A few days ago, I had a long email exchange with a friend of mine, who seemed genuinely surprised that I had walked away from my previous career and committed to writing The Simple Dollar (and similar things) full time.
I truly enjoyed many aspects of my previous job. That job gave me some seriously stressful moments, but it also gave me a ton of room for exploration and personal growth, and the challenges were always diverse and interesting and the people I worked with were spectacular – I still talk to many of them.
Yet I walked away from it. Why?
On the surface, it’s easy to just point at my family and say that they were the reason I made this difficult choice. Undoubtedly, the ability to spend more time with my children played into that decision. During the period of time when I was maintaining The Simple Dollar and working full time at my previous job, I felt like I had very little time at all to spare.
But after several months, I’ve come to believe my reason for changing gears was something else entirely.
Ever since I was a very little boy, I’ve dreamed about being a writer. I loved the idea of putting words down on paper – constructing sentences and paragraphs and chapters – and having it mean something. My dearest dream for many, many years was to write a “Great American Novel” – one that genuinely touched the lives of many of the people that read it.
But, after some flailing attempts at getting stories published and a few bouts of serious disillusionment, I came to accept that this dream of writing something profound was not going to happen. I chose a different career path – one that latched on to some of my other talents – and went with it.
All along the way, though, I kept feeling like there was something big missing from everything I was doing. I could never put my finger on it, but I could sense it at times. I’d feel it when I’d help out a friend. I’d feel it when I had an opportunity to explain something and then see that brightening in the other person’s face as they understood it.
Eventually, I came to believe that there was something I was supposed to be doing with my life. I just didn’t know what it was yet.
This is the important part of the story, I think. Whenever I have a conversation with friends or with readers, I often find that people have an innate sense that there is some purpose they have in life, but often they haven’t quite figured out what that purpose is yet. And they’re flailing. They’re following a path that they think they should be following, but often it’s not the path that leads them towards what they know they should be doing.
Eventually, this sense led me to trying many different things in my life. I started volunteering more, and now I serve on a community group that keeps me very busy with volunteer work. I had children, and they provide a constant opportunity for me to teach and interact.
And I turned back to writing. The internet provided me with plenty of opportunity to work on my writing, and I tried several different things over the years – contributing articles to a fledgling competitor to Wikipedia, starting a few different blogs, selling a few pieces of writing, and other things.
Eventually, the pieces fell together with The Simple Dollar. I’m compelled almost every day to write a hefty dose of words, for starters. More importantly, though, the words help people. I’m not merely writing for the sake of tossing out words – the words are sticking somewhere.
I don’t know if The Simple Dollar is what my “mission” in life is, but in many ways it feels far closer than anything else I’ve ever done in my life. I would have never found it, either, if I had given up the search and been content with my career path. I’m not done searching, either – there are new directions and new ideas and new things that I feel compelled to try.
I do know this much: I feel called to communicate and connect with people via writing, to use that writing to share what I’ve learned and encourage others to grow in what they know. I also believe that everyone has some sort of calling within them – some people find it, some people spend their life searching for it, and others simply give up the search and stay content with their lot in life.
Here’s another profound thought: I think that many people who have given up the search for what they’re meant to do are hurt by it, and they cover up that hurt through buying things. An upper middle class lifestyle offers enough material comfort to cover up for many, many little internal challenges, after all.
What can you take out of this story? Don’t give up on your dreams. If there’s something inside of you that pokes at you regularly, telling you that you should be doing something different in your life, don’t ignore it. Explore it. Use your spare time to find what that little voice is telling you and chase it hard. Don’t let your own doubts or the doubts of the people around you hold you back.
Let me know if I’m way out in left field with this one. Do you sometimes feel a sense within you that you have a mission in life, too? Have you found that mission? Or am I just drawing conclusions without warrant? Let the discussion flow in the comments.