The Truth about the Red Tape

I’ve given up plenty of times in my life. In many regards, I am a quitter. And all those things I’ve thrown in the towel on have fallen into one of two categories: something that I had absolutely no natural talent for and consequently did not enjoy, or something where I felt my end goal was far outweighed by inconvenience and the red tape blocking the way. The second being one of the biggest misconceptions I’ve carried for my 26 years.

"Proelium" from the Relativity Series by Alex Hall -

"Proelium" from the Relativity Series by Alex Hall -

I thought that when I found my passion, the one thing that made me feel most alive, it would be smooth sailing. I imagined that rainbows would shimmer overhead and unicorns would frolic about singing hymns of my brilliance then proceed to offer directions to Candy Mountain. Mainly, in my state of delusion, I assumed there wouldn’t be any bullshit to deal with and I could just do my thing. This was how do I say…wrong.

But that’s one of the most important realizations I’ve uncovered in the past year: there is red tape wherever you turn and in whatever you choose to do with your life, you just have to pick a journey and an end result that means something greater to you.

Even if you spend each day playing it safe and conjuring up excuses, there’s still going to be red tape, inconveniences, and general bullshit you have to face. I can assure you that one way or another you’re going to have to put up with some inefficient, convoluted mess that we humans are so wonderful at creating. There’s no escaping that. You might as well spend your time pursuing something that holds greater significance to you and brings your dreams within reach.

The point here is not to belittle your aspirations, but rather the opposite. When you recognize that it’s a shit storm either way, whether you continue sitting at that desk doing work that eats away at you, or take a chance and seek out that fulfillment you’ve been craving, it’s a liberating realization. You're in for a fight regardless; it’s a far better use of your time and energy to do something that you find true enjoyment in. It’s not always going to be pretty, but there’s beauty in the chaos for those willing to search for it.

Everyone struggles with this, even in the noblest of professions. I’ve thought about this concept for years, but what triggered this article was an eccentric older gentleman I sat next to on a recent flight who bore a striking resemblance to the Kentucky Fried Colonel – the one who’s been clogging arteries since 1930. We got to talking-- because how often do you get a chance to talk to the Colonel-- and it came up that he spent his career as an international student counselor at the university level. I voiced my admiration and mentioned that teaching at the collegiate level had always sparked my interest. However, his only response to my above proclamation was: “Well you might think differently about that if you knew all the politics involved.”

Needless to say, at first that pissed me right off. I think that’s a demeaning, reckless thing to say to someone you’ve just met. But regardless of the Colonel’s presentation, it’s true. It’s not as simple as furthering my education, working hard enough to get a job, and empowering minds with the gift that is knowledge. It is that, of course. But it’s also university politics, departmental politics, who you know, how much ass you’re willing to kiss, who owes you favors, the list goes on. However, it’s this way in every realm of life. You can find inconveniences everywhere you look if that’s the mindset you bring to the table.

But what gives me a greater sense of fulfillment? Sitting at a desk doing busy work that I struggle to find meaning in, dealing with similar politics and inefficiencies, or inspiring young minds and helping them to make sense of the world, while dealing with a different shade of red tape. For me the end result of teaching and impacting lives in a positive way with knowledge would far outweigh the inconveniences.

I don’t know if being a professor is what I want to do with my life, but I know if I pursue that, it will certainly be worth it to me. Once you realize that nothing out there is void of these inefficiencies and annoyances, it’s a reality you can come to embrace. Only then are you able to better identify something where the satisfaction, the journey, and the end goal are actually worth it. Whether that’s in your career, hobbies, relationships, it’s all the same.

Nothing is a more sure sign that you’re unwilling to accept this reality or doing it for the wrong reasons than if you are completely blinded by the red tape. As it relates to the latter, these are the things I have no problem quitting. I’ve made it a point to try out and explore everything in life that piques even my slightest interest. Finding things I don’t necessarily enjoy or wish to pursue has been just as helpful as discovering what makes me feel most alive. It’s all part of the process. But it’s important to give everything a fair shot. Never draw conclusions after one bad day. If it’s something you truly love and want to dedicate your life to, you’ll find the silver lining.

I don’t know what I want to do with my life. I’ve changed my mind more times in the past five years than I care to count. But this realization that it’s a struggle no matter which path I choose has helped me narrow in on what it is that I truly want. Don’t let the fear of new inconveniences dissuade you from your dreams. If what you’re doing today doesn’t instill a great sense of fulfillment, don’t allow the comfort of current inconveniences and the familiar red tape win out. Fight back.

You’re going to face a storm in every direction you turn. Make it worth it. Find your something that means more than the red tape.