Where am I going with my life: An existential foray.
After deleting several proposed opening lines of this essay, I figured I would start with a fact. I turn 24 in March. It is not a particularly interesting fact, but it serves as the backdrop for where I am in my life right now. Once every year since I moved back to Lagos my life comes to a grinding halt, my anxiety and fatigue combine to put me in a rut. The early signs are later nights, groggy mornings and near zero productivity. I figure I can use this current “Ground Zero” of sorts as a time for reflection, hence this essay.
I started this essay with my age for the sole reason that it affects the way I judge everything I do and have done. As a typical twenty-something techie in 2018, comparison is my hidden obsession. Every Instagram post of friends having fun in sunny Greece is an indictment of my decision to live and work in Nigeria. Every LinkedIn update about a friend from secondary school starting a fancy position at Accenture or Deloitte is a reminder that my lackadaisical approach throughout my undergraduate study has consequences.
My mind tells me that these shiny things I see could and should be mine; even though I prefer Brighton to Santorini and have never had the work ethic required to be a consultant at the legacy firms. The irony of other people probably using my social media feeds (mostly Twitter threads about the ills of free-market capitalism) and meager accomplishments as yardsticks to beat themselves with is not lost on me. We are constantly in uneven competition with one another, but that is not the subject of this essay, I am writing about my own ennui.
It is clear that in my head, there is an ideal place I should be at my age. Many people in my age-range feel the same way. There is a certain level of clarity that one should have attained at 23. The enigmatic but incredibly entertaining Mike Tyson was a world heavyweight champion at the tender age of 20. Mark Zuckerberg started the behemoth that is Facebook at 19. The incredibly exciting football phenom Kylian Mbappe is still just 19 years old. You get the point, by 23 a lot of people know where they are going with their lives. Why do I have no idea where I am going next?
The examples above are important to me mainly because I grew up with a palpable sense of promise, potential to be just about any I set out to be. Jerry Ayodele was special. I excelled academically as a child, read all the children and adult books available, and knew enough about Socrates and Shakespeare to participate in conversations with grown-ups. It took years of near-failed tests and a very stern professor in an undergraduate Ancient Philosophy class to finally shake off the illusion that I was special. Up until that point I had, rightly or wrongly, believed that I could do anything that caught my fancy, and do it well.
Coming down from the high of potential and promise has been the most humbling and jarring experience of my life. Realising that the world is tough and often unforgiving was the first step of this figurative hangover. The second step and most difficult step has been moving on with life, knowing that I am not a wunderkind destined for greatness. This means accepting that life is more about perseverance, chance, and privilege than any intangible promise or special ingredient.
Earlier this year, my mother said in Yoruba, “n kan ma n tete sun e Jerry” which loosely translates to “You are too easily frustrated, Jerry”. It was clearly an unpleasant truth to hear about one’s self in the kitchen whilst making lunch, but it was a truth nonetheless. In this year’s Ground Zero I have had a chance to reflect on all the things I have done professionally; photographer, talent manager, software tester, product manager, copywriter etc. I cannot say that I have particularly excelled at any of these occupations I listed above.
Of course there has been some success, but none tangible enough to suggest I have found my “calling”. I suspect that I juggle interests, professions and side-hustles because I am truly afraid of black and white nature of singularity. Meaning that sticking to one thing, idyllic as it sounds, would make any success or (more importantly) failure very clear. If I stuck to being a photographer full time for example, I would have to own up to the fact that my work has not really evolved over the years. Ouch. Bitter pills like this lay all over my career so far, and it is clear that a lot of what I have done is up for scrutiny.
Moving forward, after the sombreness of this year’s Ground Zero has worn off, I have a couple of choices. The first is to stick with my stack of professions and spread out the failures and successes evenly, risking a life of mediocrity and intermittent anxiety attacks. This would be the path of least resistance, the status quo, if you will. The second choice would be simply to drop everything. Severing all work responsibilities, professions and interests, and starting afresh, taking one thing at a time, risking public and spectacular failure in hopes for clarity.
I am aware that choosing the latter option would mean cutting away old habits and practices. True singularity will never be achieved in a bubble of maladaptive coping mechanisms, procrastination and Twitter marathons. In simpler terms; my life will not go anywhere of worth if I do not take responsibility for my time and actions.
I will close this essay, not with promises that I will drastically change my life and achieve singularity, but with what has become one of my favorite Bible verses.
If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. Proverbs 24:10
I intend to find out how small (or large) my strength is.