Anyone who has job hunted has heard the familiar and haunting phrase, “Well, you gotta start from the bottom and work your way up.” Alright, makes sense. Even though most of us crave a higher lifestyle, we can understand that life is not handed to us on a silver platter. We have to work if we plan to achieve anything and looking at the topic in that simple light makes it sound like a worthy system. We want to know those long hours, far from glamorous duties, and low paychecks weren’t all in vain. We want to know we earned something valuable so we can appreciate it and rest easy knowing that there is a sense of justice in the world – those who work hard are rewarded.
A beautiful idea. This is what the American dream is all about, right? You get what you put into a situation. So simple and yet it feels impossible when you’re first starting out. You prepare yourself for the worst, parachute ready, as you step over to that open door of a plane. You realize that once you jump you’ll be at the bottom. What will that include? Will you be caught in a few branches and need to work yourself free? How intense will the impact be? Will you brake a bone or two? Or will you be able to land on your feet with a running start? The result will vary for each person. Some get lucky and walk away with no injuries or complications. The path for them will be smooth, but others won’t be as lucky. They’ll have a rocky beginning, but find their way the longer they move. Some will quit the second they land, feeling too broken or scared to explore. Others won’t get off the plane in the first place. It’s terrifying because there are too many options and you don’t get the luxury to choose. You close your eyes, jump, and you hope that you’ll land on your feet.
And then you don’t.
What do you do if you land where there is no ground? What if there is not bottom to start from? I’ll call this the Ocean Complex. You end up falling into the ocean with no land for what seems like miles. On the surface you can only see the outline of an island, but you’re unsure how to get there and how far you’d have to swim. Even if you attempt the journey, sooner or later you find yourself submersed in the water with little to nothing to latch onto. You’re sinking for what seems like an eternity. The lower into the ocean you fall, the more haunting it becomes. The water is no longer crystal blue with a peaceful sky reflecting off of the subtle waves. It’s become dark and colder the longer you remain. The environment that you once thought was familiar is becoming distorted with strange sea creatures floating past you, dazed in their own agenda. You start to wonder when it will be time to hit the ground running only there is not ground to touch. By this time even the ocean’s ceiling seems too far away to go back to. You feel trapped in a watery limbo imagining the day when someone will toss you a life saver that you can float towards.
How do you start when there’s no bottom to start from? The only thing you can do is to continue moving. Take advice from Finding Nemo and keep swimming. It’s easy to let the current push you down and to sink. More often than not that’s what we’d like to do. When we don’t get that job interview, become anxious due to insufficient funds no matter how much we save, or feel trapped in general sometimes we’d prefer to sink. You feel too weak to swim up and it makes more sense to fall even if you know vicious creatures are lurking in the ocean’s shadows. When life isn’t giving you life savers you have to create your own. You have to swim and swim for the rest of your life if need be for a fighting chance at something good. Even if you never manage to break the surface again at least you’ll know you fought for it.
And there’s always the chance you do break the surface. Oxygen slowly flows back into your lungs and it burns, but you welcome the sensation. The sun is once again visible and you no longer feel numb and isolated. The island is still in the distance, but you look at it with a new perspective. If you can find a way to crawl out of the depths of the ocean, then you can find your way to that island. So you begin paddling and you never stop until you reach land.
Most of us will be given the misfortune of starting with no ground in sight. After all our training there doesn’t always seem to be a place to begin. If you stop moving you’ll find yourself deep within the water and the longer you stay the more difficult it will be to find a way out. If we keep moving, even if it seems like we’re walking in place, at least we’re fighting the current. Is hard work actually rewarded in the real world? I’d like to think so. As long as you continue to swim, you’re getting closer to something. Even if you’re unsure what that something is, it’s far better than living in a distorted underwater limbo.