It’s only been a few weeks since I changed the course of my life, once again. I feel like I had taken baby steps before; changing cities, countries, projects, jobs (always within the same branch though), even companions. I’ll admit I even broke up with a man I still loved at the time in order to leave. As if changing countries would allow me to breathe better air. Which it did, but only to a certain extent, and indirectly.
The most drastic change occurred when I decided to leave the law, one short week after being admitted to the Quebec bar. After 5 years of working like a dog, the minute I became a lawyer, I felt adrift. I still enjoy thinking about the law; I like solving complex problems, trying to envision every possible scenario, hunting for answers. I feel that my lawyer friends who love what they do do have a purpose and a utility. And for some reason, I sensed that I could never have the same impact they did if I kept on being a lawyer. But why? I wasn’t a bad jurist, I just felt I might become one.
So I wondered: do you need a passion in order to matter, to make a positive difference in your field?
Some people define themselves by their achievements outside of work; family, volunteer work, a novel hidden under a mattress, some photography contracts… That may compensate for a job that you’re not passionate about, but simply good at. Work then supports one’s passions. I often see it as such too, and that’s how I envisioned law: as fuel for travels.
But, to be brutally honest, what I do outside of work, although it will bring me contentment, does not define me or bring me a long-lasting sense of purpose. I used to “get a fix” of what I really cared about while I was working: devouring the news, read a book just for me, just for the heck of reading what I pleased, and burn my brains with series.
I don’t think I could write a good novel if my life depended on it. I don’t have a family of my own to care for. And I don’t think my travelling could make a change in someone’s life, other than my own. Some travel bloggers are brilliant at making their experience useful to others, at making perfect strangers relate powerfully to their reality. I’m not there yet.
I define myself by what I do. Is it because I don’t have anything else? Maybe so. But working hard has always been a source of gratification; one may see it as shallow, but I’m competitive, I guess. Not necessarily against others, but against myself, mostly. I saw no point in doing something I wasn’t good enough at to feel proud of my achievements and keep improving, but also to bring something to someone else. I need a goal and a challenge.
So how could I matter at what I did if I was always questioning?
Law is not a place for second-guessing. A lawyer can have doubts about his or her choice of profession but once the machine is launched, there is rarely space for doubt. If I was to be a lawyer, I wanted to be a great one. I found this goal to be impossible to reconcile with my constant questioning. I wasn’t hungry for more; I was hungry for something different.
I feel that travel has helped me make that distinction; in Montreal, I couldn’t see my city and discover it when all I wanted was to be away. I couldn’t fully appreciate my life here when all I craved was change. Thus the travelling; not experiencing something more, but something different. Why did I want change mattered little at the time; I’d just do it. Change. Trial and error. Granted, knowing the reasons behind a craving for a change may orient you towards said change; but in the end, all that thinking had become paralyzing for me. Sometimes, the answers to one’s questions are bigger than what one is ready to acknowledge. I felt that acting upon them may just make me lose all my bearings and scare me off a change that could be beneficial. So I went progressively and saved the biggest decisions for last. I ended up making them, but without losing myself in the process. So I think, anyway.
Travel has also forced me to do a recap. Every voyage is a little ending in itself. A different chapter that needs a conclusion. Travellers have to think about where they have gone and where they are in order to know where they want to go. While I was abroad, I had to think: what had I achieved up to now? What did I want to achieve next? I also lost people while I was away. I lost people because I was away. The expression “life is too short” no longer was a distant truth but a tangible wake-up call. Therefore, it begged the question; how did I want to matter in the limited time awarded to me?
The only answer that came to mind was to find a job I was really passionate about. Easier said than done. But if I couldn’t define myself outside of work, how else was I to lead a purposeful life? So I took some time off. By doing so, I was no longer trying to numb my brain, but rather did what I instinctively loved. I had the luxury of having time on my hands and a personality that does not tolerate idleness. I didn’t see it as a path to a new career at the time. I just did what I enjoyed: writing and photography. The job came as a result of this. Did I get lucky? Certainly. But had I not taken some time for myself, to the point of being fed up with myself, nothing would have happened.
So do I matter by doing what I do now? I don’t know yet. But advertising certainly brought me a challenge, a sense of belonging and, at last, some peace and quiet in my mind. Trying not only to think, but to think creatively, to think differently, keeps my mind busy in a way that became productive, rather than anxiety-ridden. That constant flow of thoughts that would at times poison my existence seem to have been channeled by my new creative job. It may change, but for now, that new way of pushing my limits has brought me a certain serenity. For once, I am hungry for more.