A high school friend of mine showed me a poem she had written during our senior year with the line “Time moves to the left.”
I didn’t understand it then, but two Saturdays ago as I was sitting in the break room at work, time moved to the left.
One of my current jobs is teaching the SAT on the weekends — it’s not terrible but it’s not particularly inspiring either. It’s just something to pay the bills while I whittle away at Hollywood dreams.
I had gotten to work two hours early on Saturday due to a scheduling misunderstanding. I was sitting in the break room and imagining what my future would look like while simultaneously focusing on lesson planning for the day. When you’re day-dreaming, you are occupying two places in time at once — both the imaginary future, which is in the moment more real than your present reality, and your current physical situation.
Whenever I catch myself being consumed by an alternate reality, I try to focus on what Better-Your-Life-And-Increase-Your-Happiness advisors universally agree upon: enjoy the present.
I found myself standing in the bathroom drying my hands on paper towels. What the hell was there to enjoy in this moment? My imagined reality was much more exciting than the act of pissing and wiping water off my hands.
As I was walking back to the break room, I started thinking about the past (that morning, what had already transpired), what I was currently doing (walking to break room), and my beautiful, unattained future (living the high life in ten years). Was I fated to only enjoy myself in a decade’s time? Was I fated to only enjoy an imagined reality? Shouldn’t I be able to carpe diem? Was I too concerned with enjoying the present to enjoy the present?
It was then that I started experiencing my day of “temporal disconnect.”
It felt like every present moment I was experiencing was already becoming a memory as I was experiencing it. It felt like the future was the space I actually occupied. It felt like my future was also already becoming a memory.
Time was moving to the left.
The entire day passed in a weird, unsettling occupation of various time-space dimensions while going through the motions of teaching my classes. One friend suggested that this might be a symptom for depression; another told me that perhaps I had hyper-cognition mutant abilities.
Whatever was happening probably had more to do with post-grad anxiety/obsession over the classic existential crisis of “what is the point of what I’m doing here?”
My works consists of coaching/tutoring speech and debate, U.S. History, the SAT, and whatever your upper middle class child needs help with.
When I was in college I promised myself that I would never sell out. What I meant by “sell out” was that I would never work for corporate, big oil, big banks, etc. — I would never work for a company or cause that harms the world in exchange for a lucrative paycheck.
I’m not working for corporate, but in a sense, I have sold out.
I help to perpetuate privilege on a daily basis — my students all come from middle class to upper middle class families. This allows me to earn a really good living wage … but at the same time, what I do is guarantee that the already well-off become even more well-off.
This is not to complain about my students — they’re all good kids and eager learners. But these kids are able to think critically, achieve high grades/scores, ensure they get into elite universities, and secure a stable future all because their parents can afford to pay me, among a variety of other services, to get them there.
I aid the rich in getting richer, in return for a reasonable paycheck.
Of course the easiest escape for this sort of guilt is to say “Well, I don’t have any money to help anyone now. When I get to a point at which I can help people, I’ll do it then. When I make enough money, I’ll donate a shit ton.”
One of my good friends pointed out the flaw in my logic — this sort of thinking is “The Trap of the Rat Race.” The Trap of the Rat Race is the idea that you will always need more, more, more for yourself, because at any given point in life, it’s never enough.
If a person really wants to change things or make an impact, she doesn’t need to wait for the forever-unobtainable future. She can start right now.
When I was studying abroad in Kenya there was a woman, Jane, who came to speak to our class. She was the head of a non-profit in Kibera, the biggest slum in Kenya. Her organization handed out pads to girls and went to schools to talk about women’s issues, as well as organized women’s meetings in the community.
They did amazing work, and during the Q&A session, we kept asking her questions like “where do you get the funding for your organization? Who sponsors you? Who’s investing in your NGO?” Jane was extremely confused by these types of questions.
After she had left, our professor told us that our questions came from a very Western way of thinking — it was extremely American of us to assume that we needed money first in order to do anything.
Jane didn’t need money to start. She just started. She knocked on doors in her community and put up posters she printed herself to get women to turn out to local meetings. She didn’t need to wait for a venture capitalist to say “helping women is a great idea!” Portfolios and liquid flows be damned, she was going to get shit done.
I recently met a woman who, at the age of 26, had already traveled to over 50 countries in the world. When I asked her what was her biggest takeaway from her travels she replied: “The life of your dreams is a lot cheaper than most people think.”
In the same vein, as Jane showed us so clearly, the atonement we seek is a lot cheaper than we think.
So how do I absolve myself of my rat race sins? I start now (more details on my nonprofit project to come).
If you have a project you’ve always dreamed about, an idea that’s been kicking around for a number of years, a passion you’ve always wanted to pursue, why wait for the imagined reality of a rich and prosperous and stable future?
Chances are, you’re never going to get to that point of complete zen with your life. Time flows to the left. Start now. It’s a lot cheaper than you think. Don’t let The Trap of the Rat Race engulf you. Fucking do it.
I want to end with a quote from our wonderful POTUS that I found on the Humans of New York page:
Q: “When is the time you felt most broken?”
President Obama: “I first ran for Congress in 1999, and I got beat. I just got whooped. I had been in the state legislature for a long time, I was in the minority party, I wasn’t getting a lot done, and I was away from my family and putting a lot of strain on Michelle. Then for me to run and lose that bad, I was thinking maybe this isn’t what I was cut out to do.
I was forty years old, and I’d invested a lot of time and effort into something that didn’t seem to be working. But the thing that got me through that moment, and any other time that I’ve felt stuck, is to remind myself that it’s about the work.
Because if you’re worrying about yourself — if you’re thinking: ‘Am I succeeding? Am I in the right position? Am I being appreciated?’ — then you’re going to end up feeling frustrated and stuck. But if you can keep it about the work, you’ll always have a path. There’s always something to be done.”
New motto: Be Like Jane.