Follow your dreams. Do what you love. Go out and make it happen. You hear it all the time. Part of the problem is the concept of “life purpose” itself. The idea that we were each born for some higher purpose and it’s now our mission to find it. But here’s the truth. We exist on this earth for some undetermined period of time. During that time we do things. Some of these things are important. Others, not so much. And those important things give our lives meaning and happiness. The unimportant ones basically just kill time.
Most of us have no clue what we want to do with our lives. Even after we finish school. Even after we get a job. Even after we’re making money. I’ve changed career aspirations more often than I’d like to admit. Some people are lucky and have always known what they want to do. Most of us tend to settle for the safest option. We’re often told to find a good job, start a family and settle down. But when I hear the words “settle down”, all I can think is that I’m settling. Settling for mediocre. And my biggest fear is regret. I don’t want to regret my life choices.
Growing up, you always change your mind about what it is you want to be or do. If you asked 5-year-old me, I probably would have said Runner (like an olympic sprinter). 8-year-old me would had said Teacher. 13-year-old me would have replied Doctor or Journalist. By 16, I was becoming more skeptical; Accountant was my safe bet, but Photography was all I could think about. And that was fine for the moment. At 18, university applications completely confused me. I remember applying for just about everything (except fine arts). I got accepted into all the courses that I had applied for and I was all the more confused. So I ended up picking the safest option. Business.
First year university papers at the Business school are supposed to give you an idea of what you want to major in. I was expected to make a choice on a career path and I had no idea what that was going to be. All I knew was that I didn’t want to do anything with numbers. So that ruled out Accounting, Finance, Economics, Taxation, and Infosys. I eventually decided to major in Marketing and International Business. Although I did enjoy some aspects of these topics, it never really felt right. It felt like settling.
Outside university, I worked part-time at the local supermarket and did some volunteer work. I even travelled to Costa Rica to volunteer in the hope that I would discover something more about myself and I did. I learned that I love helping people. I love seeing other people happy. When I came back home I felt inspired, motivated and eager to share my experiences with friends and family. But although people listened all they really wanted to hear about were activities I did and what the country was like. The inspiration I felt slowly fizzled away and again I was left feeling lost.
A year later and my friends started graduating and getting jobs. I was still in university, just trying to get through my degree with little to no motivation. I felt like I was accepting defeat. My life was turning into one big “I don’t know”. Then something happened. I sometimes think it was a fluke. You don’t just stumble onto your calling…Do you?
One of my courses in semester one was about a lesser known topic, had a small class size and involved a lot a group work. It was one of those courses rumoured to be hard and time intensive but those who took it either loved it or hated it. The only reason I ended up taking this course was because one of my courses was cancelled at the last moment and this was the only option that fit into my timetable. Little did I know that this was a blessing in disguise. The entire course was centred on a new way of thinking. Design Thinking to be more precise. It was enlightening. I had discovered what I had been searching for all along. Although marketing courses were interesting they weren’t the creative outlet as I had hoped they would be. This course gave me hope. It showed me a creative way to solve the world’s problems and help people. In the course of 12 weeks, I was no longer simply going through the motions, trying to pass a course. Not only was I was loving every second of it, I was thriving. I ended up getting an A+ for the course. And as they say, all good things must come to an end.
It’s approximately a year since then, and I still think about that experience and all that I learnt from it. I compare it to other learning experiences. And you know what? Nothing compares to it.
Looking back at it, I now realise that all I was craving from my education was a creative outlet. Being able to do something creative has always excited and motivated me. Art has always been something that would let me explore, discover and create. If I create something that could help someone, even in the smallest way, that would be enough. Howard Thurman said “Don’t ask what the world needs, ask what makes you come alive and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” When you do what you are passionate about, others can see it, they feel your enthusiasm. Its that enthusiasm and positive energy that inspires others.
For me, I think now is the time. I’m almost at the end of my degree, finally. Maybe following this new calling is my next step. I was lucky that I found what I love to do. It might have take me a while to get there but I’m glad I know what it is. In some ways I’ve always known. Fabienne Fredrickson said that the things you are passionate about are not random, they are your calling. In my case, the realisation came about when I was least expecting it. You might already know what you are passionate about. Hold on to that, and have courage to follow where it leads you. It knows the way.