Always be working on something

What you're working on or what you're doing already is your purpose, your passion, your coming alive

Ariel Liu
on 25 May 2017

There was a student in my ScriptEd class who would immediately respond “I don’t know” when we cold-called him. It was frustrating because we felt like in independent coding sessions, he did demonstrate that he understood the material.

On the last day of my job in January, I sent an email to my coworker explaining that I was quitting because “I’ve taken it upon myself to start living by the words of Howard Thurman, ‘Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.’” When I would catch up with people they would ask “so what have you been up to?” The question would bubble up latent anxiety about what I was doing with my life. Usually instead of listing out the things I had done, I would shrug off the question with “just working out a lot” or “just chilling.” It was essentially my version of that student’s “I don’t know.” It was an easy way for me to avoid facing myself and having to deal the discomfort of being embarrassed by what I was doing.

The program manager, Emily, who was a real teacher (unlike the rest of us who merely volunteered to teach and nearly shit our pants every time we had to lead teach) encouraged us to make sure that we demonstrated no opt-out. If we allow the student to continually respond with “I don’t know” it would make other students feel like they could also opt out and give a non-answer. He was a shy kid though, but each class we would keep encouraging him that he really did know and it was ok to take a closer look at what he done to find the answer.

I realized that by brushing off the question of “what are you working on,” that I had been letting myself opt out. I was opting out of the opportunity to engage in a conversation about what I like to do or what I’m curious about. I was opting out of coming alive. In that epiphany, I realized that what you’re working on or what you’re doing already is your purpose, your passion, your coming alive.

“What are you working on?”

I was intimidated by this question because I was too embarrassed by my lack of cohesion in my daily activities. When people hear that you’re unemployed they get excited for you and your potential. It feels disappointing to let them and your own expectations down with the trivialities of spending your days sticking to the routine of going to the gym for 2-4 hours at a time and reading for 1-4 hours in the day and mostly thinking and journaling a lot in between. When I look back though, I see that I missed the opportunity to talk about the interesting aspects of 1. having a routine, 2. the books I was reading, 3. how great it feels to finally run fast and long enough to have a chance at surviving the zombie apocalypse.

The fact that you have done things or think about things–even things as mundane as washing the dishes or watching Netflix–is simply the forces of your life getting you to do those things. While the motivations for doing activities or thinking about ideas may be entirely different, that doesn’t change the fact that those are concrete realities of your existence. Those realities show us so much. They shape who we will become. They tell us what we like, dislike, how we’re motivated. Noticing that reality and then continuing to accept that reality is what I’ve come to see as purpose.

I’m working on…

I’m working on learning out loud on Medium.
I’m working on making art on Missuteki.
I’m working on creating a narrative around the idea of paying attention.
I’m working on being a part of a creative and exhuberant community at Liminal in June.

Life changes, so does your life purpose

The beauty of the universe is that change is universal. Over your lifetime, your priorities, circumstances, and whims will change. That means your passions and life purpose will also change. Life purpose doesn’t have to mean what you do for the rest of your life. 5 years ago you probably couldn’t have predicted the person you’d be today. So why do you think you can predict what your purpose will be for the rest of your life?

Instead of aiming for what you want to do for the rest of your life, pick an easier target. If 5 years is too many, choose one year. If one year is too long, how about one month. Maybe if you’re having a rough month, just pick today. What do you want to accomplish today? That’s your life purpose. Today, my life purpose is to publish this article. Tomorrow, my life purpose will be different.

For the rest of the year…

My purpose is to find and cultivate what makes me come alive.

For the next quarter…

I’m working on creative expression in order to explore who I am