It was an astonishingly freezing cold night a few years ago when I got out of the warmth of the car to join a group of people who met once a week for eight weeks to talk about learning, education, life and change and finding direction.
The facilitator was someone I knew and when he mentioned this informal discussion group at a cool place with cool people I thought why not? Direction is something I have been look for my entire life. I looked for direction because I believed I was born lost. And this was a particularly bad time in my life.
I hated, hated, hated with a passion my job that was eating up my time and my soul and my mind and yet I didn’t know what else to do and had no time do anything else. People looking in thought I had all the good stuff: a six-figure income, positional and personal power, prestige, influence, assistants, staff, corner office, vacations, international conferences, important people wanting to get me onside and, and, and I fucking hated it with a passion usually reserved for the passionate, unreserved love for people and animals. I was silent in this hating with a passion, because talking about hating it was hardly a release and well, in a way it was meaningful and helpful, touching on a worldwide issue (still unresolved by the way) and it would make me seem an ignorant ingrate. I kept wondering what the hell was wrong with me that I hated it. Didn’t I want to help?
So yes, why not?
There were many stories of people running off to find themselves, leaving jobs, going to ashrams and retreats and coming back either to do the same thing with a different attitude or a different thing with the same attitude.
Most of the other people in the group were recent university graduates. It was curious to listen to inexperience without judgment. I asked questions and my quiet and contemplation was a little unnerving for some in the group. But the conversations were amazing and I always left learning something new about the history of the world and feeling good about humanity. Still without direction, but feeling good about it.
What has stayed with me over time has been the debate about this notion of having a calling in life, a purpose, a vocation, and how that is all about belief, how it stems from notions of work being good for the spirit, keeping idle hands busy, the thing humans do to honour a God, and how that God calls you to do the work that you do and when you are called, you find your bliss in your work; the Protestant work ethic. Somehow, that’s morphed into the business of finding your passion in life because when you do what you love and get paid for it, it won’t feel like work at all. When you find your calling, what you were put on this earth to do, apparently you will find your bliss, which these days might not be a God, but whatever it is in one’s life that feeds spirit, soul, meaning. We all wondered what’s wrong with us that the workplace of today has become the new church, and work the way to salvation, for those who believe in such a thing, and if not salvation, then the way to finding meaning and self.
We came away from that conversation, all of us, quiet and thoughtful, wondering about the reach of religious beliefs and how they morph into the everyday things around us as received wisdom. Much like old advertising slogans.
I still don’t have a direction other than where curiosity might take me, and I no longer do that work in that place that I hated with a passion. And at times it messes with my self-definition and self-worth but I am overall a much better human bean. That has meaning for me, being the better side of human bean-ness.
Speaking of being human
There’s an HR thing about leaving a legacy: you imagine that people are memorializing you a year after you’ve passed away, and you imagine what they will say about you, what kind of legacy you will leave. When I did that, I realized I didn’t want anything about me to be about the place I have worked or the positions I have held. I want to be remembered as a person, who touched a few hearts, maybe made one or two people think about something, and who maybe helped a few people here and there, and who is endlessly quiet and cheeky. Even when lost.
Time is a funny thing and as it passes, sometimes, some pain dissipates as well. I forget some days how much it cost me to work in that world, forget that I still have nightmares over the trauma of downsizing my staff — my friends in positions no longer needed — due to mandated budget cuts, I forget how much I hated every moment, I forget the battles, forget how much I hated that old life. When that happens, I feel lost; without purpose and without meaning, without value. When I forget that there are people and animals in my world who I care about and who care about me.
When I feel lost and without purpose, some days I just let it be. It’s okay to feel that every now and again. Getting lost can be an adventure. Everything is open, including me. And when I do work reminiscent of what I did before with similar types of people and I feel my gut turning and my throat tightening and I want to throw up, I breathe through it: it will pass, it does pass.
Other days, when I think about being lost and found and in need of direction, I think back to that discussion group, to what one of the people, the youngest one, asked of the rest of us: “isn’t it enough to just live your life working at being a good person, you know, the golden rule kind of person?”
I answered that for myself then as I do now. Along the journey of life, yes. It’s more than enough.