Two years ago, on the morning before a new year and a new chapter, I sat in front of the woodstove without plan or purpose. I watched the light come up over the White Mountains, painting the sky with strokes of lavender, orange, and pink, before muddling the canvas grey. A snowstorm was on the way.
With my corporate marketing career behind me and the dog at my feet sharing the warmth of the fire, I had no motive to rush into the day—or days—ahead. In fact, on the advice of my life coach, I had resolved to “stop steamrolling my life.” Easier said than done.
My way of taking advantage of an empty calendar is to fill it up. Having no expectations from any higher-ups, I set my own bar—and I set it high. I filled my morning journal with ‘must do,’ ‘should be,’ and ‘need to’ objectives on the daily. Chief among them was the ever-elusive quest for my purpose. What am I meant to be doing? WHO AM I?
For the first six months or so, I auditioned personas—ski bum, gardener, volunteer. I networked and took classes—consultant, community organizer, blogger. “Follow me!” I shouted while I thumbed the Gazetteer for directions. I walked the dog and listened to Brené Brown, studying her ideas on the intersection of shame and bravery until I graduated at the top of the self-help class— a valedictorian in vulnerability.
The calendar pages fell away. I had planned, mentally and financially, for two-years of fallowness while I weeded out my business background and planted seeds for a more creative and fulfilling life. A quarter of the way through this journey, the path ahead was still not clear to me. But then …
If you’ve been following, you know how this goes.
An ‘aha moment’ collided with serendipity that first summer at a writing workshop in Maine. I’ve called the workshop life-changing, but that’s not quite right. It was more of a course correction. As if (were it possible), I took myself firmly by the shoulders and said, “Stop. Haven’t you always wanted to do this? Dabbled and dreamed about it your entire life? What are you waiting for?”
I started an MFA in creative writing program that January. Two months later, the world turned upside down, but I felt right side up for the first time in a long time. I am a writer. I am learning, drafting, editing, pitching, submitting, reading, workshopping, carving up my heart, and reshaping it into story—putting my words into the universe and counting rejections as progress.
My self-imposed two-year deadline ends at midnight tonight. As the new year approached, I wondered how to sum up my reinspirement—a period of reimagining my life made possible as much by good fortune and lucky breaks as by planning and hard work. Surely, especially in these stormy times, nothing could be less important than my pithy, privileged reflection.
But here it is anyway, in a nutshell.
Searching for one’s purpose is a fool’s errand. There are a massive amount of marketing campaigns—a purpose-industrial-complex, if you will—designed to sell us on the idea that nothing less than a purposeful life will do. Bullshit.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that we have one risky life to live. Erase “should be,” or worse, “should have been,” from your vocabulary. Give yourself a break, metaphorically speaking. If you can, hit pause for real. Remember what it is you love to do and do that.