I am a 34-year-old single man with no children who recently survived his first bungee jump. Ever since, it seems like all I can think about is hurling myself off bridges, buildings, and other very high objects. Is this an indication of a serious adrenaline addiction, or do I have nothing in my life worth living for?
James in San Francisco
First of all, congratulations. I’m not nearly as daring as you are. I feel most alive when Cracklin’ Oat Bran is on sale.
I don’t know if you can properly describe yourself as an addict after having done something only once. But clearly your jump, in some unbidden way, is revisiting you beyond the high of the actual experience. I can’t interpret your ruminations, but I’ll suggest that there are many ways you can do so, beyond what you’ve already speculated. Maybe your thoughts aren’t, or aren’t merely, reflections of an emptiness in your life. Maybe they’re aspirational and motivational, symbolically prompting you to make wider use of what might be newfound courage. Maybe there are other fears for you to confront—at work, in relationships, and so on. You jumped from a bridge or some sort of elevated platform, with just a tether separating you from a machine that breathes on your behalf. Great. But maybe that’s just the beginning.
At the time of writing this letter, I am quite young (that is, not yet “legal”) and slightly advanced in school years (that is, I am a few credits short of graduating). When I was younger, I set my sights on becoming a doctor, for what better career for an Asian girl who plays the violin and piano? (Yeah, I like being stereotypical, what?) As of late, I have become increasingly unsure of this decision, but irrationally feel that I have no choice. In an attempt to escape having to make said life-changing decision, I have taken the year off to be a volunteer ESL teacher. I am currently sitting in my small classroom, in a small institute, in a small communist country. And guess what, McS? I still don’t know what to do with my life. What should I do? Take your time in replying.
Harriedly and patiently yours,
Take my time in replying? Done.
You didn’t say this, but I wonder if outside pressures are seeping into your thinking. Are your parents, for example, invested in your becoming a doctor? Do they run a small mom-and-pop transplant unit that they hope to pass on to you someday? I mean, if they’re anything like mine were, they’re just hoping you cut your mullet and get out of the house without totaling their Camry again. But I’d be a little surprised if you had total freedom to pursue what you wanted, yet still felt somehow tethered to a single pursuit. On the other hand, med school is undeniably this: a big, fat destination, and one it seems you’re well prepared for. So maybe you don’t have external pressures to contend with. Maybe you’re entirely free to study medicine at Harvard or pursue some self-directed major at a bullshit school that doesn’t give out grades. And that freedom scares you. You’ve already built up so much momentum toward medicine that maybe it’s the only route that seems realistic. Maybe everything that isn’t medicine seems vaporous and implausible. It isn’t in the least, but it’s a little scary not knowing what you want. I can’t help you specifically, but you should know that you’re entitled to make some mistakes figuring it out. At your age, I was pretty sure I was going to be an anthropologist, so there’s a tribe of hunter-gatherers out there somewhere that has no idea what sort of bullet it dodged. You don’t know what to do with your life. Finding out is rarely easy. It’s kind of a mix of experimentation, reflection, and freeing yourself from a bear trap. But right now you’re sitting in a small classroom, in a small institute, in a small communist country, volunteering as an ESL teacher. The experience has probably taught you something about yourself: Do you like being abroad? Standing in front of students? ESL? Maybe, if nothing else, you’re certain you’ll never teach adverbs in Laos again. That seems like a great start to me.