50 thoughts on turning 50: #22 Flowing with the river of life

life is a river

For most of my life, I’ve been consumed with finding my purpose in life. I believe that I’m here for a reason – that God created me for something and that I’m not here by accident. And yet I’ve never really felt like I could put my finger on what that reason and purpose was.

Then a few years ago, I stumbled on a quote by Cardinal John Henry Newman, which reads in part:

“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.”

I wrote about it in this post, 50 thoughts on turning 50: #17 Be a link in the chain. But I wanted to take that thought a bit further today, after reading an article last week written by local sportswriter Scott Pitoniak, in which he looks back on forty years spent working at his dream job.

Pitoniak talks about growing up, how his childhood fantasies about playing sports or flying to the moon were derailed, and how he went on to marry his love of sports with his immense talent as a writer.  In short, his works at his dream job. And he’s very good at it.

I commented online that I think we need to talk to young people more about learning how to redirect a fantasy derailed, because passion is very general but what we do with it is more specific, and fluid, and flexible over time.

Maybe you can’t play professional sports; that’s no reason to quit and walk away. Write about it. Coach. Work in sports medicine. Do PR. Be the guy who mows the grass at the stadium or drives the Zamboni at the ice arena. Find a way to be involved in your passion at the place where it intersects with your skills and talents.

Here’s where I come in: the key is to find your passion. And for most of my adult life, I’ve had no idea what mine is.

I once met a man on an airplane whose career was to help small businesses succeed. He helped people figure out their passion so they could focus their energy in that direction and delegate the other things in order to maximize their profits while enjoying their jobs.

This man – and I wish I could remember his name but we’ll call him Joe – called me after we met to continue our conversation. I guess my complete lack of direction made him feel sorry for me. At the time, I was still covering entertainment for Christian and community publications in the U.S and Canada. I interviewed musicians and actors and blah blah blah. Blah blah blah, because that’s what it felt like. Drivel. Useless wastes of time to write and useless wastes of time for people to read.

I was jaded and burnt out.

But I remember that at the end of our conversation, Joe told me that when I was talking about telling stories about people who couldn’t tell their own stories, my voice got more excited. He suggested that my passion likely lay in that direction.

I’ve thought often about that, because I think he’s right. In my early days, I would go to Nashville, spend a week talking to celebrities, and come home and tell the story about the unknown band of misfits who spent their night eating dinner on the streets with homeless people while everyone else was at the showcases and events.  I was supposed to hype projects and sniff out “the next big thing” and write and blog about trends and celebrities that would drive traffic and sell magazines.

But I’d interview artists and, rather than talk about their new project, we’d get off on a conversation about the best advice their grandparents gave them, or end up both in tears talking about their children. I’d go home and write about the known artists and big projects, but I’d always be slipping in some tidbit about a band no one had ever heard of, and probably never would. But I felt putting their name into the universe was important anyway.

As the years went on, I would tell publicists to just book me interviews with the artists no one else wanted to talk to. I might not be able to sell a story about them to a publication, but I always walked away a better person for the experience of meeting them.

Joe’s point was that I was focusing on writing in the entertainment field, rather than focusing on telling stories. If I could let my passion for telling those stories about people take over, I would find more satisfaction in whatever genre I pursed.

I knew he was right, but it took a while to shift my perspective. In fact, I needed to leave that writing field completely in order to not only see more clearly but let my creative and spiritual energies recharge.

My current obsession is with dead people, my own ancestors as well as regular folks who lived and died and never made the front page but contributed to the world nonetheless. I have a giant box of notes and half-written stories and old photographs and neighborhood maps where I plot their relationships to each other. I talk a lot about the people I’m researching. And people seem to like to hear their stories.

It’s taken a while for me to take that seed of passion I discovered years ago when I was talking with Joe, plant it in my soul and then let it germinate. But once I did, I could feel it growing. Maybe I needed to reach 50 years old in order for that seed to break through the earth and finally feel the sunlight.

When I heard the above line about destiny and river, it shouted to me. Life – or work – is never easy. But having a direction makes it more enjoyable. If you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing, or where your passion even lies, you tend to flounder in every area of your life. Or I did, anyway.

The stories I write now change every time I turn on the computer. At this point, to be honest, most of them are simply lying in my creative attic, waiting to be opened and dusted off. But I don’t fret any more about what I should or shouldn’t be writing or doing with my life. I feel like I’ve stepped into the river and let the current begin to take me away.

This post is part of my series, “50 thoughts on turning 50″. Read more here.

Related post: 50 thoughts on turning 50: #17 Be a link in the chain 

You can read Scott Pitoniak’s article at the Rochester Business  Journal by clicking here.




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