Living Without a Victory Condition

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

From a young age, we are trained to always be looking to the next thing. What does it look like to be happy, to be successful, to be grown up, or to be ready for life? The next milestone is always the place where we assume things will be better: graduate high school, or graduate college, or get that particular job, or get married, or have kids, or buy a house, or buy a car, or get a certain amount of money, or pay off debt, or publish a book, or retire…

There’s always something we’re working towards. Something that, when achieved, will let us finally relax and feel done, at least for a while. We are working towards victory.

And as many of us know, victory never comes. There is always another milestone. The feeling of relief and euphoria and elation fades. The world continues to spin and we have to keep moving.

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Follow Your Passion, Find Your Place

What am I passionate about?

I had been dodging the question for years, throwing up answers and finding ways to make them stick, but they never did. Maybe I don’t have the fire, or maybe I haven’t found it yet, but nothing I tried really met my definition of passion. And now, after months of consciously wrestling with the question (compared to years of assuming I knew the answer)… well, things have changed.

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A God in Stormy Seas

This morning at church we sang a song that really keyed in a mental image for me from a TED talk I watched a few weeks ago. Given the context of today’s sermon and everything I’ve been wrestling with over the last few months in regards to passion, purpose, and work, it all came together to be really powerful for me. Rather than write, trying and failing to communicate what I was thinking and feeling, I thought I’d record a video.

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So long, Heartbreak. Hello Dreams!

My frustration about school and the attendance thereof has only become more pointed as this year has progressed. We’re barely a month into the semester and my two classes have been infuriating. One is Children’s Literature and is essentially, “How to teach literature to children between the ages of two and five,” which is definitely not how it was described in the course catalog. The other is The Life and Thought of Martin Luther King Jr. and we have yet to discuss the good doctor, let alone his life and/or thoughts. We have instead been treated to many rambling and often racist stories by our professor, unclear expectations and assignments, and a litany of “extra credit” opportunities that often manage to involve attending his church.

The real issue is that these classes, and most any classes for that matter, prevent me from pursuing my dreams in the here and now. I can’t write when I’m taking two classes a semester. There are two reasons for this:

  1. My work requires a lot of time dealing with people, particularly in management situations. For someone as introverted as me, this is mentally and emotionally exhausting. I already have a regularly scheduled game night on Fridays that takes some of my energy, and when you add in two classes for a total of three days a week, each requiring twelve to fifteen hours of extroversion, I’m wiped out. Deeper thought and the writing that would come out of it aren’t reasonable in those circumstances.
  2. Because of the previous issue, I use class as an excuse to not do work. Part of me recognizes that I’d completely burn out and have a nervous breakdown if I pushed myself much harder than I do and forced myself to do a lot of work and writing during my limited downtime, but I can’t ignore that this an excuse, not a reason. Ideally, I would be able to do everything, but that’s not feasible in real life. If I try to do everything, I’ll fail at everything. Being in class keeps me focused on the problem, not the solution. The solution is simple, but I’ve been too wrapped up in the problem to admit it.

It’s not the classes themselves, or even the six hours a week they take. It’s the poor state the entire schedule leaves me in. Six hours isn’t much, but the long days they lead to makes achieving my dreams impossible.

So I’m done. As of this semester, I was only enrolled for one reason: to be able to attend PAX ’10. I won’t be able to afford to go if I have to start paying on student loans, and if I’m not enrolled in six hours of classes a semester I’ll have to start paying. As much as it sucks to not go, though, I’d rather be happy and fulfilled 362 days of the year than have 3 days of revelry and good times with friends. My year and my life isn’t worth that.

I’ve already got the line item in and our budget balanced to accept this.

I’m not saying I’m dropping out entirely. When I see a night class that’s 300-level or above that looks interesting, I’ll take it. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for the 2-3 classes I have left to finish my major and minor. I’ll probably take some graduate-level courses too (since they satisfy the Upper-Division Credit Hour requirement), though never more than one a semester, if they look fascinating and challenging. But I’m done with playing the game, staying enrolled for no good reason.

I realized last night what I want to do with my life in regards to work. It’s going to take a few years to get that set up, but I’m good with long-term plans. I’m tired of not starting, though. I’ve been feeling dissatisfied with college for four years now, and it’s time to do something about it.

