life? a highway? get real
We're back with a real brain buster: what do you want to do with your one wild and precocious life
Welcome back to Help Wanted, it’s a thing I’d like to do once a month. Past Help Wanted answers have solved The Cuban Missile Crisis, but could not stop the powers that be from spelling Missile with a second ‘i’.
It isn’t necessary. It could just be missle and everyone would be fine and we’d save so much paper but look, my job is not to make the hard decisions, but rather simply to provide my council for them.
Want advice? Your question/conundrum/pickle can be SS (super serious) or DAAD (dumb as a doorknob) or anywhere in between. I’ll fucking answer them all I don’t even care. Except I do care so much and that is why I’ll answer em.
Submit your questions to email@example.com.
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Q: So last semester I decided that I was no longer happy with my major and want to change things up a bit.
I took a bunch of different classes hoping that something might stand out to me but so far it’s only made things more difficult. I want to know if you have any advice on how to figure out what I want to do with my life? Or even just how to narrow it down to maybe a few things I can look into?
Imagine, if you will — it's the year 1203 BC and you’re chilling in, idk, the south of france, except you don’t call it that, you call it haum. You just finished scool, and yes your village was v progressive in fact it was a matriarchy, not that anyone found that strange, they just thought it was true as the earth was flat.
Anyways, it's customary in your little villag to go on a treap. The treap will last the rest of your lief and you can sorta do whatever you want as long as you can generate monee to take care of your cru. Everyone gets a cru, it's part of how older people give back to the village, and how newcomers show their loyalty. Everyone always asks, “how can there be enough peepol to be in every cru if every purson is also on their own treap?
Simple. A big part of many treaps is to join a cru or tuu. It’s not roquet scihence.
Anyways, let’s get back to you, Katie the Explortie. You’ve got your cru – most of whom seem nice and gud though already you’re worried about a couple of them – the two orange-haired troll-like guys who won’t stop snickering, EVEN THROUGH your ‘let’s do this’ speech.
You say gbye to your familee and frans (you are well liked in this villag, as is everyone), and now it's time to set off. To embark.
“Where tu??”, your cru asks.
Ratsababy, you think, you hadn’t really thought a whole lot about where to go. Quickly you eemprovise a plan for the cru: “We’re gonna go this-a-way and then take a big one of these (you point left), and then we’ll just go like this (you point straight ahead) ‘til we reach water or enemies.”
It’s a bold plan, and a good one. The cru agrees. Except the orange-haired troll with the somehow brown mustache, who says, “what the heck? We need to know a lot more than that...” and he pauses waiting for everyone to cheer in agreement, which they don’t, so he continues, “we want, nay we need, a plan! There’s so much we could do and it’ll suck without a big plan that’s THOREU and GUD and LIFE LAWNG.”
Asking for advice about what to do with your life, dear Katie, sounds like something the weird orange-haired trolls, one with a brown mustache and one with an orange mustache, would do. That is, to say, an impossible task!
Don’t believe me? Ask the dishes.
I was once like you: a nervous little chap with big dreams and a broken compass (no arrow at all, just a squished down snow globe that I could use to remember where West and East went in relation to North and South.)
No but seriously, folks, please stop laughing for a second I’m gonna get serious come on folks please (the crowd just cannot stop laughing but eventually after I call a 911 on them and a bunch of emergency firemen come and explain how serious this is, most of the audience stops).
Thanks to the troops in red and yellow, I say, but don’t we think they should be called the ANTI-FIRE department? Then there’s a long, long, silence. Even the crickets refuse to cricket. everyone hated that joke, and no one speaks for two hours until I finally get some pizza delivered, except, and this stays between us, it wasn’t delivery, it was Digornos.
Here’s my story.
When I was growing up I wanted to understand how comedy worked. What made people laugh. The answer wasn’t clear, so, when I got to college, I set out to solve the damn question myself.
