On Having, Losing, and Finding Purpose

For as long as I can remember, my life has been composed of set and reached milestones. There’s always been a goal, a dream, an aspiration to reach or improve upon daily. There’s always been a purpose.

Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve written about how I’ve changed over the course of my lifeIn fact, I’m pretty sure that there’s a bunch of pages that reference it (which you can view by clicking here). I always knew that my life would change. Has changed. Is constantly changing. I’ve never been afraid of that. In fact, I’ve always been more afraid of stagnation than of anything else. I don’t want to be the same person I was a year ago. And in a year, I don’t want to be the same person that I am now. That’s what life is, right? Self-improvement and progress?

When I was young, my parents taught me from birth that education was the most important resource I had. So, in Elementary School I worked hard because it was expected of me. By Junior High I actually recognized education for the tool it was, and worked hard in order to make it into a good college. In High School I figured out that your achievements in Junior High don’t actually mean anything, so I started over and added a couple jobs to the mix to make sure I was prepared for higher education. Step by step, I made it to where I wanted to be.

At the beginning of college I floundered. My entire life had been aiming for this point, and I’d reached it. But I didn’t really know what the next step was supposed to be. I thought I knew what I wanted out of my college education, but it took about a semester for me to figure out that I hate business. My life was without direction for a terrifying three months.

Then I found the Education department. I don’t actually remember how, but I like to believe that I just kind of stumbled into it like a drunk baby. Until this point, I’d steered away from teaching because everyone in the world had told me that I wouldn’t make enough money in the field for it to be worth it. They were (kind of) right, but also so incredibly wrong. The moment I realized that I wanted to be a teacher, I couldn’t imagine a life where I WASN’T a teacher. It fulfilled me in a way that all of my previous life purposes never could.

So I got my teaching degree, and almost immediately got a job in a little school in a little town. I taught there for three fantastic years before my husband and I decided we needed to move back to a larger area.

So, I adjusted my milestones. I set my next objective: Find a teaching job near our new home. It was drilled into my retinas like The Terminator’s objective. And, like a million aspirations before, I set my goal… aimed…

And missed.

I didn’t find a teaching job. In fact, I started working at the same Target I worked at in college. For less than what I made when I left. I didn’t progress my life. I was actually worse off now than I’d been three years before. I now walk blindly through my job like the trained monkey I am, secretly knowing that I’m little more than a number stamped into some corporate office’s files. I think about lesson plans and wonder what my old students will do when school starts next week while I’m pulling a can of deodorant three inches forward so it looks nice for the shoppers who don’t even know I’m there…

Fucking stop it, Tahani.

This is the trap that we fall into. We look back at the dreams or plans we’d made in youth and we compare it to our current circumstances like artwork. And somehow we prize the infant crayon doodle because of its bright colors whimsical designs. It doesn’t matter that the charcoal sketch in our other hand has details in it that our childlike drawing couldn’t even comprehend… its realism and shading tear at pieces of our hearts and we wish that we could just crumple it up and throw it away. But there are so many beautiful shapes hidden in those charcoal shadows. Relationships formed and traits developed that do not–could not— exist in that depth-less crayon fantasy.

You know another reason why your charcoal drawing of today is better than the crayon doodle of the past? Have you ever actually tried to change a picture made out of crayon? It’s impossible. But that charcoal life in your hand… that’s still open to change. To growth. To dreams and aspirations. To goals that you can set now and achieve tomorrow. Even if they’re only little ones to begin with. It’s still something you can influence and improve. And it’s beautiful.

So, yeah. Maybe my life doesn’t have the same sense of purpose it’s had in the past. But there’s no life in the world devoid of purpose. For every student I’m no longer teaching, I know that there’s a friend out there that I’ve lost contact with and can connect with again. For every lesson plan I don’t make, I know that there are books I can write or organizations that need volunteers. Our lives are worth what we put into them. I might not be a great teacher right now, but I can use this time and focus on learning how to be a great wife, a great friend, a great person.

I’m going to make this charcoal drawing into something magnificent. And I already know that it won’t be like that crayon doodle I have framed in the back of my mind.

It’s going to be even better.

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