Jiving with the book Ecclesiastes

Most of what we do in this life isn’t all that important. In the thousands of years of human existence, and the hopefully thousands more to come, our actions are lost in a sea of the mundane. In the millions of years our earth has existed and the hopefully tens of millions more, what I do today has little significance.

I don’t find this thought depressing or discouraging. Instead, it helps me prioritize things differently. The way I see it, there are three types of people in this world in regards to having life goals: those who give themselves a mission, those whose actions just happen to serve a mission, and those who have no mission. Those who give themselves missions tend to develop something of a messiah complex, believing that they are responsible for doing what needs done and for changing the world as it needs to be changed. I’d rather be part of the second group of people, who just do what they would normally do, and upon whom history reflects positively because their actions were good ones. I want to try to do good, to help others, and to live a life holy and pleasing to God. I hope that this is enough.

But I don’t want to stress about “my mission.” Instead, I want to enjoy the sunshine and a well lit pipe. I want to fully experience the love of my wife, and the end of good books. I want to share food  and laughs with my friends. I want to do good, but not at the expense of this world. That sentence isn’t quite right, so let me try again: I don’t want to be trying so hard to see God that I squinch up my eyes from trying and can no longer see him or the blessings he has given me.

I feel good about what I’ve been doing, though a part of me (a part that is getting smaller; I think this is part of me getting healthier) still rails at my slowness and lack of accomplishment and wants me to push myself to do more. I like the essay I wrote this weekend, and I’ve enjoyed playing Dragon Age some more. I’ve drank lots of good coffee. I’ve taken two walks and enjoyed them.

Today, I did not feel like the Questor’s shouts of, “Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” was a pessimistic, terrible statement. I’ve never really felt that way, but today I understood why. Today, I felt freed by this thought. “Stop trying so hard to please God. God is already pleased because you love him and have chosen to spend your life doing your best for him. You’re already there: enjoy it.”

Impatience

Sometimes, I know that something is going to happen. I’m going to accomplish something, there’s no two ways about it, and I’m not going to stop, not going to give up until it’s done. There is no failure, there is no doubt.

And when those moments come, those periods of certainty and dullness, when the world is unexciting, unbrilliant, and all-too-known, I wish it would just come and go. I wish we could finish what we’re doing and move on, because the certainty is so damned dull.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

One of the unique things about this website is the tension inherent in its design. There are things I want to do with it, committments I want to keep regarding update schedules and writing and whatnot… but there’s also the entire rest of my life. This thing is a hobby to fill in the gaps, and sometimes there aren’t any gaps… or sometimes, I just feel like filling them with something else.

When I examine my life and what I do, though, I feel like I’m right on track. It’s hard to admit this to myself, because there are so many things I feel like I want to do. I’d like to be more involved in ministry, and I’d like to write more, and I’d like to commit my life to public service, or missions, or teaching college courses on literature or Ancient Rome or something. I feel like there are people who are pulling me in all these directions, and I feel like I constantly disappoint them by not walking where they direct, by not following where they lead.

But that’s not my life, and it’s not really what I want. What I want is to be a good husband, to become a good father, to grow into a stronger servant, and to provide for my family. My priority is to make my family (April and, someday, our children) happy, to shelter and care for them, and to take care of them as best I can. The rest is just for my free time.

It’s sort of like… you know that ignorant statement where someone complains about something in the world, and another person says, “Well then, why don’t you get up and do something about it?” The question is intended to make you feel guilty for complaining without acting to correct the situation, when the truth of the matter is that we can’t all solve everything. I can’t be a doctor and a firefighter and a non-profit humanitarian aid worker. We can’t do everything.

But I can invest in my family and in my community to better help them do these things. I can raise my children right, raise them like I would have liked to be raised, to give them the opportunity to do these things. Teach them well so they can do and become anything. Support them in every endeavor so that they can save the world.

I don’t know that I could save the world, personally. I recognize my limitations, and while my personal ceiling is pretty high, I know that I can make that ceiling way higher for my children. No matter how far I could go, I know that I can enable them to go further. So, that’s what I want to do with my life.

And I’m sorry if that doesn’t fit into everyone’s preconceived role for me, but it’s my life. It’s what I’ve wanted to be since I was nine, and I think I’m finally getting ready to admit and commit to it. The tension in my life is beginning to resolve itself, and the path I need to take is becoming more clear. Where am I headed?

I’m going up. Up just as high as I can go, so I can prepare the way for my children so that they might climb higher still.