For me, these have been one of life’s biggest mysteries: why am I here and what is my purpose in life? Honestly, I’ve struggled with these issues every step of the way.
When I graduated high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. A common problem, no doubt. In fact, at that age I think it’s kinda rare to truly know your way in life. Maybe for those with a natural God-given ability, like art or music. But for many of us, our true calling takes a bit longer to reveal itself. In my case, it only required 54 years.
An aside: I use the term “God-given” colloquially, meaning natural, innate abilities, the kind we’re born with. I make that distinction because I’m not a fan of formal religion. After years of bouncing between agnosticism and atheism, I’ve come to believe there is a higher power, but how that looks, I have zero clue. I just know that the “my God is better than your God” philosophy just doesn’t seem right to me.🤷♂️
Whatever, Dickmoji. Let’s continue:
Out of high school, I went straight to college. Not because I had any idea of my path, but because it just seemed like what I was supposed to do. The majority of my friends were also going to college and if you didn’t, you were labeled as a failure, someone who wouldn’t amount to much in life. It didn’t take me long to realize that wasn’t true—people can do staggeringly well without any higher education. But at the time, college seemed like the only way to make a decent buck.🤷♂️
The problem, as I mentioned, is that I had zero clue what I wanted to do once I attended college, or even what college I wanted to go to. In the end, by default, I chose the school closest to home. And I enrolled in computer science, simply because it seemed like computers would be around for awhile and a career in that field seemed like a safe bet. But I certainly didn’t have a passion for either the school, or the degree. And it showed. I rarely attended classes and I spent my time partying. I left after one semester with a GPA of 0.7, already saddled with a few thousands dollars of student loans, my purpose in life still undiscovered.
So I floundered for a year or so, bouncing around a bit from warehouse jobs to carpentry to construction. But I felt unsatisfied and ultimately, I knew I had to try something new. Perhaps I should give college another go, I reasoned, despite still not knowing what I’d do once I got there.
Making my decision, I had to deal with highly unsupportive parents who dismissed my decision: “Why are you going to do that? You already dropped out of college once. You’re just going to do it again.” After comments like that, my internal voice always ended with a salutation, “You Little Asshole.” Not healthy self-talk, I know. And it really served to firm up my realization of their hatred for me, the hatred I felt. Thanks for the contempt and crappy advice, Mom and Dad. But fuck you, because this is my life, not yours.
And just like that, I was back in another school, taking night classes while I labored in construction during the day. Just a few electives to start. But I was trying. I was fighting to find my way in life.
And it wasn’t easy. Life rarely is, no? Without my college bills, I wouldn’t have been able to live on my own. A carpentry laborer’s pay just wasn’t enough. But with the financial burden of loans from my failed semester, plus the new college endeavor, I was effectively broke. I had no choice but to continue living with my parents, despite the toxic environment.
At the start, I took general electives. Not knowing what I wanted to do with myself, I got the general requirements out of the way. This lasted two years or so, until I enrolled in a History of Metals course. And that’s when it clicked.
The history itself fascinated me. But even more interesting was the science behind processing the metals. After talking with the professor and doing some research, my path was clear: I’d pursue a degree in Metallurgical Engineering.
Metallurgical Engineering—or more simply Metallurgy—seemed to check a lot of my boxes. There was fire and massive equipment and breaking things and using scanning electron microscopes and just…lots of cool stuff. Lots of romance and nostalgia. But also lots of innovation, like shape-memory alloys and powder metallurgy. And new material’s were constantly being developed for diverse applications, like rockets, satellites and medical implant. The options seemed unlimited. Plus, the pay was decent and the field was in-demand. The problem, I’d later find, was that although metallurgists were needed, there weren’t that many companies that hired for that profession. I’d had to be willing to relocate and go where the jobs were.
With my degree choice solidified, it was time to buckle down. Because of the “undecided” route I initially pursued, I was more than a bit behind. The engineering requirements were daunting: vector calculus; thermodynamics; and relativistic physics were the norm. With all my electives out of the way, each semester was filled to the brim with hardcore studies and sometimes prerequisites were taken concurrent with a course designed for a later semester. I struggled a bit with the workload, but I tried hard, putting in the time and the effort. And when my junior year rolled around and I concentrated on metallurgy-specific courses, I excelled. In the end, I graduated with a not-great overall GPA, but my GPA in metallurgy alone was firmly above 3.0. And I was proud of myself, regardless of the negativity from the family. The, “Wow, you’re finally graduating,” comments wouldn’t diminish my pride. At least, not entirely.
