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The Bumpy to Road Self-Discovery

"The purpose of life is a life with a purpose." — Robert Byrne

Wesley McAvoy in the motion picture Wanted, when put under duress, shoots the wings off a flying housefly, I mean, which person can really do that? A day or a few hours earlier, he was a simple account manager working a boring day job and was on his way out to buy some drugs for a condition he was suffering from, and at that particular moment, less than 12 hours later, he was among a group of world-class assassins, shooting off wings off flies. How life can change at the blink of an eye, literally. The question that comes to mind when watching this motion is how can events in life, conspire to lead a person to a mundane lifestyle, and the same events, or what by some is referred to as fate, jolt a person a totally different lifestyle within a few hours.

I am not much of a drinker, and it is rarely or if ever that I get to wake up with a hangover or anything close to that. A hangover, I hear they say gives you a splitting headache and your stomach cannot hold anything down, and to make the matters worse, a person with a hangover is likely to wake up late in the day and is thus most likely to have a very confusing day. I have never really understood why people take a lot of alcohol, in the name of fun, and then wake up feeling like some zombie pulled out of the motion picture, “The Walking Dead” literally. I guess from what my friends describe to me, a hangover is akin to torture. I don’t know if you have experienced a hangover at some point in your life, have you? I digress. As I was saying, I am not much of a drinker, and the concept or the very experience of a hangover is very alien and scary for me, only experienced from the narratives of other people, from the general sense or definition of a hangover as experienced by people after a night out imbibing large quantities of alcohol. However, like most Mondays, this Monday was no different, I woke up feeling like not doing anything really, which is my version of a hangover, and I think fits the description of the same perfectly, even though my hangover is not attributable to drinking alcohol, but rather to the thought of going back to work or school after a weekend of personal indulgence mostly traveling or spending time with family.

Well, I do not dislike work, but I guess I am only very human, and a few symptoms of the famous Monday blues here and there are understandable, right? I would want to imagine a weekend spent away from work or studies is the main cause of what has been popularly referred to as the Monday blues. For most people, the week will drag along in an endless time loop, only for the weekend to come and rush by without one putting in as much fun as they would really like.

Indeed, given an opportunity, most people would rather remain in an endless weekend mood or loop, engaged in other activities other than the actual performance of the work duties that they are supposed to do. Well, I guess that is the reason that most career advisor or motivational speakers tell people to look for the hobby that they very much enjoy doing and monetize that to create a career out of a hobby or something that a person loves doing. A week, for the majority of the people, will start with the typical Monday blues, which ebb away by Tuesday, on Wednesday, people are getting into the mood to start work, start working on Thursday, and by the time they start working, it is Friday again, and the cycle begins again.

We virtually or essentially epitomize robots and robotics; we are indeed better at routines than the robots or machines themselves. While the typical week of a person would not look like that, the narrative, as used on different occasions, has been aimed at demonstrating the routine nature of the lives that people lead, and how the same could affect the performance of individuals accordingly. As described above, the typical week will be filled with routines including waking up, studying, and working, eating, maybe exercising, and sleeping, with a few exciting incidents at intermittent intervals to spice up our lives. Is that what our lives are meant to be, drab? Is that the life of an individual guided by purpose? No, I don’t think so.

I remember sometimes, a while back, when we went to watch the motion picture, Wanted, the one directed Timur Bekmambetov, in which Wesley Gibson, played by James McAvoy works as an accountant or was it an account manager, an extremely boring and routine job. Having been brought up by a single mother, after his father left when he was young, the kind of life McAvoy was leading was probably the life of a typical American young adult, and maybe the majority of other people too. The kind of life, that most people are inadvertently pushed into by parents and the society in general, which has glorified a lifecycle entailing studying, completing school, getting employed, building a home, getting married and starting and raising a family, not necessarily in that order.

At that point, watching the movie and talking about it with my friends, I don’t think I had the perspective I have now of life. It took a gunfight and a lot of money in the bank for McAvoy to find his true calling. Wait; was that really his true calling or should he simply have stuck with his day job albeit a very boring one? This question only goes to demonstrate that indeed, for the average person, finding a true profession or vocation, and by extension, purpose in life, is in most cases a complex process characterized by the futility of thought and action. Most of the time, we will think about things and get a light bulb moment, only to realize later that the same thoughts are not entirely what we have been pursuing in life, or take actions and have the same experience.  

