On Passion, or Reflections on My First Auto Repair Job



“Find your passion,” they say. “Everyone’s good at something,” they say.

It’s such a fallacy, you know? Just look at it. How on earth would they know if everyone is good at something? Human beings are a random mishmash of genetic traits, and it’s perfectly possible for someone to get the short end of every stick and be good at absolutely nothing. (Not that it would ever be anyone’s business to say to a person, “You are good at absolutely nothing” — it’s nobody’s place to make that judgment call on any individual, but that doesn’t mean that the existence of such an individual is flat-out impossible.)

And even if you’re good at stuff, even if you’re gifted, who’s to say you’re gifted in areas that bring you fulfillment? And who’s to say that everyone has an automatic Fulfillment Button that they just have to find and press? Maybe this person does, and that person doesn’t. There is absolutely no evidence to support it as a universal truth. It just sounds seductively nice.

I happen to be good at many things. But I am not a passionate person when it comes to my interests. I reach a saturation point, sometimes faster, sometimes slower. Museums, for instance — I have warned every guy I’ve dated never to take me to a museum just to look at stuff, because I will get so bored, so fast. My saturation point with “looking at stuff on walls and in glass cases” is super low. Guided tour of the museum, hearing people talk about that same stuff, having a conversation about it — saturation point is still there, but it’s higher.

But not necessarily because it interests me. I just like knowing stuff, just having knowledge, not to do anything useful with it; just to have it, mostly so that I can pull it out and seem somewhat intelligent and worldly, rather than the utterly boring person that I actually am. I don’t like having to work to collect this knowledge, I like having it handed to me in accessible formats, which for me include conversations, not articles or plaques on museum walls. See, if the subject matter actually interested me, I’m sure those last two mediums wouldn’t seem so godawful dull to me. But so little subject matter actually interests me. I get bored so easily.

I remember asking myself (and maybe my friends) in high school: “Do we like certain subjects because we’re good at them, or do we get good at certain subjects because we like them?” My conclusion all these years later is that it varies from person to person and subject to subject, and that for me personally, since I am good at almost everything, but I don’t like everything, a simple cause-effect relationship between aptitude and liking can’t be the only thing at play there. But I’ve never been able to figure out what makes me like things and what doesn’t.


I got a job at an auto repair shop and I’ve gone to work there for the past three days.

I’ve also had three panic attacks in the past three days, which is a first for me.

I wish I could say the job and the panic attacks are unconnected, but that is very much not the case. But it might not be for the reasons you’d expect.

The job is great. It’s exactly what I wanted. I get to take things apart, I get to put them back together, I get to use tools, I have guidance and supervision so there’s very little pressure, and all the other (male, of course) mechanics have been perfectly nice and supportive and helpful. And I enjoy being there, and I enjoy doing the work. It’s basically the perfect job — if you’d have told me any time in the past year or so that this is the kind of work I would be doing, ratcheting out bolts, changing oil, taking out hoses and fans and entire radiators to replace them, I would have said that was just about the best thing ever.

But…it isn’t?

It’s everything I thought I wanted, but I don’t feel the way I thought I’d feel about it.

What I mean is, yes, I finish the work day feeling good, feeling like I accomplished something. And that lasts for about an hour.

Then the further I get from the work that I did, the worse I feel. The emptier I feel. The more dissatisfied. I look back on the day and try to feel like I was productive, and I can’t. I feel like I wasted my time, like I should have been doing something else, only I don’t know what. And I feel like I don’t want to go back.

I don’t know why I feel that way about it; I just know that I do.

And that’s when the anxiety/panic attacks hit, every day like clockwork, because it’s really jarring to get everything you thought you wanted and feel that unsatisfied with it. I’ve done plenty of jobs in the past that weren’t necessarily the most soul-nourishing or fulfilling things, but that was okay, because they were just interim placeholders — summer jobs, internships, freelance gigs — not something that I had worked toward and thought I really wanted. And I kind of feel like I’d prefer to go back to doing some sort of interim placeholder job that I know from the outset is unfulfilling, rather than doing something that I thought would be fulfilling but somehow isn’t.


I don’t really know what to do. I’ve been trying to reevaluate my options, because the anxiety attacks have been severe, physically debilitating. I’m talking throwing up, can’t sleep, can’t eat, throat muscles constricting so I can barely breathe, etc. Mental anxiety is unpleasant, but I can deal with it. Physical manifestations, though, I cannot. I’ve discovered a fairly decent new coping mechanism wherein I lie very still under the covers in my bed with my stuffed tiger and turn the game on on the radio so that the voices there make it impossible for me to hear my own thoughts. But that is clearly not a long term solution.

I’ve been pushing off trying therapy for a long time because it’s expensive, but my mom and I are finally looking at some options for me, and we’ll see how that goes.

I’ve been trying to look at the job itself and figure out what would make it more satisfying — is the problem that I rarely interact with any customers so I don’t feel the positive impact that my work is having? Is it because I haven’t gotten to use my own tools that much because everyone is letting me use their (much better and more versatile) tools? Is it because I’m told what to do rather than getting a chance to figure out the diagnosis for myself?
But I have a gut instinct that it’s not any of those things, really. That I could make an effort to have all those things be part of the job and still not be satisfied. It’s not the job; it’s me.

And I worry that I’m just wired without a Fulfillment Button, so no matter how much I look I won’t find it; that I can set goals and reach them and get everything I want, but maybe I’m just never going to be happy.

I know that plenty of people switch careers and career paths many times over the course of their lives, and that a lot of them have invested a heck of a lot more time and money than I have, so if that is what I end up doing, it doesn’t mean I failed, it doesn’t mean any of this was a mistake, or that I’m not special or a worthwhile human being just because this didn’t pan out. But starting over is never easy.

In one of the books (Mirror Dance) of my favorite sci-fi series (The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold), a major character suffers a traumatic injury and gets amnesia. Because Bujold is a brilliant writer and not a hack, this isn’t just some tropey plot device; it becomes a reflection on the nature of identity. During his attempts to reconstruct his identity, this character at one point feels like he’s doing it by process of elimination, trying to learn everything else in the universe in the hopes that whatever small, person-shaped hole is left at the end will be him. That’s what starting over feels like to me — daunting and lonely and a crap-ton of work.

And I know there are a lot of people who’ve supported me, emotionally and financially, throughout this whole endeavor, and I hate to let you down. But I also know that ultimately, it’s my life, and my opinion is what matters here, not yours.

So, for the people who’ve been asking, “HOW IS THE NEW JOB???” — the answer is: I don’t know. I’m going to give it a little more time; I know it’s only been three days and any job is an adjustment, none more so than the first one. But if this pattern/emotional loop of “good work day, seeping dissatisfaction, debilitating panic attack” persists, I may look elsewhere and begin my quarter-life crisis anew.