I've just come home (at the time of the first draft anyway) from watching the incredible 20,000 Days on Earth. I've been a Nick Cave fan for years, so whether or not I would enjoy the film was never in doubt. I even travelled to Sydney in February of last year to see him and it was one of the best concerts I've ever seen. The combination of his brilliant catalogue, that band, his showmanship, and a deep, personal connection with Sydney and particularly her Opera House lead to a jubilant and emotional experience that I don't think I'll ever experience again. But that's not what this piece is about.
The thing that really struck me about 20,000 Days on Earth was Cave's dedication to nurturing his genius. I was both full of admiration and struck by an intense jealousy that he has been able to devote his life to this craft. It made me think hard about my current position. About the nature of my being, even, which is quite an achievement for an 88 minute biopic.
Watching Cave go through his 20,000th day on Earth one is forced to contemplate what one's own 54th year may look like: where you'll be, who you'll be with, what you'll be doing, what you'll be known for. It made me uneasy I must say - though I appreciate that it finally gave me an emotion strong enough to motivate me to write after my last piece, the story of Popin.
At my core I'm a perfectionist. I want, nay, expect to be excellent at everything, and this is only made worse by my tendency to not self-promote - which butts up nicely with an intense desire for success and recognition. There's a glaring issue with all this: I'm not excellent at everything, far from it normally (don't worry, I'm emotionally stable and this isn't a cry for help, merely a clumsy attempt at an illustrative example). I'm a relatively quick swimmer, but I never made the times I wanted. I'm a pretty good musician and songwriter, but I'm still looking for the magic. I'm a pretty good developer, but I'm far from the best. I've got some good skills and experience around starting businesses, but mine never seem to work. I've got a pretty good life, but it doesn't fit the idealised view of what I really (think I) want.
My point above is not to list some skills I have, but to express that I live my life bouncing between disciplines; throwing myself headlong into something only to sniff the possibility of a better life somewhere else, shifting course and throwing my weight behind that. If nothing else I seem to have an aptitude for the adjustment, but I know this constant sense of inadequacy and unfulfillment is always there, always encouraging me to try the next thing because maybe that time it'll be easier. Maybe then I'll get that win that I crave, that elusive win that appears to drive me.
The thing is, I don't actually think it's just me. In fact I feel it could be generational, though I have no data to prove it and haven't had much luck coming up with any. In my work with The Distiller and the broader startup community I see a lot of people who are quite similar to me. People who just want success, and who aren't particularly concerned about what it looks like, so long as it's theirs. This desire for success is hardly specific to a generation, but it seems that my generation (I'm 27, you can work backwards from there) is predisposed to being constantly unhappy with their current situation, at least that's what it feels like. In my narrow bubble of the world most of us were brought up with a lot, and I think we find it quite hard to reconcile how we're ever going to achieve a life that was as good as the one we were raised within, particularly while doing 'what we love'. Under constant time pressure, automation, scaling house prices, globalisation etc., the concept of having a comfortable middle class life feels quite distant, so I think we've all told ourselves that we're OK with sacrificing that particular dream, so long as we can travel and party. I know I've told myself that.
It feels like, as the old pathways have disappeared, we're all being forced into taking more risks with our lives, careers and livelihoods, risks which the generations before us haven't had to encounter, while all the while dreaming of being able to de-risk as soon as something works. It all raises a question...
What if something we do actually works? What if I luck onto that hit song, that killer startup, that swimming...hah no that one's definitely not happening.
I don't really know what happens then, but I don't think it's in my nature to actually be happy with it. I'd likely be looking to the next thing, already dissatisfied with the last one as my threshold shifts and my self adjusts. That's what we've been conditioned and told to do, after all. I feel like my entire education and upbrining was always oriented around looking after oneself and making sure that you got yours. This isn't a sleight to my parents as they did their best to raise me as conscientious and community minded, but I think all of us post-rogernomes have been fucked up a bit, in a way that older generations haven't.
We post-rogernomes were born into a country freshly unshackled and opened to a whole new, consumer world. We don't know anything else and things that before Roger seemed self evident, just aren't for us. Where older (than us) people become selfish dicks because their circumstances encourage such behaviour, we don't have a choice. We were raised this way.
I don't really know what to say now. I don't have any snappy conclusions or tips. This isn't an instructive blog post with an easy to digest morsel hidden at the end. I hope that others have seen something in this though. I know I'm not alone in such apprehensions and motivations, but I feel like few people talk openly about this. I guess that's because it's hard to admit that you're afraid, or that you'd really rather be doing something else. I think it's also embarrassing. There's nothing worse than trying to put on this facade of success and self-starting, to admit that there's very little behind it.
At the end of Cave's 20,000th day on earth he goes home, sits on the couch and watches Scarface with his kids. It's scripted, sure, but I bet to your average 20-something, stuck in a shared house in an overpriced city that they will probably never be able to afford to settle in, it strikes close to home and hurts, just a little bit.