Not what. Why.
I’ve been putting off this post, because I knew it would take more mental energy to write it than I had at the moment when I started. Yesterday my planner called me out. Everyday there’s a quote on the note’s page. Yesterday’s quote was:
People lose their way when they lose their why
She basically summed up the importance of a feeling I’ve been having for awhile now; this existential crisis.
Why am I doing (what I’m doing)?
I can usually rationalize what I’m doing, but I’m never sure why I’m doing it. I tend to make logical decisions. Decisions that are more or less comfortable–not always easy to carry out, but nothing that would radically shift me outside of my comfort zone, ot require me to step out on faith and trust my instincts.
That’s a form of failure in many ways.
I’m not saying I’m a failure; I’ve accomplished a lot in nearly 30 years (as I’ve forced myself to acknowledge). Recently my best friend was talking on the phone to me about me, and it was shocking to hear how she characterizes where I am in life. She held my accomplishments in much greater esteem than I ever have about myself, where I typically minimize things that I’ve done or disregard them entirely. For a moment I was even asking myself, ‘who is she talking about because I want to meet that person,’ and she was talking about me. (I need to get her to write my resume because I’ve never been able to represent myself like that).
Often we may not see ourselves as being as valuable or skilled or successful as the people we compare ourselves to, especially as a women of color who constantly get messages that we inherently aren’t as valuable or skilled and cannot be as successful. Hearing about myself through someone else’s eyes really highlighted that gap in self-perception.
So I’m not a failure at what I’ve done thus far, and by objective standards, I’m pretty well on my way to achieving the middle-class dream. I should be happy right?
Where I see the failure is from not taking the opportunity to figure out why I’m doing it, and if that reason is good enough to justify prioritizing it. Am I doing something just because it’s the logical next step, or because something deep down is driving me to do it? Or because I couldn’t imagine doing anything else? Or because it lights a fire in me in a way nothing else does.
I used to get really envious of some of my peers who seemed to know exactly what that thing was that made them want to drop everything else and work tirelessly in pursuit of it. Their purpose. But there was never just one thing that I could pronounce I was fiercely passionate about. I could get extremely invested in a topic or occupation and just as quickly grow tired of it and move on to something else…so what am I doing? Why do I feel aimless? How do I hone in on that thing, or create it if it doesn’t exist in a format that I can easily reference?
Thinking about why can and most certainly will be a fear-inducing activity. It forces you to face some hard truths about yourself. You may not like the answer. You may realize that not only are you not doing something your passionate about but you aren’t even on a pathway to being able to do it in the next 5 or even 10 years. You may realize that you’ve allowed yourself to become risk-averse. You may realize you’re not living up to your own potential, wasting your gifts and talents, blocking your own bliss and self-fulfillment by doing what’s easy–what’s logical–rather than what drives you. Knowing all of that, how miserable would you be if you woke up 25 years from now? How much regret would you be filled with?
Not taking a chance because of the fear of failure is a failure.
Yes, bills have to get paid. You need a roof over your head and food in your belly. You can’t always chase your dreams with complete abandon, especially as you acquire more human and financial obligations. But if you don’t do the work to determine your why, and are not working in service towards fulfilling your why– even if that work is currently only small steps rather than the giant leap–you are most certainly going to lose your way.