I recently spotted this article by Mark Manson on my Facebook newsfeed, among other “what is your dream career?” quizzes and “time to do your part” posts. Luckily, it stuck out above the noise and I clicked on it. Because since reading it, I’ve changed my perspective on a few things.
The seven questions Manson asks have, to borrow from his own words, a strange way of making you blurt out your gut, top-of-mind answer. Because we all know it: most of us millenials are lost somewhere in the ether. We’re at a weird stage in our lives where we kind of know what we want but aren’t really, really sure. We have good jobs and great resumes, important skills and a growing network, but still have a constant ache, a pounding hunch, that there’s more out there in this world for us.
We’re happy but hopeful. Complacent but restless. Satisfied but malnourished.
So…how are we going to get ourselves out of this and become the breakout stars of our own life story? As Manson states:
Here’s the truth. We exist on this earth for some undetermined period of time. During that time we do things. Some of these things are important. Some of them are unimportant. And those important things give our lives meaning and happiness. The unimportant ones basically just kill time.
So when people say, “What should I do with my life?” or “What is my life purpose?” what they’re actually asking is: “What can I do with my time that is important?”
These questions are by no means exhaustive or definitive. In fact, they’re a little bit ridiculous. But I made them that way because discovering purpose in our lives should be something that’s fun and interesting, not a chore.
Well, these seven, strange-yet-clarifying questions might be a good start. My favorite among the seven, the one that hit home for me, was:
What is true about you today that would make your 8-year old self cry?
Among things like the fact that I don’t collect caterpillars anymore and I stopped spying on people in my quest to become the real Harriet the Spy, there was one thing that stuck out as much as me trying to be said Harriet the Spy in fourth grade:
I don’t paint anymore.
While in the past few years I’ve revived many of the things my 8-year-old self loved – including writing, crafting, cooking (well, sans adult supervision nowadays) – art is something I’ve somehow become accustomed to looking over. But when I was eight, oh man – you would be hard-pressed to find me without my Lisa Frank folder full of drawings, paintings and weird glued construction paper collages. Yes, they were all signed “Kelly Minnuto” – my stage name – but they were mine and they were my everything.
When we lived in DC, I called myself out on my art absence and started attending weekly figure drawing classes near Georgetown. As I described in my Renaissance Year post, the feeling that rushed over me the second I walked into the drawing studio was so overwhelming it gave me butterflies. I missed that place in my heart so much, and rediscovering it only made me love it that much more. I swore I would never let it get away from me again.
But here I am, ten months later, out of DC and far away from my beloved figure drawing class. Sighing over my brittle paintbrushes and blank sketchpads. I know all I need to do it set up my easel, mix up my paint and start. Just start! Yet something or other is standing in my way. And after reading through this article, I think I can pinpoint what that something is:
Truth is, I’m absolutely terrified of what will meet me at the end of my paintbrush. And yet, it is all I think about. I think Manson summed up this feeling perfectly:
The funny thing though, is that if my 8-year-old self had asked my 20-year-old self, “Why don’t you write anymore?” and I replied, “Because I’m not good at it,” or “Because nobody would read what I write,” or “Because you can’t make money doing that,” not only would I have been completely wrong, but that 8-year-old boy version of myself would have probably started crying.
So how ironic is it that upon realization of this internal, senseless battle, my 28-year-old self wants to cry? I’ve gotten over this fear (kinda) with writing, so why was it so hard for me to hurdle past it with art?
Now that I got that pity party out, I’m ready to regain the courage that my little, elementary self had when she decided to paint the walls in our basement instead of her sketchbook. And who knows? Maybe it’s my key to a more fulfilled life, where I feel like I’m spending my time on something that is not only important to me but also to society. Maybe it will lead me to touch other people’s lives or bring happiness or inspiration or nostalgia or enlightenment to whomever might come upon my work. After all, I can name more than a few paintings that have changed my life.
What about you? What would cause your 8-year-old self to take a swing at you with his or her imaginary sword?