“Heart Like Mine”

In the months before I turned 30, I had a bit of an existential crisis. There’s nothing like a decade-changing birthday to make you evaluate your life. I wasn’t unhappy with my life, but I wasn’t satisfied with it, either. I felt somewhat stuck.

By the time you’re 30, you’re generally supposed to have things figured out, according to, well, society. You’re supposed to have a car, a house (or at least a condo – renting is for university students), start putting money into an RRSP, be thinking about having kids because you’re starting the downswing of your childbearing years, be in some sort of permanent relationship, have a good job where you might be still be near the bottom of the totem pole but you’re starting to move up, and you should definitely be out of university.

And then there’s me.

You know that Dixie Chicks song “Taking the Long Way”?

My friends from high school
Married their high school boyfriends
Moved into houses in the same ZIP codes
Where their parents live

But I, I could never follow
No I, I could never follow

I’ve been a long time gone now
Maybe someday, someday I’m gonna settle down
But I’ve always found my way somehow

By taking the long way
Taking the long way around

It’s been two long years now
Since the top of the world came crashing down
And I’m getting’ it back on the road now

But I’m taking the long way
Taking the long way around

Well, I fought with a stranger and I met myself
I opened my mouth and I heard myself
It can get pretty lonely when you show yourself
Guess I could have made it easier on myself

But I, I could never follow
No I, I could never follow

Well, I never seem to do it like anybody else
Maybe someday, someday I’m gonna settle down
If you ever want to find me I can still be found

Taking the long way
Taking the long way around
Taking the long way
Taking the long way around

This is my life’s theme song.

When I was in Grade 2, apparently I wanted to be a hairdresser. That’s what my Mom has recorded in my ‘School Days’ book. And every year following I wanted to be something different. In high school I never really worried too much about what I was going to be when I grew up. I thought I’d figure it out, that someday it would just hit me like a bolt of lightning.

It didn’t.

So off I went to study music. On the move out there, I specifically remember asking my Mom if I was making the right choice. What if I wanted to be a teacher? “Well then you be a teacher,” my Mom said. At the time it sounded trite, and it’s only now that I’ve actually taken that advice to heart.

Then I moved to Vancouver because I still had no idea what I wanted to do. So I continued pursuing music, knowing full well it wasn’t what I really wanted to do but feeling somewhat trapped, like I’d picked something and I was stuck with it (which seems so ridiculous in retrospect). Once again I thought about teaching, but teaching music put an end to that. One day I thought I’d like to be a radio broadcaster. Then a journalist. I thought about applying to the American Musical & Dramatic Arts Academy because maybe I just wasn’t cut out for opera and I loved musical theater. Or I could be a musicologist – history and music, the best of both worlds! Or I could be a meteorologist – I love weather! I looked at all kinds of books about finding your purpose, like Rick Warren’s ‘The Purpose-Driven Life’ (which I never finished) and Po Bronson’s ‘What Should I Do With My Life?’ (which I also never finished – maybe that was part of the problem?) hoping some idea would stick. That something would just fit right.

You can imagine my frustration when nothing felt right.

I decided I needed to go back to ‘real’ school and study something else I loved – political studies. So I did that. I got a Master’s in it. And then I realized that full-time academia was not for me. Now it’s four years later and I’ve almost finished law school.

In between all of that, I worked with adults with intellectual disabilities, at Walmart, taught music lessons, interned at the Legislature, edited the Law Review, worked in a law office, at a realty association, in an emergency foster home, etc.

I’ve had a lot of jobs.

Last week I came across this piece about how to find your purpose, and this line stuck out:

But as uncomfortable as the not knowing may be, there is value in the searching.

Yes there is. It made me think of this advice from Cheryl Strayed, which says it best:

The useless days will add up to something. The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people’s diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave under your arms or not. These things are your becoming.

I used to think that all of the time I spent in those somewhat menial jobs was wasted time, as was the time I spent in university. But I’m starting to get the feeling not only that it all happened for a reason, but that it’s the only way it should have happened.

We don’t figure out our purpose overnight. It’s usually a long, arduous process full of stumbling blocks and wrong turns, and and at times that purpose changes, but those obstacles are part of the beauty of the journey and where the real learning and growing takes place. Mom was right – enjoy the journey.

It’s only relatively recently that I’ve started to believe this. I have an older cousin who’s a successful businesswoman. She owns her own business, does very well and seems to have it all. Years ago we were talking about life and jobs and she told me something I’ve never forgotten, though at the time it seemed too simplistic. She said, “You know, I’ve never really had a set idea about what I wanted to do. I’m over 40 and I don’t know if this is what I want to do for the rest of my life – I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up! But I love what I’m doing right now, and if that changes, I’ll do something else. I’ve finally internalized what she meant.

Years ago, I painted myself into a corner. For whatever reason, I felt like I couldn’t change my mind, that I had to pick one thing and stick with it. I now realize that I’m the type of person who’s going to wear many hats throughout life because that’s who I am: I have diverse interests and skills, so why shouldn’t I use them all at one time or another?

I also think we also get stuck exclusively focusing on employment as a means of fulfilling our purpose. But what about the rest of our lives, the things we do for enjoyment outside of work? This blog has a purpose. The books I read have a purpose. My experiences give me purpose. All of these things shape me and give my life purpose.

One purpose I’m sure I have is to speak out about mental health issues and my own experience. Another is to serve others, whether it’s by being a lawyer, through volunteering, advocating for more inclusive churches and working towards a healthier democracy.

It’s taken me years to figure out the somewhat simple truth that there isn’t one job or career out there that is going to fulfill all of my needs like I always thought there would be. Thinking of it in those terms is far too limiting. My purpose is much bigger than one job. I’m sure yours is, too. So let’s stop asking kids what they want to be when they grow up. Instead, let’s ask them what fulfills them and help them follow all of those paths, wherever they may lead.

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