“Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.” – Anais Nin
Dare to let a stranger change your life.
At 7:30 AM on a grey-skied Tuesday, I waited for my train to take me to work. Some days I bounce to the morning train platform singing songs to myself, some days I make small talk with the commuter crowd, some days I daydream on the chilly sidewalk. But on this particular day I was jumpy and anxious, eyes frantically searching the horizon for my life purpose, breath sputtering somewhere in my sternum. My nails dug into the squeaky fabric of my too-big black pants. Tense. Frantic. Suffering.
I am a superhero trapped in dayclothes. I am digging to break free. I want to glow.
I was reading a book with the title What Should I Do With My Life? scrawled across the bright red cover. I flustered through the pages in no particular order, looking for something that would soothe this identity crisis that I’ve been having for years. I wanted clarity, buoyancy, grace, and freedom without any idea of what that might look like. I was hoping the book would give me an answer, prompt a revelation, invoke peace, but a giant part of me knew that it wasn’t going to.
One of Anne Lamott’s favorite prayers is “Help Me, Help Me, Help Me” and I clung to that like a desperate mantra. Help Me, Universe. Please Help Me. I didn’t know how I was going to make it through the work day this flustered and upset.
I kept reading the book on the train ride and tears welled in my eyes, ruining my last useless attempt to blend in with the commuters around me. When we started to approach our final destination, a man sitting across from me said “I noticed the book you were reading. Do you ever ask yourself that question? What should I do with my life?”
I tried to say yes, but my word came out as a squeak.
I wondered if this stranger on the train was an answer to my HelpMeHelpMeHelpMe, so I cleared my throat and asked “Do you ask yourself that too?”
“Yes, yes, all the time,” he nodded. This surprised me because he was at least twenty years older than me, and I hoped that most adults eventually gain the clarity I was hungry for.
We started chit-chatting for a bit, and I asked him what advice he would give to someone my age who is asking herself what she should do with her precious life. Here is my poetic summary of what he told me:
“It never stops.” No matter what age you are, the search for the answer to “What should I do with my life?” never comes to an end. There is no finish line; there is only one day at a time. When it comes to careers, some people find one line of work that is their clear niche, and these people evolve within the parameters of that career – which brings many lessons and challenges in itself. But most people are multipassionate and jump from thing to thing, passion to passion, career to career… and even if we technically stay on one career path forever, the purpose of our life can still change.
“Ride the wave.” We find our vocation and purpose when we truly live in the moments of our lives, not when we fret over what our purpose could possibly be. When we stop putting so much pressure on ourselves to Find Something, we can finally enjoy the ride.
“Unacquaint yourself with the word No.” Try all the opportunities that come forth into your life, even if they dance far outside the limits of your comfort zone. If you don’t end up liking something, you will still learn about yourself and the world along the way.
“Don’t worry about being qualified.” Dive right in. If you want to teach something, find somewhere to teach it. Don’t wait until you have every possible degree or certificate. Just begin. Try to be as open-minded and malleable as the children who sit in front of a computer for the first time and quickly learn what to do without taking complicated computer classes.
I sat and nodded, absorbing it all. A few tears absentmindedly sparkled down my cheeks, but I was beyond the point of trying to reign them in.
One day, I will look back at this and see it as a crystallized moment of grace – a prayer answered, a guide interjecting, a moment of communion, I whispered to myself as our train came to a halt. I stepped off of the platform and into my day, wiping the last droplets from my cheeks. I was finally ready to shine.
Love and Seeking and Answered Prayers,
What do you think of this stranger’s advice? What wisdom do you have for anyone who wonders what to do with her life? Share your insight in the comments section!