsives and schizophrenics.”  What Mukherjee is pointing out is the ambiguity of all these studies. It’s hard to get accurate information out of a patient, not necessarily because they don’t want to be honest, but because they aren’t even aware of certain things and cannot precisely pinpoint what they are feeling.  Most people who have experienced taking antidepressants know that it’s a waiting game that often goes on and on until they realize that the pill just isn’t working out for them.

Just as therapists in the 20th century were coming closer and closer to efficient and constructive therapy a little pill called Prozac came along—the ubiquitous antidepressant that gained a lot of attention in ‘90s via another novel-turned-film, Prozac Nation.  And although Prozac, Paxel, and other antidepressants have fused with therapy, helping keep patients stable while they work through their issues with psychiatrists, these medications are actually closer to mystery pills than anything.  They work for select people, but for the most part do nothing more than a sugar cube would.  As Mukherjee’s article contends, antidepressants only really work for 18% of the people who use them, with 82% of patients’ improving moods forming from a placebic root.  The relationship between these two percentages in this particular study showed that the 18% of patients who had success with the meds were those deemed severely depressed.

Dr. Steven A. Schane, Professor at UC San Francisco and a practicing psychotherapist since 1974 thinks rampant medication is controversial. “There are a lot of studies that say that new antidepressants are more helpful than the old ones; I’ve had the experience with people taking them where they support that idea, where they’ve had some benefit from newer antidepressants—by newer I mean pills that have been around for about 20-25 years now,” Schane says in his warm, unpretentious Northern California office. “Clinical evidence from double-blind studies and other research were kind of equivocal; it wasn’t clear how much the medicines were helping or not.  There’s more evidence and ways of saying these medicines can help, but it’s not easy to discern this because there’ve been a lot of concerns about medical research in recent years in terms of research biases and how theses studies can be skewed.”

Research on depression is often not as objective as advertised to patients.  The influence of drug companies is powerful and often difficult to discern. “It’s a feeling that I have, and other doctors have,” Dr. Schane emphasized. “Research can’t be as trusted as it used to be.  So I really resort to getting information from my patients.  If somebody says to me it’s helpful, I talk with them about it; but it’s hard to know exactly what’s going on.  Is it a placebo effect? Is it a real pharmacological, medical effect?”  Yet there are no facts, no answers to these questions.  And still, medical companies dole out medication to the clinically depressed and anxious as if they figured out a way to encapsulate years of therapy into a pill. “

While Dr. Schane does prescribe medication to certain patients, for the most part he leaves it up to the individual whether or not they should start, or continue to, medicate.  “If somebody’s feeling better from taking antidepressants—fine.  The way I use medicine like this is that, if it’s helping somebody, great; though I do think it’s good for people to stop taking them after a while to see if they’re doing well off the medication.”

After his realization of dissatisfaction with a well treaded path, Tom became severely depressed and anxious, at one point attempting suicide and spending a week in a mental hospital, being evaluated by psychiatrist and “pumped full of zombie pills,” as Tom calls antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication.  “They made me feel better while I was in the hospital, but once I left everything went back to normal,” Tom mumbled, “Clearly, the pills weren’t the cure-all that I thought they would be.  I didn’t wake up the next day a shiny happy person.  I woke up disappointed and at a loss of hope.”

After 3 years of trying to find an antidepressant that fit him, Tom attempted to quit the pills and face his inner demons head-on.  “I had no idea if these medications were actually helping me.  I’d always have to wait for weeks before I could be sure they’d be in my system, and when that time came I never felt any different.  But I remember always being uncertain, and scared to get off them because I didn’t want to feel what I had felt in the past.  Terrible anxiety, panic attacks—I was a wreck.  When I challenged myself to stop taking my meds, it took about a month before it felt like my whole world was spiraling out of control.  I’d actually get the spins, get nauseous and out of breath.  I thought I had gone crazy and I didn’t want to face the that I might actually need these antidepressant even if I didn’t really feel like they were making me feel any better.”  Once Tom stopped taking his medication it was like all the problems that had been dammed up by these pills had suddenly been let loose.  The dam had crumbled without the maintenance of the daily capsule, and the sea of anxiety and depression once again came towering down upon Tom’s head, drowning him in the tumult of self-doubt and fear.

Referring to his method of dealing with antidepressants, Dr. Schane, with his natural aura of placidity, says, “It used to be that people would be taking these medications for 3-4 months maybe and then stop.  Now the drug companies recommend you take them as long as you need them; maybe even like insulin for a diabetic, take them interminably. Forever.  I don’t think that’s good medical practice, and you wonder again how skewed it is that the drug companies need to make an excessive amount of money, which is obviously sad and unethical, and shouldn’t be practiced by physicians.”

