The path to enlightenment, or ‘self actualising for dummies’

It’s a long one – one sometimes not even achieved over a lifetime. A whole bloody lifetime of work and effort and thinking and actions.

I’m not particularly looking for full enlightenment. Not right now. Not here. I need to do more work on myself before I reach that, I know. But I like to record these little glimpses of Truth as I stumble across them. I like to have some proof that the Me then is not the Me now; that this is a human being very much in progress. I like to remind myself that it’s ok to not be perfect and it’s ok to make mistakes and question oneself and not really know what you’re doing. Because when you finally figure It out, it’s the sweetest victory you’ll ever feel.

Today I realised that I have been Doing It All Wrong. Doing what wrong? Errrm, well, you know. Life. The big stuff. The small stuff. Everything.

You see, when I woke up (I won’t even lie, it wasn’t ‘this morning’, it was very much this afternoon) the first thing I read was this piece on brainpickings.org about ‘how to avoid work‘. It’s weird because a) I don’t read much of the stuff that’s posted on facebook these days; b) the person who posted it is someone I’ve met twice, and I only added them to facebook a week ago. [This clearly proves my theory that every person you know, however long or short or terrible or great your relationship with them is, they teach you something about the world or about yourself.]

It’s really quite a long piece of writing and it took me a while to read it. I’ve read very similar things before, and I’ve always thought, ‘well, that’s quite nice but unrealistic’. But then I was watching a TV show a while later [Glee - you'll perhaps connect the dots on that one later] and it really hit me that it was Truth. Work (as in for money) needn’t be what we see as ‘work’ (as in something laborious) – it is entirely possible to earn money doing something you absolutely love. Very few people do it, because it takes time to get there, and it takes an investment – of commitment, perhaps money, maybe even a sacrifice of something else in order to get there. It’s not an easy route.

Stumbling along

My work life/career – call it what you want, it really makes no difference – has been really fraught in the last two years. Leaving uni was tough, as much as I desperately wanted to. Coming home was tough. Being jobless for nine months was really, really tough, and it almost broke me. I’m extremely lucky that I pretty much fell into what is now my Job. I won’t lie, it took me by surprise too. One minute I was doing work experience, the next I was working weekends, getting paid. Then along came the Olympics and before I knew what was happening, I was working five shifts a week and earning more money than I’d ever had before.

There’s a real problem though. I used to love it, but now I don’t love it. I do the same thing day in day out. As someone who has always been career-driven rather than driven by ambitions to have a husband and three kids, I am torn between how one should love one’s job. Should you love it as a means-to-an-end, or should you love it because you just love what you do, and you happen to get paid to do it? I want it to be the latter, so badly, but when I try to think of something else I’d rather do, I freeze up a little bit.

“I want to do business journalism. Business and finance. Or economics. Or something like that”
“I want to write about the Middle East”
“I’d quite like to just travel and write, actually”
“I’m quite good at talking to people and researching so ummm I’ll just do something along those lines, you know”

These are the answers I give people if I’m pressed on what I want to do… Well, clearly I don’t have a fucking clue. If I was so inclined, I would spend my spare time writing about the economy, or about the Middle East. Instead of just telling people how wonderful South-East Asia is, I’d be writing about how wonderful it is. Today I realised that the reason I don’t do something I love is because I don’t actually know what I truly, truly love. How can you aim for something when you don’t know what it is?

Finding your love and getting it wrong

So I need to figure out what makes me tick… I am a big believer in something that sounds extremely similar to the concept of ‘Fate’ but to me works slightly differently. I think it’s more that sometimes life throws you things because you’re supposed to learn from them, or you’re supposed to take it as a hint. Sometimes opportunities, or people, get dropped on you and it takes you a while to realise that this was probably Supposed To Happen. [In my experience, anyway.] Sometimes it can take you years to see that maybe something was your calling, or that you were supposed to learn something from that guy that totally broke your heart when you were 17.

It’s occurred to me that though I’ve been trying for months and months to get something in the business journalism industry, maybe the reason I haven’t got anything is because that’s not where I’m supposed to be. I basically picked business journalism out of a need to find a niche, because it’s the highest paid gig in journalism – business journalists are well respected, and I feel a sense of duty to know about economics and business. I know people who are, and I look up to them because of it. I take them seriously, and I guess I wanted to inspire that in other people. But those reasons are not genuine, or even good/convincing reasons to go into an industry that is entirely alien to me. I never studied economics, business or finance. I read the FT for important top-story economics stuff, but other than that most of it passes me by. I try to understand, but it’s never going to be something that I find ‘fun’ or instinctive to learn about. It’s never going to be easy for me to just jump into it. So perhaps life has been trying to tell me that this isn’t really my calling, and perhaps I was stupid for thinking it was.

