We’re all in the midst of a huge transition right now and it’s hard to know what will happen next. On top of that, I’m on the verge of finishing college and finally entering the so-called “real world”. I’ll finally have to be a “real adult”, despite the fact that I’ve technically been one for the past three years. And while I find this transition period extremely exciting, it is equally frightening.
And what is it that I’m afraid of? The more I think about it, the more I arrive at a mildly disturbing conclusion. I’m afraid of… freedom?
For the first 21 years of my life, I’ve been on a path. A very well-defined, clear, straightforward path: school. And while I may technically have had the freedom to veer off this path, I never felt the need to until mid-way through college at which point I was so close to the finish line that I thought I might as well suck it up and finish. So, “finish” became the goal. And while I try to embrace and enjoy the monotony of day-to-day life, I sometimes find myself looking to the future, looking to the finish line and wondering what will be on the other side.
Now with the finish line clearly in sight, my last final in only a matter of days, it’s still hard to tell what’s on the other side. And while I can’t predict the future, I can look back on the past and look at where I am now, and surmise about the steps to come.
I like to believe that we’re living in a passion economy. More than ever before, people are seeking their passion, their purpose in life. And more than ever before, people are able to make a living out of it. The question then becomes: what is your passion? Or first, how do you find it?
In hindsight, it feels like I’ve been looking for the answer to this question for a long time. But consciously that was not at all the case. As a kid, I didn’t have any goals. I just did whatever I felt like doing in what free time I had. I would often find myself reading, writing, playing outside, watching YouTube, or doing anything else I enjoyed. Back then, I remember valuing free time above anything else. I wanted to finish my homework as fast as possible so I could have my time back, which naturally encouraged my pursuit of more productive work habits. While this is a reasonable explanation of my motivations, I don’t think it gets at the root cause. In fact, most of my original personal development attempts weren’t focused around working productively and instead were around a vague desire to “be a better person”. Since I didn’t have a clear conception of what a “better person” looked like, I tried many different things. However, at that point I wasn’t very good at starting new habits or implementing changes so I mostly found myself running around in circles. This could also be a probable motivator for my interest in self-actualization, but again I think we’re missing something. When I was a kid, I didn’t have years of experience journaling and reflecting under my belt. I didn’t know how to work through all of my feelings and emotions, though try, I did.
I believe that what began my journey was simple. I was deeply unhappy. Not in a frown-on-your-face-24-7 kind of way, but in a “constantly unsatisfied” kind of way. I wasn’t happy with myself and never felt good enough. And while it would be really easy for me to make up some logical reason for how I found my way to where I am now, none of those answers would represent reality. Because my desire to improve didn’t come out of a place of purity but from a place of pain and anger. I felt like I was trapped in a hole and all I wanted to do was get out. But I had no idea what that meant, how to do so, or even where to start. The beautiful thing about this is that it doesn’t matter how I got in this hole or how long I was stuck for, at the end of the day I was in a hole and I needed a way out. And I know all of us have felt this way at some point in our lives.
So naturally, being the extremely sophisticated scientist that I was, I threw rocks at the wall. Brute force, trial-and-error, whatever you want to call it. I scoured the internet for anything that would help me get out, that would help me change. The hard thing was that I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for. Even though there’s probably a fix for just about everything on the internet, when you don’t know what you’re looking for, that just means more clutter obscuring the answer. It was in this darkness that I began to discover the power of structure, of routine, and of consistency. While these types of topics may at first glance seem boring, they provide exceptional stepping stones and helped me climb out of this hole. However, to even have the time or energy to devote into searching for and building these stepping stones, I needed free time, and my approach to getting free time has always been to do just enough to get by, as efficiently as possible. Somewhere along the way, I confounded my dependency on productivity as passion for it. And while I do love learning and growing and improving, deep down I knew this wasn’t it. This wasn’t my “passion”. Although for a while, I might have told you it was.
It wasn’t until college that I finally felt like I was reaching the top of my hole. It wasn’t until then, or rather a few weeks ago, that I realized I had grown to like my hole. It was comfortable down there. In some ways the darkness of my hole was much safer than the limitless space above it. Without realizing it, I was keeping myself in this hole, just near the top, convincing myself I hadn’t made it to the top when really the step was there, built on all those years of previous steps, just waiting for me to use it.
Now before we go any further, I want to clarify something. The top of my metaphorical hole is by no means enlightenment or grand success; it’s literally just ground-level. And on top of that I’m positively certain that I will fall into holes again and again and again for the rest of my life. As do most of us. But I also know that’s just part of the adventure. I would never get anywhere if I just stayed in my hole, or just in the safe space around it. I spent years learning how to build steps, a foundation, a rock solid base, not so that I could stay put, but so that I could use them to go somewhere, to go on an adventure.
All of this to say, on top of this unprecedented transitional period in my life, I’m also leaving behind the hole I’ve fondly called home for the past 21 years. And I don’t really know what’s up there. I’m not sure what my passion is or what direction my life will take me, but here’s what I do know.
A dark hole is just one kind of uncertainty, one kind of chaos. I’m now realizing that the land above the holes is equally uncertain and equally chaotic. In fact, the only way to avoid chaos, uncertainty, and the occasional hole is to not move around at all, which to me sounds far more boring than even being stuck in a hole. Lucky for me, over the past 21 years, I’ve grown to love navigating chaos. I’ve realized that I like the process of building steps, knowing some will break, knowing sometimes I’ll jump off and find myself back in a hole. But one thing’s certain: no matter where I go or what I do, there will always be more to explore and more steps to build. And since that’s what I like doing, I don’t really need to worry about what comes next.