Monday, March 14, 2016

What I'm For, or How To Discover Your Purpose In Life By Failing At Everything Else

When I was young, I wanted to grow up to be a scientist.

I spent several years on that, training in the sciences, especially the earth sciences. I pursued that goal all the way to college level classes in geology and chemistry. What stopped me was math studies. I placed in advanced math till the eighth grade, and then I got stuck. Later in life, my Mom said it was because of the math teacher. She had seen it at the time, but had not been able to change it, or talk to me about it; she thought there were psychological problems in play. I had really liked my math teacher at the time, for example he liked to play Beethoven's Sixth Symphony during class while we worked, but he did somehow derail my confidence in my math studies.

I'm not really sure how that happened. I only remember that after 8th grade math, I felt stupid rather than smart in math studies. I had little confidence in my own ability. When it came to college entry exams, I scored nearly perfectly in Language Arts, and only at 50 percent in Math on the SATs. This was after scoring in the top 1 percent in every test battery taken throughout my school years. I still somehow scored in the top 5 percent overall for college entry exams, and placed out of both English and Foreign Language requirements, by getting top marks in Advanced Placement classes for both. But not for math.

I was a gifted child who didn't want to be one. I was one of those child prodigies. But I was bullied for being smart, for being a teacher's pet, for being different. I wanted nothing more than to fit in, to be liked, to be accepted. Well, that never happened. I continued in the sciences, till college, and loved doing geology in the field, partly because I loved being outdoors, and then I realized something.

I wasn't meant to be a scientist.

Well, I was, and none of that work was wasted, but there was a thing in me that could never be suppressed or ignored or set aside. It just wasn't possible. It was too powerful to ignore. It's too much more of what I was, and supposed to be.

I wanted to be a scientist. But I was supposed to be a Maker.

I was born to make art. I'm a natural creative. It's the thing I do best. (Really. I can barely handle mundane tasks like managing money, by contrast.)

It took me a very long time to accept that I'm supposed to an artist, a composer, a worker, a person who makes things. New things. A MAker

I say this with neither pride nor humility. I am neither egotistical about it, or falsely humble about it. It's just a fact. Making things is what I do best.

It's really the only thing I'm any good at. I've tried a lot of other career paths in life, and mostly failed at them. I'm looking at a future of failure again, every time I try to fit in, or be accepted, or be like other people. Fitting in never worked in school, when I was being bullied, and it still never seems to work in my adult life. I seem to fated to always be "other." Again, that's just data, not ego.

In mid-college I changed majors from science to the arts. I switched from geology to music, and transferred to the Music School. Almost everyone tried to talk me out of it, including the Dean of the Music School. But the fact is, I had been playing music since I was 5 or 6 years old, singing as a boy soprano soloist. I began piano studies at age 7. (That was inevitable, as Mom was a concert pianist and music educator. Both my sister and I studied piano. I think it made us better thinkers overall, as later education studies seem to suggest.) Everyone wanted me to continue in science, get a good job, and continue to be an amateur musician. But I couldn't do it. In fact, I had been composing music, and had even had a few pieces played, since I was a young boy. I had won awards for short story fiction by age 16. I had gotten interested in photography at a young age, and got better with every year. Even when I was out studying geology in the field, all summer long in Wyoming, my very first college class, when I returned home I had already taken so many photos in the mountains that people started to notice them. I was a gifted child, and stood out, even though a lot of the time I just wanted to disappear.

After music school, my first job after graduation was ironically with Mathematical Reviews, a monthly review journal, where I got in on the ground floor of the desktop publishing revolution, and became a computer graphics expert, a digital type designer, and more. Working in corporate graphic design jobs was creative enough to be fulfilling for me, and I did it for many years, but it still wasn't enough. A book design company, one of the best places I ever worked for, allowed me to use their gear to teach myself Photoshop, and become even more of an expert. I also started to win awards for photography and digital art. I worked there till they corporately downsized. The book publishing business collapsed starting in 2000, and has radically changed since then. Nonetheless, I still have all those skills.

And corporate employment just never seems to work. I can never seem to make it work. It's like it's prevented. And then my life changed due to chronic illness. I suspect those corporate doors may be forever closed to me now.

So I've got no choice, now, but to go forward with no hope of success but with my only choice being to be what I am, a Maker. I make stuff. It's all I'm any good at. I don't know if it will be enough to sustain me. I guess it's time to do what I'm good at, and forget about the rest.

It's pretty scary, because I've developed trust issues. Really big ones. I guess the only thing I actually trust anymore is Making, in which I never seem to doubt myself, and in which I always have full self-confidence in my ability and need to make things.

I make art of some kind every day. (Well, some really bad days I can't. But that's a symptom of a dark day. I hate it, but I try to get past it.) Even if everything else falls apart, that's still true. ON good days I make things, on bad days I make things, I just make things. I guess that's how to tell that's what you're for: it's the thing that you never stop doing, even when all the rest has been taken away. So that's what you do. That's what you're for.

And that's all I can do. It's all that's left. Wish me luck.

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