I love what I do and pursue my passions fervently and in all directions. While you're starting out and not achieving much, you feel a wealth of support, but with success comes a type of guilt I've labeled, Dreamer's Guilt.
As I walked out of my Master's by Research viva (an oral examination where you must defend your thesis to a panel of more intelligent people), I walked a few steps down the corridor, mutedly celebrated, and then fell in to the wall. I'd got the highest grade, passed first time without revisions, and done it 6 months earlier than planned to avoid another term's fees. My tunnel vision, sleepless nights, and sacrifices had paid off and I was elated. Over the next few days I transitioned from euphoria to malaise quickly. My MRes was in Philosophy, and I wasn't keen on starting a PhD, without which left my career options either very open, or very limited, depending on your outlook. I scoured job boards and applied for positions above my station. One thing I was sure about: I couldn't go back to a job that bored me so much I would grind my teeth 8 hours per day and dread the alarm.
I finally got an interview for an interesting position in central London, working in a part analyst, part account manager role for a nondescript product at an impressive company. I've always felt confident in interview scenarios and it went well. Not long after I walked through my front door and in to my kitchen, head held suspiciously high, my phone rang. The company was pleased to offer me the position and were going to post me an official offer letter and remuneration package details. I thanked them, hung up, and had one of the largest panic attacks of my life. I had never felt more certain I didn't want something, than at the moment I was offered the job I wanted. I felt trapped and like an outcast.
I didn't really understand why; I worried I was lazy. I wished something I have wished many times in the consequent years: that I could just find fulfillment getting a career, climbing the corporate ladder, and enjoying my weekends. But I could never find the fulfillment or even the desire to do that. Was this an aversion to hard work? Was this the "real world" coming knocking like my elders prophesied, jadedly? I didn't think so. I'd been working at damn near capacity for 5 years for my degrees, sacrificing my health to achieve something I wanted. So what did I want now? Well I asked myself the Alan Watts question of what I would do if money were no object. I would be a photographer and a writer. Great, let's do that. But there we returned to the "trapped" sensation. I was pushing 30 and I felt behind my friends and piers in both life goals and finances. Thankfully I buried that vain feeling of inadequacy and threw myself in to photography and writing full-time. But as I began to achieve small success, growth, and establish myself as what I wanted to be, a new sense emerged that I wrestle with in place of past fears: Dreamer's Guilt.
I coined this term not through delusions of grandeur, but rather because I couldn't find anything specifically discussing or labeling what I have been experiencing for a while now. Perhaps it's singular to me, though I doubt that; perhaps it's a "British" thing, but again that seems unlikely. The best way I can describe Dreamer's Guilt is this: pursuing what you love is a noble act, but having success in it must then be accompanied by the utmost humility; here's why. Over the years several friends and acquaintances of mine have made variations of the same joke. They all like what they do career wise, and many make good money, but if I do what I love and also make good money, that'll annoy them. It was of course said in jest, just not entirely. When you're a struggling artist, you're seldom short of support. But if you're fortunate enough to start making headway and succeeding, that supports turns to a type of envy that I'm overly sensitive to and vehemently avoid evoking.
A very close friend of mine has actively said what acquaintances won't express quite as bluntly: "if you start making the same money as me or more, I'll be annoyed." This person doesn't mean it fully, but I can understand his point. There was a time when I too dreaded Sunday nights and although I didn't loathe my job, I certainly didn't like it much; it was a means to an end. If I saw a friend doing what they love and enjoying life and making the same or money as me, I'd have been annoyed too. Primarily at myself for not being in a position as favorable as theirs. It's not that I wouldn't have wanted them to succeed, I would just be conscious of how my swapping of time and happiness for money wasn't as necessary a trade as I had made out.
This had lead to a growing feeling of needing to hide my accolades and windfalls: Dreamer's Guilt. The more my businesses grew, the more opportunities I was fortunate enough to get, and the more I hid. Several times in the last few months I've had fantastic opportunities come my way that I am both proud and grateful to have received. Yet I don't breathe a word to anyone who doesn't need to know. I don't announce it on social media (arguably to the detriment of my "brand" as a photographer and writer), I don't tell friends (despite them jabbing at me for being "secretive"), and I try to avoid talking about it after the fact. It's borne of a sort of shame; I don't want those around me to think I'm rubbing their faces in how much I'm enjoying my life. Instead, I just reiterate how many hours I work per week and how stressful self-employment can be, avoiding at all costs the follow-up that I wouldn't swap it for damn-near anything. I'm not highly successful, but I can see constant growth and am becoming less stressed about money and the future. I'm glad and proud that my hard work is making inroads, but I'd rather those around me didn't know quite how much I'm enjoying myself. How odd.
Am I alone?
Lead image courtesy of Snapwire via Pexels.