purpose, or something like it
Several years ago, I fell for this guy who knew in his bones quite early in his life what he wanted to be. I admired him for it, believed in his talent, and was sort of jealous–even if I doubted the how of his trajectory. (Not because of him–but because of me). I always wished I could be that certain. About anything. But over the years, I’ve come to realize that’s just not me.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to do everything. I’ve always felt like my time here on Earth was limited, so there was always this pressure for me to do all the things. It’s worse, maybe, because I also have always been a curious motherfucker. Like the most curious of them all. Always reading. Always trying to find the newest whatever. Ideas, knowledge, art–God–I get off on those things.
The problem, of course, is that I am infinitely human. While being a workaholic is helpful, there are only so many minutes in a day. There’s only so much time. And I have so much that I’d rather be doing than this.
It’s a rough existence for an introvert, let me tell ya.
If you’ve followed along on my journey, you probably know that–at one point–I wanted to be a ballerina. Then, a computer operator–which still makes me laugh because I legit thought that meant playing Oregon Trail all day. I once considered law. Nursing. I went to school for four years to be a zoologist/National Geographic photojournalist then considered primatology. Then I wanted to be a corporate trainer and even got a Master’s degree in it. I seriously pursued teaching–first special ed–then elementary science and math. It broke my heart. And then this path–being a therapist/nonprofit ED–or as I like to call it–the Brene Brown of grief. Always more than one thing, always chasing something.
I’ve been working a long time. I’ve done a lot of shit. I started working when I was 14, though even before that–I babysat and tutored, informally. I was an office assistant for a teen court program back home. I worked with lawyers every day. I volunteered for a nonprofit association, helping people find volunteer opportunities. In college, I had multiple jobs. I was a TA for the freshman seminar program. A writing consultant for four years. I helped people look for jobs, wrote resumes, and set-up employer fairs and on-site interviews. I edited the newspaper, dj’d at the college radio station, edited literary mags, and served on the Media Board. During breaks, I temped–answering phones, doing admin work, and managing projects. I did a lot of customer service, sales support, and marketing. Then I fell into recruiting–all the stuff and all the things. And it sort of stuck–even as I kicked and screamed and ran away. I was a CPA in training. I worked for nephrologists. I worked in academia. I did payroll. I’ve trained and managed–mentored, too. I was in admissions even. I’ve done it, man.
Academically, I’m educated in nonprofit management, fundraising, PR, mediation, web design, communication of all flavors, teaching, science–especially bio and chem, training, adult learning, and all manner of shit related to being in HR.
In my heart of hearts, I love writing and photography. They’re sacred things to me that I’d rather not monetize. I have a strong desire to help people. I have a passion for education and how things are communicated. I can’t work the cubicle life anymore, but I need support. I am afraid to do it by myself. I suck at closing because I am too live and let live, but I sure as hell can get them excited about the idea. I am not a fundraiser. Money makes me twitch. But I can tell you how to survive and how to make it stretch. And how to write an appeal with grace. In short, I hate hustling. With an absolute passion. But I’m damn good at it.
My jam is relationships. That’s what I’m here to do. Make them, make them better, fix them, leverage them, create shit that wasn’t here before. That’s what I love.
So, given that, my work life makes sense. It never did to me before, and in the course of hating all of it–while loving some of it sometimes–I’ve figured that much out.
And struggling as I did for so many years to figure out the why and the how–I finally have accepted these things about myself. And while I don’t struggle with my purpose anymore, I still question what the fuck I’m doing with this life.
I’ve spent a long time searching, attaching my worth to various identities I’ve pursued–trying hard to create something out of the nothing I started out with–despite all the setbacks and obstacles.
Struggle might as well be my middle name.
As I’ve learned more and done more and healed more–I’ve found out that some things just feel bad to me–even if they should feel great. Even if it doesn’t make sense. And then, these other things just happen. They show up with little effort. And it all makes me wonder things that are problematic for those plans I have.