One of the key take outs or learnings, speaking for myself and other people maybe, especially from my interactions with my teachers, parents, and other sagacious “older people” is that “my whole future is ahead of me.” The question I have always asked myself, especially after I grew up and started having a better understanding of the future, is how is a person’s whole future ahead of him? What exactly is the meaning of that phrase? I have always perceived the phrase as a method of motivating children to be more proactive and work harder in life to achieve success or other goals in life, mostly from an understanding or perception of what the older people or guardians tell the younger generations.

Success in most cases is perceived and valued if it is achieved from the perspective of the guardians or older generations. What the older generation or the guardians perceive as success, will in most cases form the basis for judging if indeed a person has achieved success or not. I remember one of those conversations I had with my mother on numerous occasions, especially on Sundays; it could always have the same start and a very predictable ending.

“Son, you are young, you have the potential and ability to be anything,” Mom would start the conversation.

“What would you like to be when you grow up?” She could prod.

“I am not sure mom, a pilot, a doctor maybe, not so sure about that mom. I haven’t really put a lot of thought into that mom.” I would respond.

“It is the high time you started thinking about these things son. The earlier you plan about your life, the better are your chances of achieving success.” She would implore.

“Mom, I have my whole life ahead of me and I am still young and in school Ma.” I would always respond.

Most of the times, in my early childhood to early teens, this conversation did not amount to much because in most cases, I would respond to my mother while already halfway out the door to play with my friends, who on most occasions would be waiting for me at the local park. My mother was not essentially an overbearing person; just that she had the normal concerns of a mother towards her child. My mother really loved us and she juggled her career and ensuring that she was the best mother to us all, and in my opinion, she did this very well. She was able to ensure that we turned out well despite the different social challenges and the normal problems experienced in teenage years and adolescent period, in which most youths engage in activities that end up being detrimental to their lives. My mother was more than just a mother, she was a friend, a confidant, and most important, she was indeed a mother to guide us, where she thought we erred.

On Sundays, immediately after having family lunch, conversation started with questions prodding about my plans for the future, and I was not able to extricate myself early enough, I always knew that I was doomed to a Sunday afternoon indoors with my mother. That essentially meant that my opportunity to play with my friends on Sunday afternoons went out the window on such occasions. However, I got an opportunity to be subjected to endless hours of sagacious motherly advice on life, which lasted for more than four hours or the rest of the Sunday afternoon.

On other occasions, during school and on different other times that my parents were summoned to school to discuss my progress, not that I was mischievous or truant, but to give me some sense of direction, and ensure that I became somebody in life, similar or near similar conversations were undertaken with my parents, teachers, and other elders in the family. Such conversations were mostly centered on my plans for the future and implementation of specific actions plans to achieve the plans made together with my parents and teachers, albeit under duress. On the Sundays that I was able to extricate myself and run out the door before the conversation with my mother progressed very much or when we had visitors, I went out to play with my friends.

Smith, one of the members of our crew, unlike most of the other members, I included, did not have a privileged background. The things that we take for granted most of the times; parents, a bed at night, breakfast, other meals, and the comfort of knowing family, was an alien concept in his life. Even though Smith had parents (he was not really an orphan) his parents were absentee parents, thanks to an addiction to alcohol, and maybe other harder drugs. We were virtually the only family that Smith knew. For him, Sundays were not about playing, it was more about spending time with his closest friends and family.

On weekdays, the number of times Smith missed school so that he could work to fend for himself and his sister, were more than the times he attended school in senior high school. Eventually, he shipped off with the military to Afghanistan, as an escape from the different challenges he was facing, I would want to imagine. For us, the Sunday afternoons I guess were more about taking time off school and family, yes, time off from family having spent the whole week with them. Later, after completing high school, these meetings became a rare event as each of the members went separate ways to try to make a living or in pursuit of their dreams. However, we kept in touch through regular communication on email or any of the different social media platforms, but the communication was not very regular as were the Sunday afternoon games in the park.

