Maybe because of where my thoughts went last post (cultural and family influences on attitude to work and ERE), one thing has crystalized over the past 3 days. I seem to feel deeply inferior to classmates of mine who enjoy their white collar jobs and are competent professionals.
This is not in terms of social status. That's not what worries me, and even if it did, social status-wise, I would probably rank about the middle - decent job, lotsa travel, saw the world, was educated abroad on scholarships, etc. So even if what I do doesn't have "cache" in traditional career ladder terms (I have classmates working for very shiny institutions, also classmates who are doctors and lawers with their own practice, etc), you could say I am not a "complete" failure because I still have an ok-paying job and I have seen the world. So, not feeling inferior about the social status that my path in life confers.
What I do feel inferior about is my inability to be happy, competent, and self-realized in this path. If I wasn't kicking and screaming all the way, I too would probably have been employed by one shiny organization or another because I went to good schools and did ok. But as soon as my education "professionalized" and further on as I started my career, I was miserable and unmotivated all the way, and it took me a lot of effort and drudgery to "force myself" to do the thing, whereas my classmates did the thing, did the thing well, and experienced a sense of satisfaction in their competence for having done the thing. I liked school well enough when I was learning general things for no purpose because why not. I have a liberal arts degree and if I had children I'd like them to have a liberal arts degree, too, because I would like their horizons to be broad and I would like them to be able to think about the world, not just sling code. The problems started when I had to choose a major, and when none of the adults in my life listened to all the "listen, i'm going the wrong way, i feel miserable here, i'm not doing ok, how can i choose my direction in life so the 8+ hours I'll need to put into a job each day don't feel like sheer suffering."
My mother shook her head and said she's read an article about how young people really seem to have trouble launching these days. My professors listened during office hours but were ultimately not invested, save for this one piece of shit who used my confusion to rope me into doing papers for publication for him on which he just tagged his name. I kicked and screamed again, and did a terrible job, and he told me how disappointed he is and how he has given me such a chance bla-bla. I felt guilty. I wondered what's wrong with me. Why can't I do this one simple thing that would help build up my CV when all my classmates would have jumped on it? (After some time passed, way after graduation, I realized some part of me deep down knew it was being taken advantage of. Some part of me knew it was being asked to give up its joy and individuality so a disillusioned, lazy, but ego-driven middle-aged shitstain could notch publications to his name).
My father reacted to my telling him I feel lost by being angry at me until I got back in line and did what he thought I should do. He shouted at me to get a "practical" major, and shouted at me whenever he saw me reading anything that was in any way about ideas. He'd say things like, "this turns my guts, I want to take this book and throw it down the shitter." I thought, ok, I am capable, I can complete "practical major" to please him and then go on to do what I want - but "practical major" sucked me in and sucked the life out of me. (shitstain prof was from "practical major"). I either case, I flunked out of a fully funded phd with a free MA (went to grad school right out of college - another attempt to kick and scream in the opposite direction). While my classmates ended up having reputable careers, some of them in academia, some of them in various think-tanks and intl orgs, some of them in industry, I washed out. And feel like a great loser for not being the sort of person who was automatically motivated to capitalize on the opportunities presented to him. I had the ability, all of them did it, why couldn't I?
I still can't. Trainings don't translate into competence, nothing gets internalized. I'm still kicking and screaming and all my energy goes into trying to drag myself forward when everything in me wants to ... not. It doesn't know what to do any more than it knew at 20, but just like at 20, it knows, not this, regardless of how rational it seems. I'm almost 40 now, and I've had 20 years of practice experiencing myself as incompetent and unlikely to succeed, and experiencing work as a miserable drudgery. I probably have to show for it 1/5th of what the people I studied with do. My life is one giant holding pattern, waiting and hoping for it to stop.
Another reason why I am thinking of this is that I saw a suitable apartment for sale in my home town. Costs 15% of my net worth, needs work, which would make for interesting projects, and is pretty much the ideal apartment at the ideal location if I had to choose something in my city - a studio with a small kitchen and a balcony with a good view, and at a key public transportation juncture from where one can take a bus to any other point in the city. Walkling/transportation-wise, few other locations are better. The remainder of my NW, at 2%, would generate a minimum wage a month (a bit misleading, since min wages have been allowed to slip and most people, even in very menial jobs, earn about 1.5x - 2x this, but still possible to live on frugally given I won't be paying rent.)
It has made me imagine my life if I quit my job and bought it, and while I think it is a good opportunity, it's making me realize I don't want to be in my home town. I don't picture myself happy there. As you may have gathered, my family of origin isn't the most functional. My parents are exactly what you would think of when you think of the worst of developing country people - traditional, with set expectations for how one should live, and with set expectations for their entitlement to run my life and to keep nagging at me for falling short. That apartment would be what I want, but it's not what they think I should want - a large one, with a wife and children, a car, a shiny profession, me giving them money. While I know they don't run my life, it's wearing for people who are your family and who you cannot help but love to constantly purse their lips at you and lecture you on how disappointed they are, how you're bringing bad face and shame to your family by not being one of those respected people with the shiny upper middle class jobs, etcetera. And when will you get married? Look at you, you're not getting any younger, you should get married and have kids.
My home town is small, and people in it are also exactly what you would expect of small town people everywhere. Conservative, uneducated, set in their thinking, uncritical. Pretty much anyone not like that has moved to one of the bigger cities where the actual shiny professional jobs are - and where anyone marginally able or of diverse lifestyle moves to as soon as possible. Certainly all my high school classmates who were in any way capable, interesting, or intelligent now live somewhere else. My siblings live elsewhere, too, which, guess who will be saddled with elder care (I guess culturally it would be me anyways, as I am the oldest). I also don't like how small the town is. Everyone you have some history with. The entertainment is gossip, booze, and pot/amphetamines for those so inclined (in the states this is associated with the lower class, but in my country it is much more prevalent. IT types for instance use amphetamines to be able to drink hard and work hard. I know a few).
tl;dr: between rock and hard place. hate current life, hate life i could fi to. Hesitant to make decisions when this depressed. Maybe I should buy the place anyway, to have somewhere to stay when I inevitably have to return to wipe my father's ass.