Raafia Jessa
Wanderer. Nomad. Graphic Designer.

Musings about Normalcy


Please be aware, these are the thoughts of a middle-average person.

I’m the middle-child of a middle-class family, of average height and average life expectancy.
The middle isn’t so spectacular, but access to food, shelter and safety from violent crimes is not an everyday concern. It’s stable; there are ups and downs but at the end of the day, things are quite okay. The goal: either stay where you are or move upwards. 

I, very much, acknowledge my privilege.
I am aware of the many advantages that I have been given without asking.

So, as a child of the middle class, to maintain - and hopefully improve - the situation, certain  “formulas” are taught and are expected to be repeated. There are ways that have proven in the past to solidify stability. How to live a successful middle-average life?

I started thinking about this and laid it out visually.

It seems okay. There’s nothing wrong with this projection.
Honestly, it seems quite logical in this world, but I just cannot digest it.

“How many young college graduates have taken demanding jobs in high-powered firms, vowing that they will work hard to earn money that will enable them to retire and pursue their real interests when they are thirty-five? But by the time they reach that age, they have large mortgages, children to school, houses in the suburbs that necessitate at least two cars per family, and a sense that life is not worth living without really good wine and expensive holidays abroad. What are they supposed to do, go back to digging up roots? No, they double their efforts and keep slaving away.”

Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Have you read this book? It’s so good. So, so good.

It’s a brief history of how we first eliminated our competition (the Neanderthals for example), then started farming and took over the whole world, subjecting all other species to our will. It traces the history of how Sapiens were able to communicate on such a level that we can now make bionic arms that monkeys can control remotely with their brains. 

So cool. Human beings are really exceptional. But, our priorities have become so confusing.

For example: There was a fire in The Amazon Forest. To find out more information, I googled it, since this is how information is largely dispersed at this time. Instead of news about this giant environmental disaster, there was a lot of information about some device called Amazon Fire HD. You can plug it into your TV and be entertained. There are 10 versions of this thing now.

In this context of mass communication and technology, where information spreads extremely fast (since we are constantly “plugged in”), the news that The Amazon was on fire was not really global knowledge till it had already been burning for three weeks. That’s insane! I can bet you that if there was an Amazon Fire HD 11, you’d find that information within minutes of it being announced.

So when this giant environmental disaster started, even if someone heard about it and tried to google it, rather than finding information about the fire, they probably received information about some product with a similar enough name (Amazon Fire HD 10). They may have dismissed thinking that anything large scale was happening. If it was really that bad, it would be the first thing on Google. If it’s not, it can’t be that bad, right?

Insane. Are our priorities so superficial?
That really, really bugs me personally.

Even when I was writing this, google tried to direct me back to a commercial entity. Apparently, when google checks the grammar and spelling of your sentence, it gives priority to “Amazon” (the company) before “The Amazon” (The Amazon Forest). If the “t” is not capital, it first recognizes the company, then the forest. Insane.

As I said, I am middle-average; I am not smart enough to be a doctor and not so brilliant that I can code without effort. As much as I like my job, I know it’s tertiary, and my contributions to the overall workforce are fairly menial. So then, what am I spending so much time doing? Earning money? For what? To buy an Amazon Fire HD 10? 

So, going back to the formula of stability and a successful middle average life, I think the reason that I cannot digest it is because I don’t agree with the end-goal. I like goals, a certain point to direct my energy. But, somehow, to me, the above formula seems misdirected. 40 years of my life working 40 hours a week in the same place, with the same routine, hoping to one day retire and then be free to live my life? Take short breaks between panicking about earning enough to panic about planning a “vacation”?

Again, I acknowledge my privilege. Even though I described it sarcastically, I know that the level of stability described above is a privilege. It’s a goal for most of the world.
Look, if you like what you do and working in that way is cool with you, amazing. Or, you don’t mind working that way because you would want to live a certain kind of lifestyle, amazing. Seriously, if it works for you, amazing. 

But, the end-goal of this particular formula isn’t for me. The commitment to bettering my monetary worth cannot be so great that I lose myself. I care about my career, I care about my work and I really, really like what I do. But, if I spend my entire life chasing something so hard for so long since so young, when does the drive to reach a certain level of unattainable comfort become a feeling of suffocation?

Somehow, I was lucky enough to land a career that I really enjoy. So, how can I do what I like doing, and sustain myself while still keeping a toe in that middle-average ground? How much money do I really need to not drown in my student loans and still live in a comfortable-enough way?

What if I reorganized where and how I spend my energy? Some changes I thought would make the formula more digestible:

I can still care about my career but take away the emphasis on chasing material desires. Maybe, it would be good for me (and also for the environment) not to buy an Amazon Fire HD 10.

How can I live in a way that: first I am happy, second I keep improving myself as a person and lastly aim for financial improvement?
I’m quite dedicated to my career (feel free to message me if you have a project that you’d like to collaborate with me on) but, maybe I earn less, spend less and experience more outside the physical walls of a stressful work environment. Rather than staying within a specific field assigned to me by my very hard-earned degree, I also learn other things that supplement my existing interests and skills (maybe these new skills become a minor and fun source of income). When an insane idea appears that could potentially turn out amazing (or maybe not), at least I consider it. What’s the worst possible thing that could happen? Broke, and working some shitty dead end job at 35? Tell me that that’s not a possibility anyways.

So I’m trying out these changes.

As I explained in my previous post, for the past year, I’ve been working as a remote, nomadic, freelance Graphic Designer. Things haven’t crashed and burned yet and seem to be working out quite okay - I think maybe I’ve become a slightly better designer, so that’s a really good outcome. Since things are working out okay (so far), some other ideas I’d like to try:

  • Find a van and road trip across Europe all the way down to Morocco

  • Find an artist residency in some random place and make lots of “art”

  • Live/work on a farm in the Sicilian countryside

  • Find a wood-working teacher and learn to build furniture

  • Get a TOEFL certification and teach English

Maybe these things will happen, and maybe they won’t. Either way, it feels really good to know that these middle-average dreams can maybe become potential realities.

The goal is to keep working as a Graphic Designer as I live my life, rather than living my life only to be a Graphic Designer.
Can the formula be re-organized so that my need for monetary sustenance doesn’t mutate and become the only goal / activity in my life?
Can I can sustain myself, somehow stay middle-average, and have all these adventures?

Let’s see how it goes.

World On Fire - Louis The Child feat. Ashe
Listen. Relevant.

Raafia Jessa8 Comments