In most cases, our parents, teachers, guardians, family, and friends, wanted or encouraged us to complete our educational endeavors, get a white or blue collar job, get married, own a home, a car, start a family, and age gracefully. I guess that is not only the American dream, but the dream of all parents, and a measure of success for most people in the society today. Most people will encourage you to pursue these items on the list in that order, and will only perceive you as successful if, on the checklist, you can tick or answer to all the questions or the items as aforementioned, in the affirmative. I have always asked myself, in light of this situation, how many people have been subjected to a mundane lifestyle, not because they chose to lead such a lifestyle, but because they chose to please other people; to do it to make mama or papa happy; to do it to compete with John and Jack; and to do it so as to look normal. For example, McAvoy in the motion picture Wanted, even though employed, he is evidently perpetually bored at work, which has in different ways affected his performance and relationship with his boss. This is the kind of lifestyle that majority of the people will be subjected to, working in a way that meets the expectations of parents, teachers, and the society, while the dreams and aspirations of most people take a backseat.

Well, I am cognizant of the fact that we cannot all be Bill Gates, Warren Buffets, or Mark Zuckerberg. However, given an opportunity, wouldn’t we want to have the life, maybe without the names in order to have our names uttered in the same sentences with other words such as successful businessman and richest people? I am certain we all would want that, I am not sure about you, but most certainly, I would love that very much. That is not attainable miraculously or overnight, however, success has to be attained, and the definition, perception, and understanding of success in some cases, transcends the material element of measuring success, even though it is still considered an integral part of being successful. Bill Gates did not complete his studies, they say, neither did the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and current CEO of Facebook, who are perceived as some of the most successful people, looking at their accomplishments, as well as the material wealth they have been able to amass over the years.

Have I thought about dropping out of college to pursue some crazy idea in order to become successful? Yes, I have, who hasn’t? However, one thing I have come to realize and appreciate, I am particularly happy pursuing a line of work in criminology, even though I may never get to attain the levels of success, measured from the eyes or perspective of teachers and my mother and other family members, in this case, successes being a very relative term, as have Mark Zuckerberg and Mr. Bill Gates, I most certainly will derive a lot of satisfaction knowing that my profession has impacted and maybe improved the life of an individual somewhere positively or made it better.

I am now more than ever aware that my purpose in life is to help other people in life, to help other people achieve their dreams in life by contributing in different ways as a professional in the criminology field, to making their lives better through improved security and safety. Will I achieve material wealth, maybe, maybe not! But my definition of happiness and success has a new meaning. I subscribe to the school of thought that ascribes to the ideology that success transcends material things; it is more about happiness and self-actualization, be it material wealth or not.

Over Easter, I met Smith; he completed his tour abroad, returned to the States, worked briefly with a military contractor, and was now a consultant, in his early thirties. A feat that most feel is a major achievement, considering the different challenges that Smith had to face in his early life.

“What’s up, bro?” Smith had greeted me when I chanced on him at a mall in town, looking very young sporting a military boyish hairstyle and some expensive casual wear.

“Good. I am good, bro, how are you? Been ages,” I had responded.

“Doing great too, bro, I thank God.” He had responded. 

Smith had always been the religious one among us.

“Let’s do this,” he said slipping me a gold-plated business card, “Catch me on Whatsapp, let’s get together with the boys on Sunday, and have a few drinks or two as we reminisce.”

“Sure. That would be awesome.”

Well, we indeed had the drinks with the other members of the crew that Sunday, I took a couple of glasses of juice. Smith did excel working for the military and was able to complete his education in different military schools, and was currently pursuing an MBA from Harvard. His parents and sister lived in one of his houses in Florida. At some point, we got to talking about McAvoy and life’s purpose or goals. What intrigued me is that Smith seemed to be the happiest; his motivation in life, or his purpose, is to be happy, to be good at what he does and have time for himself and his family. Importantly, according to Smith, a person’s purpose in life is to live a purposeful life, mostly centered on the pursuit of happiness, in whatever form that makes a person happy.

In my definition of life’s purpose, in the context of self-reflection and the discussion I have had with my parents and lately, Smith, has shown that while the search for life’s purpose may be a structured pursuit, the discovery or realization of the true life’s purpose, may remain a mystery and only happen as a chance in life. However, it should not be an exercise in futility. It is imperative for a person to work hard in pursuit of his or her life goals, and by extension purpose, and ensure that no obstacles act as an impediment in that process.

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