I started going down this path because I was tired of the stuff I’d been doing. And someone just saw something in me–something I didn’t see. And I was thrown in–and had to figure it out. Despite how unlikely it was, I made something out of that rocky start. A career. A reputation. Trusted track records of relationships. It took leaving and coming back to get me to see it for what it was. But I always have thought of this thing as not mine–not right–because it has been…in some ways…too easy…too against who I thought I was…too quiet.
I am the girl with the huge dreams and goals–on the treadmill, trying to make up for all the years lost to death. Trying to have what everyone else has–fixing and fighting–all my damn life.
It feels like crap to hustle. And I came to a realization this week that I am hustling because I’m trying to be worth something. And the thing is–I already am worth a lot. I don’t have to do anything more. If I died today, what I’ve done would be enough. A good legacy.
People respect me. I am valued. I am trusted. I have done good.
I love the idea of being a therapist and starting a nonprofit. I absolutely do, and maybe, I would love the reality of it, too. Maybe.
But for years now, I have had one obstacle after another happen with just getting started. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. If all the shit aligns, I’m terrified and frozen.
I’ve been sorta struggling with it for a while–still convinced it was mine. But not excited about it anymore. Not really. Parts of it, I backburnered in favor of things that gave me joy that I could access now.
Then the last few weeks happened, and now, I think maybe I’ve been wrong about everything.
Maybe what’s mine has been mine for a while, and I just rejected it because I believed the shit about myself that was just shit.
This week, I took on a new project while waiting on my new client launch. It’s been working on finding new people for my company. Talking to people who do what I do. A lot of them are younger, some are like me. But I’ve been surprised by it. A lot of what I’m doing is talking about careers and work and helping them explore what we offer. And I realized–as clearly as when I was in admissions and discovered I loved counseling people–that this shit was exactly like that–and that maybe I’d been too myopic. Maybe I was selling myself short. Maybe I let bad past experiences distract me from who I am.
What did I love about the actual act of counseling? Sharing my humanity with another person. Using my life to help them see theirs. Relationship building.
All things I do daily.
I loved sharing tools and educating people.
Again, I do this daily.
So, if I do all these things daily–why does this stuff feel wrong?
Because, a lot of the time, my job is to fix things. I am blamed for things that are beyond my control. I am in impossible situations. I am constantly on.
So, I thought about counseling and ED and realized it’s just more of the same. With more fixing and fixing that could mean life and death–so more stress and burnout.
I realized something–that path is about me punishing myself. It’s me stuck in the past–trying to make what happened to me matter. That path is grief and shame. And unworthy everything. It’s hustling and fixing. And that might be toxic to me. As toxic to me as teaching was–and I learned that pretty much immediately.
So, what does that mean?
It means I don’t have to save the world.
It means that my current job isn’t ideal, but it’s not the wrong thing. It just needs tweaking–stuff I’ve done already–stuff that keeps me going now.
And–oh, look at that–another opportunity.
What I need to keep? The relationships. The connecting. The training and educating. The mentoring. The noticing of details and making recommendations. Teaching people to do what I do well–better than anyone.
I think I want to be a manager and a trainer for my company. I want to support people who are like me–who are struggling–who need direction and help. I need to help them remove obstacles, share the things only I see–and help be a changemaker.
I’m already a trainer. I’m already a senior lead. I’m doing it every day. I just need to get paid for it and remove the daily bullshit distractions that come with not being in charge.
My managers have tried for years to get me to do this, and this time, I said–okay–“I’ll do the training.” I’ll see if this feels better. If maybe my type of leadership has a place here.
That means that I won’t tie my entire self-worth and passion in my work. It means I’ll volunteer and live my life. And instead of studying for a path, I’ll study because I love it. Authentically and without any other goal than to sit in that love.
Maybe my work doesn’t have to be my life. Maybe it can just be the way I pay my bills. Maybe it can be just one of many ways I find meaning.
Yes–this feels right. In admitting that, I finally stopped holding my breath.