Fast forwarding, after graduation my former wife and I relocated to Virginia Beach, four hours away from our families. Which caused its own set of problems, to be sure. But this blog isn’t about that, is it? It’s about finding your purpose and pursuing your passion. I thought I found those things, with my profession. And for awhile, I was relatively happy with my journey through life. But then, I started to have these feelings of imposter syndrome. Feelings of inadequacy, incompetence and boredom. Thirty years into my career, it was time for a change.
The problem is that I had no idea what I truly wanted to do with the rest of my life. I just knew what I no longer wanted to do, which was anything metallurgy-related. How did I come to that decision? Besides that general gut-feeling I had, journaling provided the answer.
Even though I knew—deep in my heart—that my profession wasn’t my calling, it’s a little different when you read it in black and white. It rings a little truer and hits a little closer. Journaling, for me, has been a revelation. It came to me later in my 40’s, but now it’s ever-present in my toolbox to celebrate life’s little victories, to set goals and plan for the future and to help navigate life’s challenges.
And there it was. Right in front of me:
Just two pages. But wow, what two pages they are. Profound questions here. Deep, soul-searching questions. Like, what is your Ikigai, your purpose, your reason for waking up in the morning?
Or, what is your answer to the Saturday Morning Test, a question designed to find your passion? It’s a simple question, really. It asks, “What do you do on a Saturday morning when you have nothing to do?” Your answers—you’re thoughtful answers—will draw you to your authentic self.
And then there’s the Beginning of the Day questions on the bottom right corner of my journal. Amongst other prompts are: Who am I; and what is my purpose? I also placed an asterisk next to purpose, with the definition of the word below:
The point is, I seem to spend a fair bit of time asking and answering these questions. These big questions about who the fuck I really am. Five decades into it and I’m still figuring it the hell out.
I do know this: I know I don’t want to be a metallurgist anymore. Again, thanks to you, Journal, for those questions about work:
- Does it appeal to you? No. I’m bored to tears.
- Paid enough? No. I want to be able to experience life to its fullest, to travel, to live.
- In harmony with morals? Fuck no. My profession produces parts for the military—industrial complex while there are people starving on the streets. Trillions of dollars on defense with rampant racism, inequalities, poverty and sickness? No thanks. Not for me.
- Enable you to display your talents? No, no, no, no, no! I feel wasted. I feel like a fraud. I’m wasting my time, and theirs. Hire someone else, ‘cause I’m taking my talents elsewhere.
- Work atmosphere? Stifling, cowardly, judgmental, boring, indecisive, shortsighted, arrogant, misogynistic, racist, inequitable, uncaring, and…need i go on? I think my characterization of the atmosphere is sufficient to ascertain whether I like the work culture or not, no?
Yes. Cowardly. The fear of trying anything new. If we haven’t made it in the past—the exact thing—we’re fucked. Or actually, they’re fucked, because I no longer consider myself part of that negativity. But, let’s get back to my list of questions about work and how it meets the needs of my inner self. K?
- And the final litmus test: Do you like going to work? Now on the surface, that’s ridiculous. How the hell could I enjoy going to work, if I don’t like being at work? Answer: I force myself to be positive, listening to motivational YouTube videos along the way. But you know what? Based on my prior answers, I’ll listen to those videos on my own time, carving my own path. I’ll leave the actual commute itself to history. I’m not ever do that life sapping drive ever again.😊
By excluding my current career as an option, my journal narrowed my focus. And isn’t that something? Isn’t that enough? Deciding to never drive into that place again. Yeah. That’s enough for me.👊
Journaling didn’t give me all the answers. And maybe it won’t give you all the answers either. In fact, I doubt it will. But maybe it’ll also help you to ask yourself a new set of questions. A set of questions you never knew you needed to ask yourself in the first place.