Learning to truly listen to yourself

I actually think I know more what I want to do, when I really sit and just listen to myself, without judging. You’d think it’s quite easy, but it’s not. Over twenty years of self-hatred and criticism has clouded my thinking. When I think back to when I was a child, when I didn’t have societal pressure to be a certain way, when I didn’t feel like I should be ashamed to want to be something frivolous or ‘not important’ to society – that’s when I feel like I am closer to what I should be. Kids are smart. You get a feel for something you’re good at and if you aren’t affected by the bullshit around you, you can go for it.

I was good at English. I had a reading age of 14 at the age of 8 or 9. I loved reading stories, writing stories, reading and writing poetry… I wanted to be an author, while everyone else in my class wanted to be a pop star. I wanted to be an author and I wanted to teach, because my school life was an unhappy one, and I felt like I could be the person to change that for others. I wanted to be to children what some of the teachers in my school were to me: a safe haven, someone to go to when things were bad and I didn’t want to exist anymore.

I liked drama and writing. I liked dancing and singing. It’s often been said of me that I’m expressive, and I know for sure that I’m the kind of person who can change the mood of a room in an instant if I want to. I feel like that part of my personality got lost somewhere on the way to adulthood, because I haven’t realised any of my potential in that sense. I was called fat, so I stopped dancing. I was given hearing aids when I was finally diagnosed as deaf, so I stopped singing, and I stopped trying to communicate with others. It was frustrating, and I find that even now, sometimes I give up on talking to people. The only thing I ever honed and practised a lot was my writing, and even now I feel like I’ve lost touch with that too, because it’s an under-used skill. But it’s something I’m desperately clinging onto.

Lemons and lemonade

So… A bit of regression has helped me to try and realise my passion… Plus, that thing about life throwing things at you? Well, before I went to university, I got a temp job – one that I didn’t really want to go for, but that I actually eventually would have quit university to stay in. [I did ask if I could stay, and I did genuinely want to defer university to stay there.] I worked at a theatre, and I loved it. I wasn’t a performer – I was only doing admin – but I loved the environment, and the fact that theatre encourages expression and can be transgressive at times. I was given work experience kids to look after (I was 18!) and I loved seeing their transformation from really shy kids to people with confidence.

Then at university I worked at a magazine and….. guess what? After interviewing a few famous people for the magazine, I ended up editing the theatre section for a few months. And I actually really enjoyed it and missed my old job. The thing is, I have enjoyed doing other things, too. I quite enjoy and am fascinated by reading about events in the Middle East, and …. other things. But I have really struggled to figure out the difference between *appreciating* something, and actually wanting to *do* it yourself. I can like football, but I can also see that I wouldn’t be good at doing it myself. I need to sit and think about all the things I like and try and figure out if I like them as an observer, or if I like them enough to actually do myself. I fully respect war correspondents, and even though I briefly considered doing it myself, I know in my heart of hearts that I just couldn’t do it. I cry at photos of dead bodies. I mean, I just couldn’t deal with that. And I feel terrible, like it makes me less of a person, but I think it’s better to be honest about what I can not do, rather than waste my time trying to break into a field that doesn’t need or want me.

Ultimately… nothing is going to change just yet. But just knowing that I have other options feels nice. Just feeling like I have other opportunities and career paths is good. I feel like I’m on the cusp of fully realising my own potential and finding something I love. I just am not sure how things are going to unfold yet. I feel like when I dig deep, I already know what my strengths and my passions are. It’s just very, very cloudy and difficult to see through – like digging through a closet full of junk to find a shiny pound coin…

About A Girl
Mostly writes on Half The World Is Watching. She is interested in and writes about feminist issues, politics and activism. An 80s child at heart, she loves old things, computer games, and keeping up with the development of social media.

2 Responses to The path to enlightenment, or ‘self actualising for dummies’

  1. trabasack says:

    Finding out what you really want to do in life is very hard. Most people drift from one opportunity to the next, it is very much down to chance what turns up.
    Once you have fixed responsibilities it becomes much harder (a mortgage or children for example). You become far less able to take risks.
    The fact that you are trying to think it through is a very good sign. A lot of people have a realisation “what have I been doing for x years?”. Plenty of time set aside to think will help.if you find you are filling every waking moment with social events, that is a sign you are avoiding thinking about it.
    Happiness = think about what you really want to do then do it. That’s it, but it is not easy.

    • A Girl says:

      It’s so difficult. I’ve been doing it for nearly two years now and I feel like the answer is *still* out of reach!

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