Ever since I was reading Steve Pavlina back at college, I’ve had this nagging feeling inside that I’m focusing on the wrong thing. I was constantly trying to improve myself, but I had no standard by which to measure my success other than comparing myself to something external. This would usually be some kind of list of items (my latest of which was Clean Sweep available here, which I’m still – though not actively – working on).
Steve wrote a post named “How to discover your life purpose in about 20 minutes”. I knew subconsciously even back then that there was a kind of disconnect between what I was doing at the time and what I really wanted to do. But for the life of me I couldn’t articulate what it was that I wanted to do. It wasn’t that I had no interests, but rather that I had so many I couldn’t find any common denominator.
So I went with Steve’s advice. It didn’t work. At all. I tried writing down my purpose in life but the more articulate I tried to be, the more elusive that purpose became. It’s a question that’s had me bewildered ever since, but I ignored it. At the time I heard something Leonard Peikoff said on the subject, that he himself didn’t know this until later in life, so I let it come on its own if it would.
It was when I was listening to Jordan Peterson, however, that I again started considering it. I was 35 then and still no sign of what it was that I wanted to do. I did all those “If you knew you could not fail, what would you do?” I had no idea. There was this notion of going to Mars, but I realized I’d really rather pay someone to get me there rather than build my own rocket. But for that I’d need the money so I knew I wanted to have money, but not how I wanted to go about getting it.
I’ve never actually made this realization concrete until very recently. My subconscious was thus tasked with connecting all the dots for me. On one side, there was me wanting to get to Mars (and climbing Olympus Mons), and to do that I required money. On the other side, there was pure necessity driving me to start my own business where I could earn some extra income so we wouldn’t have to scrape leftovers out of tin cans so we could get by until our car lease was paid off (long story).
I paid close attention to what kinds of things would catch my attention, hoping over time I’d get a sense of what I was interested in. Funny enough, I realized I was interested in writing, programming, hiking, and technology, along with some other minor interests. And I already knew that, so what the heck. It was all very infuriating and very confusing.
One day as I was going about my business, a thought popped into my head. I’d read somewhere that some of the things we do hand our power over to others. I realized in that moment that that’s exactly what I was doing, and very often, which makes me feel powerless in social settings. I asked almighty Google to tell me how to stop doing that and it spat out a couple of pages, mostly unhelpful. One, however, was spot-on for me. One of the items on the list was “Know your values”.
When you’re not clear what your values are, you’re at risk of becoming more like a helpless passenger, rather than a confident driver, in your own life. You’ll be at risk of jumping on board with other people’s ideas and you may be easily led astray. Take back your power by acknowledging your values and living true to what’s important to you.
I sighed. I thought “OK, I’ll just follow the other eight recommendations.” But really, that was the most important one for me and it just kept gnawing at me until I gave in and asked Google another question “How do I know what I want?” I landed on this Medium’s Personal Development post. After reading it I was infinitely pissed. The post told me to “breathe”! I don’t need to focus on my breath and no, contrary to the author’s claim, I don’t want to breathe, it just happens automatically. The only reason I care about preserving my breath is because it is required for staying alive, and staying alive is what I’m really after as far as breathing goes.
To be fair, I have nothing against meditation and I have used it several times on this journey of mine, but insights I get from meditation are quite random and it could be decades before I find what I’m looking for. And so as I was sitting there, scrolling pissedly back and forth over the post, wondering whether I should write to the author and tell him to piss off, I was suddenly struck by insight. My subconscious had at that point finally made the required connection.
And I was then pissed at myself for not seeing it sooner. All I really wanted to do was to finish something that I’d already been working on. And I thought “Of course!” I’ve been banging my head against the wall for years, working in my father’s company, because every time I was this close to finishing a project, he threw something else my way that displaced that project entirely. Those projects were never finished, new projects were similarly interrupted by something that was even more urgent. Deadlines like “ASAP”, “now”, and “yesterday” were my reality; and I let it go on. I’d work long hours and until I’d burn myself out, but to no avail. Yesterday’s emergencies were subject to this morning’s amnesia and replaced by new emergencies. There was no rhyme or reason to the demands placed before me and I kept dancing through this chaos for as long as I could dance.
And in the end I said to hell with everything. I confronted my father about it, but he never seemed to comprehend the gravity of what I was saying because when I told him the other day that I’m no longer working on a single project until I see exactly what features were ordered by the client, he simply repeated his old mantra “You will do what they tell you to do.” I said I wouldn’t. He didn’t hear me, but I’m standing by what I told him. He can fire me for all I care. In fact I’d already given him my letter of resignation, but I am still employed as he refuses to do the necessary paperwork.
And so, what I really want right now – what I really need, and desperately – is to finish some project; any project. Even if it doesn’t sell. I need to bring it to the state that I would call finished. That doesn’t mean done with no possibility of improvement, but rather finished with all the absolutely required features included. I’m close to finishing two of my personal projects, so I’ll focus on one of them.