I began where all optimism does, a simple goal: to understand how comedy worked by understanding the brain. And, you see, I had my own trolls who looked in my case a lot like my very well meaning parents, one of whom was named Lawyer and one named Doctor even though by profession they were both Computer Programmers.
I wanted to make the trolls happy, so I decided to major in neuroscience. I got a C in the intro class, which made one thing clear – I didn’t understand shit.
I switched to cognitive science, the alt-emo sect of the people trying to figure out the mind, buncha Noam Chomsky heads talking about Derrida’s form and content. I did better in those classes, but understood even less.
I switched to psychology, the science of how people act when you put them into weirdly specific situations called experiments. I did an internship at a sleep lab, which was mostly data entry. But I was getting into it. I proposed writing a thesis on, of all things, Twitter lol. Here was my 2009 half written proposal:
By junior year, I realized psychology did have a language to explain how people worked, yes, but not in a way that people themselves could ever understand.
At the elderly age of 22, I’d realized there was no way to a) understand how people worked and b) share those understandings in a way that made sense to them, except, perhaps, with stories.
I switched to literary arts and screenwriting, deciding to try to understand people through the context of a given dramatic situation. And do fart jokes.
I wrote a thesis script, which wasn’t half bad, though I didn’t get much help from my thesis advisor who slept a lot when we read stuff out loud in class. I also made a tv show called “Campus Liquors” about some kids that work at a liquor store on a college campus, which I did in fact do. We’d shoot overnight when the store wasn’t open. It was cool.
Oh, and somewhere in there I switched over to a business major so I could sign up for a free trip to India.
Through school I made money as an SAT tutor and a ‘district manager’ for a ‘region’ of SAT tutors. Yuck, but also, yum.
After graduating, I got a job in Austin for ‘emerging leaders’ at an e-learning company. I was supposed to be mainly focused on writing but it ended up being more business stuff, which sucked, so I left and worked at a film startup for 8 years doing basically every job there while also pursuing acting and writing stuff on the side. Then that company folded, and I hopped around from job to job, I edited people’s writing as a freelancer, and sometimes I’d even get an acting gig or two. I even made a digital television show.
Then Lauren got pregnant. I was like “what the heck, a baby??” I was working as a head of product at a tiny tech startup, which I quit to pursue standup.
Then Covid happened and also, I realized what it meant to have a kid, and so I decided to try my hand at Substack. That’s where you find me now, though I’ve also got a full-time gig as a head of content at this place called The DONUT (more on this amazing news soon!).
In addition, a few people have reached out asking for help with their writing, so I’m doing that too: developing ideas, editing, helping ppl write in a voice that sounds like their own, whatevering, (if you’re interested, holler).
I bet what I do in five years will shock and astound even the best of us (write a book or two, sell three scripts, and star in Substack’s first TV show, “The Stacks”, a workplace dramedy at a library).
So what’s all this mean, that life is a highway? Fuck that, no. That’d be insane. Imagine all of us, on a highway. Everyone would die or be stuck in the worst traffic.
Life is more like a muddy dirt road.
Sure there are forks in the road, because that one fork salesman realized that people basically just need one, maybe two, forks so he threw them all over the path, but you get it. Speaking of, let’s check back in with your explorer group.
Onwards we go, where to, we cannot know
K so you and the cru are walking, waiting for enemies or water. The sun sets and everyone’s like, ‘not again!’ because your culture believes the sun truly might not rise and set every day like no one knows how it works.
Everyone’s getting sleepee and hungree. Marty, the big guy who everyone was counting on to figure this part out because he said he would at the first planning meeting that happened MONTHS ago, says, ‘um I forgot to plan how we should handle this part, sorry.”
Classic Marty, btw.
So now you’re all freaking out when you, a brave and smart sassafras, say, ‘hey no big deal, let’s walk back toward home,’ and you point back home cuz you can still literally see it like you haven’t gone far at all.
But the trolls freak out they say noooooooo, we can’t, we made a plan!
