I was on my way to work, already ten minutes late because I couldn’t find the new shoes I’d planned to wear with today’s Monday morning outfit. And there it was! Sitting in a neighbor’s yard, its pink plastic glistening with last night’s fallen dew. I hadn’t seen an inchworm in YEARS! The adorable non-ear to non-ear smile, a purple saddle with arched handle brought back so many memories. I’m sure you can relate. Okay, I know I’m really dating myself, but at five years old, I loved my inchworm and spent hours perfecting the bounce and thrust to get it going down the driveway. But I had NEVER seen a pink one until now. I was jealous!
Mine of course was the standard Hasbro green with yellow saddle. The commercials on TV showed happy rugrats like me cruising through the grass at top speed, glee all over their faces. But in truth riding the inchworm is a true test of a child’s determination.
Perseverance, plenty of practice and patience were absolutely mandatory to ride any of the outdoor toys we so loved. There were others like the sit-n-spin, the hippity hop, the pogo stick, our only forms of transportation. But as kids, we had the kind of patience to master the complex movements of a mechanical toy. Not only that, we had the passion of play to fuel our desire, the drive that made us keep trying even when results were less than expected. (The inchworm was harder than it looked on TV – I think the kids in the commercial had strings attached to pull them along). Anyway, the point is, we had all the time in the world. In fact, we almost never thought about time or put limits on what we could do based on time we had, or didn’t have. Time didn’t even exist. We relied on our moms to call us in for dinner and that was all.
But as adults, we seem to be slaves to the tick-tock. Time controls where we go and when. Time limits our decisions and prevents us from doing things we think will take too long. Time makes us nervous about who we are and where our lives are going. I have to wonder, what happened to us? What secret from our childhoods have we lost? And, can we ever get it back?
My daughter is 22 and will be graduating from college in less than six months. She’s worried about what will happen after that. She’ll have a fine arts degree, major in printmaking. She’s contemplated grad school, because she knows that being in school means she gets to keep doing art and that’s what she most wants to do. But she isn’t sure that grad school will give her anything when the three years is over other than another degree. She’s worried because all the elements of “adult life” haven’t fallen into place like they’re supposed to. She’s worried (at 22!) that she’s running out of time.
My daughter is not alone. Every year thousands of freshly pressed adults are graduating with degrees and expect to have their adult lives figured out. They’ve had almost sixteen years incubating their brains and making decisions that will set them up for a life where they can support their own wants and needs. More than anything else, they’ve learned to accommodate time. Students in their first year attend “success” classes where one of the first things they get lectured on is how to manage their time. They learn the consequences of not showing up on time to class, to meetings, to their part-time jobs, etc.
They’ve been warned about wasting time when they want to change majors. They only have four years (five years tops) to set the foundation for a career they will have the rest of their life. They are vying for internships and interviews so they waste no time finding a job when their time is up. Life in college is measured in chunks of time: semesters, classes and hours. No wonder so many of them feel confused and frightened at the prospect of graduation. Their entire future is on the line. But is it really?
The truth is, over half of the people in the job market today aren’t even working in their degree field. And even when they are, their rush to the finish line to get the degree, get the job, and grow up have left so many living in disappointment, counting the days, hours and minutes until they are free again. When we find ourselves waiting for the time when we are free, what are we really looking for? What do we crave more than anything? More than time? More than money?
What we really want is self-expression. We want an opportunity to tap into the passion we felt when we were children at play, oblivious to time, unafraid of the future and what it might bring.
I remember being my daughter’s age and at that time, all I wanted to do was dance. Fresh out of high school, I put in one application at a ballroom dance studio and when I heard nothing back, I gave up on that idea. Dance wasn’t a “real” career, I reasoned, it was just for fun. And, since they didn’t contact me about an interview I assumed I just wasn’t good enough. The clock was ticking. I had to pursue something more permanent, less frivolous.
So instead, I spent years chasing after more “acceptable” forms of employment and better education in an attempt to find what was right for me. And no matter what I tried or how much money I made, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was doing something wrong. My life still felt empty and useless. That was because I wasn’t pursuing my passion. I was trying to replace my need for self-expression with a need to make money, but it wasn’t working.
You can’t fool your soul!
Your soul knows what it needs to be doing in order for you to get lost in time. It will not forget, even if you do. Our passion and self-expression are our life’s purpose. We can ignore the pull, but it will keep tugging and poking until you pay attention, or die. People who have no means of self-expression feel like their life has no purpose. They feel out of touch with the divine and find it difficult to maintain a positive outlook on life. They feel like every tomorrow is more of the same. I know, because I have been there.
It took fifteen years of my looking the other way for my passion to finally demand its due. It kept creeping into my life in surreptitious ways. It wouldn’t leave me alone. I was drawn to events, classes, and people related to dance. Until finally, one day a friend mentioned that he had to drop off a Goodwill donation as a favor for another friend who was a ballroom dancer. “Oh, my gosh,” I said. “Can I take a look at them first?” He left the three bulging black garbage bags in my living room. They were like squishy treasure chests, giant pods of my mysterious future. I pulled everything out and sorted the piles of clothes and shoes on my carpet. I tried on the shoes first and they fit my feet perfectly.
Two weeks later I signed up for my first ballroom dance class and I never looked back.
Now, I teach dance only part time, and I tech-write for a paycheck. Both are fabulous forms of self-expression for me and fulfill a lot of my need for leading a life of purpose, but dance comes first. When I’m dancing, either in a lesson, or at a social dance, I don’t even look at the clock. My students usually have to tell me our time is up, because I won’t have any idea that an hour or two has passed. I’m too caught up in what I’m doing to notice.
The thing about purpose is that we don’t have to go looking for it. It is already hard-wired inside of us. Whatever we are doing or being in this moment is our purpose. IT is happening right now whether we like it or not. We only have to ask ourselves, do I like who I am being right now? Does what I am doing make me feel good about who I am? When we can answer these questions, then the whole idea of purpose loses its mystery. If you’re saying YES then keep doing what you’re doing. Make choices that affirm the best you believe about yourself. What to do will flow naturally when you’re being the kind of person you aspire to be. It’s not rocket science. If you feel like you don’t know your purpose then you’re probably trying to be something you’re not. Take a stand for yourself. Do one little thing today that demonstrates YOU.
Purpose is a wonderful thing in that it must evolve and grow with us and that idea is very exciting. It means that things just keep getting better. The better we become at living a purposeful life, the more opportunity the Universe brings our way for expressing our being in larger fuller contexts.We all need to give ourselves the time and permission to develop our passions into purpose. We need to encourage that in our children as well.
This week, with only one semester left until her college graduation, I told my daughter that she doesn’t have to worry if she doesn’t have a “regular” job right away. She’s working, waiting tables and can support herself as long as necessary until the perfect opportunity comes along. I told her not to rush. I told her where she’s at is perfect. Like I said before, she just wants to keep doing art. She loves being in the studio where she loses track of time creating things of beauty. If she devotes herself to the passion of self-expression, keeps practicing her craft, perseveres in networking and putting feelers out in the art world, is patient for the right opportunity, she will build a life driven by real purpose, the kind of life we were all born to have.
FYI – it’s never too late.