April 12, 2015

We are Worth More than Our Jobs.

bukowski at typewriter

I’ve grown tired of fighting myself for me.

This first half of the year has taken it’s toll on me.

With my depression, I’ve constantly struggled to complete work, manage my finances well, and keep my relationship with my amazing girlfriend steady. I have battled with my dreams and nightmares over insecurities about myself and my life for nights on end, and during the day the anxiety of sleep overwhelms me. I have exhausted myself over working to figure out how to radiate with happiness, and be this human that used to bring so many people joy and a person that people want to be around. It’s a chore, and it’s work, constantly battling this inner turmoil stirring every time I get the sickening feeling that I’m not getting better.

That I have to just accept that this is how things are.

I’m tired of feeling like I’m not enough for anything or anyone, including myself.

Recently, I read this letter written by Charles Bukowski, a poet and writer whom I’ve grown fond of in the past few months. The letter was written to a dear friend John Martin, a publisher who helped him leave his job he felt stuck in for over 50 years and become a full-time writer. He starts the letter off telling John that he doesn’t feel it’s bad to look back on where you came from, and that is a lesson I feel I’ve taken to heart many times. I’m quite proud of my accomplishments so far as myself, and I like to see that I’ve overcome an incredible amount of hardship in my life to be who I am today.

However, as he continues to write, I start to get this sinking feeling the further I pan across the page:

“…what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don’t want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does.

As a young man I could not believe that people could give their lives over to those conditions. As an old man, I still can’t believe it. What do they do it for? Sex? TV? An automobile on monthly payments? Or children? Children who are just going to do the same things that they did?”

I realize that I’ve read too far and have to keep going. This has become a real struggle to face and I must press on.

He continues to write about the slavery the workers are in, and eventually gets to this end of the worker’s position at this job, where my anxiety just blows up:

“Now in industry, there are vast layoffs (steel mills dead, technical changes in other factors of the work place). They are laid off by the hundreds of thousands and their faces are stunned:

I put in 35 years…

It ain’t right…

I don’t know what to do…”

I don’t know what to do. Reading this I have this terribly morbid feeling that I am too close to being his struggle. Arguments with my girlfriend have concluded with the same fears of unhappiness and emptiness these poor souls had to go through until the end when they look back and see just how unhappy they were.

I fear it just as much as she does.

I fear it as much as they do.

I fear it more than anything in the world.

My greatest fear is that I will put effort and work into myself and my life and nothing will come of it. I will have become Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.

Maybe the results are constant.

Maybe I can’t change the outcome.

“So, the luck I finally had in getting out of those places, no matter how long it took, has given me a kind of joy, the jolly joy of the miracle. I now write from an old mind and an old body, long beyond the time when most men would ever think of continuing such a thing, but since I started so late I owe it to myself to continue, and when the words begin to falter and I must be helped up stairways and I can no longer tell a bluebird from a paperclip, I still feel that something in me is going to remember (no matter how far I’m gone) how I’ve come through the murder and the mess and the moil, to at least a generous way to die.”

I’m incredibly proud of Bukowski at this point, for having attained his happiness, but I still fear that I just cannot have what he has. That I can’t find that happiness with what I have now that I have it and I’ve worked for it and I have no real reason to complain. I don’t understand what is wrong, so I don’t know what it is I need to right.

Finally, he concludes with a statement that rings in my heart a very hollow sound:

“To not to have entirely wasted one’s life seems to be a worthy accomplishment, if only for myself.”

After reading it, I felt like I was that job he was stuck in. I was that work he went through that he and others just settled for. I felt like I was the obstacle to overcome and a tool to where the real happiness was.

I sat there shaking in my chair, wanting to just accept this fear and let it become me. I’ve done that already. Every time I bring it out of the depths it slowly and surely shapes the rest of my life: My work, my responsibilities, my relationships, all of it decaying as I sit in the corner watching it happen.

And then I thought:

…but I’m not a job. I’m a person.

My dreams don’t die with depression, and my aspirations to be an incredible person aren’t limited to who knows them. My wants and needs are not weights and measures to constrict others with, and my self worth is not a constant, it is a perspective along with an infinity of others that fluctuate with time.

I cannot guarantee others that I will always be happy. I cannot promise that this moment of clarity or feeling of worth will fade, and that I won’t struggle with the important aspects of my life as every human on this planet tends to do now and again.

But I am not work—I am working.

I can guarantee that I am worth more than a job, and I should not exhaust you or myself because I am not work.

My fear of not accomplishing anything or not being enough stem from the thought that time just goes in a line and I just can’t change it. Time is organic; it grows and branches with your choices to do things with yourself and your own life. It loops and breaks depending on everything you have going on in life, and you have to accept that you are not the path time lays out for you.

You’re the one walking it.

I thank Bukowski for that article, and for letting me face this fear I’ve had for a long time not knowing exactly what to make of myself. Stressing over things as temporary as school and financial instability or whether or not I’m enough for my girlfriend just makes everything worse. Everything becomes a problem then, including me. I have battled with what I am for a long time, and after reading that letter and writing this article, I can conclude with something as simple as: I am a person, not a job.

To me, that’s enough to start with.



Check out the entire Bukowski letter:

Bukowski’s Letter of Gratitude to the Man Who Helped Him Quit His Soul-Sucking Job and Become a Full-Time Writer




So You Want to Be a Poet?


Author: David Joyce

Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: elephant archives



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David Joyce