So you take the two trolls and you shoot them dead with the bow and arrow you’ve had in your back pocket this whole time.
“The best laid plans of spice and rum go down like the forgotten sun.”
You know who said that?
It made no sense and yet, it did. Because you had said it. Right there, after you killed the two trolls.
‘do with my life’
That phrase is interesting. Do with.
People say ‘what am I gonna do with you?’ and they mean ‘I can’t figure you out. I don’t know how to conceptualize you in my brain so that I may feel okay.” Or: you’re unwieldy, like flubber from the hit movie flubber.
The other way people use “do with” is like this:
Here, ‘do with’ refers to a physical object you have and are wanting help figuring out how to best use.
But life is not a leftover ham.
It is more, in fact, like Flubber from the hit movie Flubber, which, I just learned, is a remake of this movie:
I was rewatching Flubber recently, and I’m pretty sure the moral of the story is that the flubber that is life cannot be controlled. The question ‘what am I gonna do with you?’ implies that there is in fact something someone can do. But they can’t.
Narrow it down
Wait I just re-read your question and you also want to know how to narrow it down? Ok. So pick three top things. Find people who are successful in those fields and send them an email. It can look like this. Send this exact one. Do not make any modifications.
I’m Katie and I saw you make necklaces. Wow. I wanna do that and am really into it. I’ve tried to make them like you using metal I found at the junkyard and glue I found at the junkyard and I can’t get ‘em right! But i know practice makes purrfect (sorry my cat).
Aaaaanyway. I genuinely love your work and am considering a career in necklace. Would you have 15 min to chat so I could ask you a few questions about how you got started? Happy to email them over as well, or come to your house and just shout them out while playing ‘in your eyes’ on a boombox !
Thanks ever the more,
PS can we talk about how creepy that scene was? John whats his face just showed up at that lady’s house in a trenchcoat playing music from his boombox but not any music, ‘in your eyes’ which is a song someone who wants to eat your eyeballs would sing. But we all loved it. It was a cultural touchstone. John lovitz or whatever he’s called he needs to pay for this. Do you know him? John? Cusak! That’s it. Cossack. He’s got a sister, she acts too. She’s good. He’s meh. Runaway Jury though is a good film have you seen it?
Ok let’s wrap up
Have you read Letters to a young poet? It’s good. It’s a collection of letters from this poet writer guy named Maria Rilke to some young writer who admires Rilke’s work. We only get Rilke’s side of the letters, so who knows if the other guy even existed or if Rilke was some sorta weird lil freak, but there’s a lot of good stuff in there.
One of my fav passages has always been ‘live the questions.’
I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
I dug the quote so much I gave it to a tattoo artist and said, ‘can u make a tattoo based on this.’ and she made this. Here’s a whole piece on it.
Am I including it because my bicep looks pretty sweet in it YES. Also Robert that idiot is down there being a goofball.
Live the questions
This is all well and good, you think to yourself, but it helps me diddly shit. And to that I can only say, I know, and I am sorry. After 67 years on this planet, I know less now than I ever have.
No one knows anything. Stay away from the people who tell you that they do and have fun with the people who admit they don’t.
Live the questions, or don’t. Chase your dreams, or don’t. Nibble on the pizza that’s the size of the entire United States, or don’t.
Point is, there is no point.
And what happens when you take a bunch of no points and stick them together? You get a no line, a muddy dirt road full of forks and stars and questions and cars.
Yes, the chaos of this answer is meant to represent the chaos of life, THAT and no other reason, is why I have chosen to end it this way. I have more time and could keep working on it. But...
Comment Cum Laude!
Let’s talk about it.
What advice do you have for Katie about how to figure out what one might do with a life?
What was the first job you were SURE you wanted to be?
Is your work the source of meaning and pleasure in your life? And if not, how the heck did you pull that off?
Have you ever been fooled by a apiZza that some asshole said was delivery and it turned out to be DiGornos?
What else?? Anything and everything, come out and say it babe!