This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack.
I am a 29-year-old ball of absolute bisexual envy. I look at my peers and people who were beside me a few years ago and almost explode with the feeling of “I could have done that!” But, well, I didn’t.
For context: Six years ago, I decided to get into theater and got some internships and then an entry-level job in dramaturgy in one of the most renowned theaters in Europe without any formal training. I think I did a good job, and I always got great feedback. But after a year, my depression came back in full force. I barely went to work and eventually had to quit entirely. That was in 2019, and I stayed in a deep depression until COVID started. I saw the intern who replaced me at my job become one of the leading dramaturgs of the theater, and I went deeper and deeper into depression.
Eventually, I came out of it. I looked for a boring office job, worked there until I couldn’t take it anymore, and now work another office job. I recently started studying for a B.A. in humanities to keep my brain occupied, because honestly, the office job is killing my creativity.
I don’t want to go back to theater, but I periodically get the feeling that I could have had a solid career by now. I could have made a name in the scene, or at least I wouldn’t be working a mind-crushing office job for the rest of my dumb life if I had just toughed it out for a bit. I know I can’t change it, and I also know that I was simply sick. But when I look at the people who came from my “scene” and now have a solid career with podcasts and books and scholarships and all that, I get a feeling of deep, deep jealousy, and I can’t be happy for them. I want to have what they have. Meanwhile, I’m stuck waiting for emails, listening to office gossip and studying with 19-year-olds.
How can I accept that I just got sick? How can I lose the feeling that I’m too good for “normal people” work, a feeling that is destroying every ounce of contentment I could ever feel in my little life? Am I just arrogant? Do I really have to look for another job where we talk about emails and when to send them every week in a meeting? Please help!
Hey there, TG!
From one drama queen to another, I think your theater background is showing a bit with the “sending emails for the rest of my dumb life” part. I get you, though. It does feel like that sometimes. I sent a “checking in” email this morning and thought, Wow, this is the exact sort of thing Kafka wrote that bug story about.
I’m also no stranger to envy. The bad news is that you’re never too successful or too secure to avoid it. There will always, always be someone out there with something you want. That’s a fact of life, and it won’t change. What can change, however, is our response to that feeling.
This parallel life you’re imagining where you’re comfy and established in a different career scene doesn’t exist. Or if it does, then that’s above my pay grade and yours. Truly something for a mathematician or a scientist to worry about. You know. People with lab coats and skills.
Do away with all that. It doesn’t matter. Could it have been your present reality if you’d done things differently? Irrelevant. We’ve got what everyone else on earth has: the here and now. And the thing about the here and now is that we have some control over it. Maybe not as much as we would like, but often, I find, more than we give ourselves credit for.
It sounds to me that you’re needlessly punishing yourself. You frame wanting a different career as “arrogant” and put down pursuing education in the humanities as “studying with 19-year-olds.” You call your life “dumb.” Whatever your future holds, it’d be best to meet it with a kinder relationship to yourself. You have to, at some point, stop wishing you were someone else and embrace your own materials.
“What’s mine is mine” is what I tell myself when I find myself daydreaming about what could have been or being jealous of someone else. That’s not to say jealousy has no place in life. You know what? Sometimes I am a nasty little troll under a bridge who thinks certain people don’t deserve the accolades and success they have. And you know what else? In many cases, I don’t even think I’m wrong! Sometimes haters have a point!
But at the end of the day, me feeling that way results in, well, what? The other person still has what they have, and I experienced some unpleasantness. Sometimes I do vent in a group chat, though, and honestly, that’s fun. I think I’m discovering some things about myself in the process of answering this letter. Whatever.
The point is, I’ve got myself to worry about, my life to live, and any second of this experience I spend wanting to be someone else is a second wasted. I’m better off leaning even harder into who I am. It’s easy to imagine other people have it figured out, people who seem to shine so much brighter than ourselves, but the reality is, TG, we are all made of the same stuff.
I hope that you keep going your own way, that you don’t judge yourself too harshly for doing what you need to do to get by, and that you remember everyone’s path looks different. Keep your eyes on where you’d like to be.
As for the rest? Well, maybe it’s none of our business.
Con mucho amor,
Originally published on February 3, 2023.
This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack. Purchase JP Brammer’s book Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons, here.