Dr. Schaene’s patio door is open, allowing a faint hum of nature to seep into his office. The penetrating June sun reveals a pristine spider web being woven in the knot of a tree.

“Generally I think these pills are being overused,” Dr. Schane goes on to say, specifically talking about the increase in medication being prescribed to young people in Gen-Y. “I can’t say in my experience that there’s been more people I’ve seen with these diagnoses.  It may be that these things are more reported now than they were before; they’ve always been a part of our lives and people’s struggles.  So the issue of anxiety and depression are not new.  I don’t think there’s been an increase in depression; I think it’s the diagnoses that have increased.  I think they’re overly diagnosed, and in general I think that people are overmedicated.” There is a kind of fad component to antidepressants, causing a lot of people to jump on the bandwagon merely because society is more open to these new pharmacological approaches, and thus more likely to seek happiness through them.

Some of that relates not only to the drug companies, but to the insurance companies as well.  Insurance companies are supporting medicating people and they’re not supporting therapy. Medication is more of a Band-Aid than a cure, meant to alleviate some of the problems while they work out their problems in therapy.  “It’s really not helping people; it’s a step backwards.  People that need help with a professional get sent to therapist who have had less training and less background, and have no training in medication. So we’ve regressed in terms of the insurance doing its job to help people, when you buy an insurance plan you want to get protection for yourself or your family or whatever, but the protection is becoming less and less.  And sadly it’s about this bizarre, excessive profit motive you see with both the drug companies and the insurance companies.  And so these businesses and corporations have been kind of pennywise and foolish.  I’ve seen people who’ve been seriously struggling with issues and instead of getting good, outpatient treatment that they need they wind up going to the hospitals, and that’s very expensive and not very productive, so the insurance companies say no to outpatient therapy, which could prevent hospitalization and help people get better.  Instead, they just give these people pills and they only support therapy with secondary or third quality therapists.  They often have to go along with their insurance plans, that way they get reimbursed so they can save money.  It’s really too much about money and not enough about helping people, unfortunately.”

We don’t know for certain if people are actually more depressed nowadays, and we don’t have any more of an understanding of it than we do of consciousness. So why are insurance and drug companies handing out these mystery medications like candy?  Why is therapy taking a backseat despite the fact that research indicates it is more important than medication as a means to alleviate the restrictive grip of anxiety and depression? Is Gen-Y destined to become a generation of pill-poppers who incessantly numb themselves with cheap, readily available medications that seem to mistake curing with injecting a feeling of complacency? Quelling the nauseous sting of internal self-hatred should not be confused with instilling an internal love for oneself. We cannot become generalized as the generation who hates themselves and the world around them while existing in a perpetual state of self-victimization and ennui; a generation seeking momentary pleasure while over contemplating what will satisfy them in the long run. Medication allows you how to tread in the ever-stormy seas of regret. Yet, it doesn’t show you the way to calmer waters.

“One of my all-time favorite quotes is, ‘In dreams begins responsibility’—Yeats wrote it in one of his poems I think,” Tom tells me over coffee in a local café.  He has a youthful face with jittery blue eyes, transparent in their nonverbal display of complex emotions and, well, anxiety.  “Anyhow, what [Yeats] is saying really struck me; especially when you think about the word ‘dream’ as a goal.  Everything that I’ve dreamt of doing as a kid, every goal I made, started out really fun.  I remember being set on becoming a surgeon at age 7, a refined chef at age 10, a professional tennis player at age 13, a real-estate tycoon at age 16, and always the prospect of following in my Dad’s footsteps, taking up engineering and settling into the family business, so to speak. So it’s always been a back and forth struggle for me—especially as I’ve grown older—as to whether I should follow what I know will offer me a secure future, or what I think makes me happy: reading good books, writing poetry in a leisurely fashion, and just kind of existing.”

At this, Tom rubbed his chin with a smirk cracking up his right cheek as if reminiscing while dancing through a graveyard of hypothetical dreams that have piled up in the back of his mind.  “And all these childish dreams I had mean nothing to me now.  Actually, I really hate thinking about them. It’s depressing.  I feel guilty, like I didn’t have the willpower to advance beyond the initial excitement of my dreams.  Once the responsibility would hit and all the stress and pressures would come crashing down on me, I’d get discouraged.  Uninspired I guess.  I always get to that brick wall of responsibility and get sort of scared off by the challenge.”

“I can do whatever I want!’ my parents and teachers would always say, but what the hell does that even mean?” Tom says, eyes detached and obsequious as he speaks. “I guess I want to learn as much as I can.  To live out in nature, in peace, all my books lined up for me to delve into whatever adventure I feel like.  I know that sounds idealistic, or maybe just lazy,” Tom takes a second to let out a brief chuckle. “One of the two. But one things for sure, there’s definitely no paying job for those kinds of things. So I’m screwed.”