12:04 p.m. — I sit down for lunch with an alumnus.
12:16 p.m. — We order food and begin to chat.
12:28 p.m. — I have obviously impressed him with my wide breadth of knowledge (consisting of buzzword NYT headlines) and eloquent phrases.
12:55 p.m. — My knees are shaking, my head is light, my hands are cold, my heart is either racing or not beating at all. My whole life is ruined. I’ve wasted years. Everything is ruined.
Everything is Ruined
My life changed between 12:28 and 12:55 p.m. PDT.
There was no earth-shattering meteor. No angels sang out above to change the course of my life. No one even looked up from their fancy and expensive hamburgers or slightly chilled glasses of mineral water.
While everyone continued on in relative quiet, I felt as if an inferno had roared to life inside of my body. My mind was racing to find help, to find security, assurance, safety, anything.
With one question the alumnus sitting across the table from me was able to dismantle my entire life’s work.
All of my eloquent rhetoric on what I was accomplishing with my life and how well I was doing in school and how amazing I was and blah blah blah…
All of my perfectly-timed laughs and impeccable eye contact and refined hand gestures that perfectly communicated my points….
I was living a lie and I was so good at it.
Everything Was a Lie
In the middle of explaining what I wanted to do with my life (law school, law firm, politics), the alumnus tossed his napkin on the table, crossed his arms and interrupted with…
“Yes ok…but why?”
I tried simply rephrasing what I had already said. He stopped me again.
“But WHY, Jeremiah.”
I had no answer. I could tell you in beautiful sentences about what I was doing and how I was doing it. But I could not answer the simple question, why?
Into the Depths of Despair
The next 7-months of my life were spent alternating between despair and small moments of hope.
Once I realized that I was completely unable to come up with an answer to the question of why I was doing what I was doing everything seemed pointless.
I had no clue what to do with myself now that it was clear that my original plans meant nothing.
I had to learn to live with myself and who I truly was instead of the grand plans that I was previously hiding behind.
Today, I am so grateful to the alumnus for opening my eyes to reality. I was living a life according to what sounded nice to share at Thanksgiving dinner (you really can’t miss with law school). I was working day and night toward something that I did not even truly want.
In the last 7-months, I have spent countless hours in reflective thought. I have read more in only a few months than in nearly my entire life combined. I have sought out transformative relationships and solicited feedback that was not always nice to hear.
I have learned to identify things that do not align with who I truly am and I have learned how to cut those things out of my life.
Ruining Your Life
My “life” was ruined by one simple question — “why?”
But I am so grateful. If I had not fallen to the depths of despair, I would not have had the determination to rise back up with renewed vigor and an energy that comes only with new purpose, which defies barriers and difficulties.
Today, I live a life full of amazing things that I have chosen to pursue and pour my energy into (this does not mean things do not still get difficult — I make sure things are still difficult).
I am so glad that my life was ruined. For now, I wake up with energy and a desire to carryout those things that I have committed myself to.
It is my choice. It is my new life.
I challenge you to stop and ask yourself, “Why?”
If you find that there is an inconsistency between what you want and what your life consists of, make the change! Do the hard thing! (it is not easy)
Finally, do not be afraid to cut things (or even people) out of your life that are detracting from your purpose.
Consider the words of Marcus Aurelius,
“Stop whatever you’re doing for a moment and ask yourself: Am I afraid of death because I won’t be able to do this anymore?”
If you want more of a framework on what it means to “find your why,” go watch Simon Sinek’s TED Talk.