When I was 28 years old, I was working in a fairly straightforward 9-5 job in Mississauga (close to Toronto), Canada, leading a pretty boring life, where days and nights blended into each other.
I had moved from New York and missed it terribly. New York was a place that inspired me, while Toronto was nice, but it was not my city.
A year and a half later, I was watching a movie, based in New York. I felt a pang of something – I wasn’t sure what. This feeling of being completely in love with a city or a setting – something that fuelled my imagination and brought me great joy.I suddenly sat up and asked myself, “what the hell am I doing with my life?”
I didn’t hate my job, nor did I love it. I didn’t love the place I lived. Would this be all there was? I had always dreamed of a job that allowed me some creativity. More than that, I had wanted to be a writer for as long as I could remember. When would I do it? What was I waiting for?
So I decided to quit my job after a few months and make some fleeting changes in my life. Let me tell you, there is no time or less stress in any job than that of when you know you are leaving. Consequences cease to matter and in fact you end up over performing.
But life threw me a plot twist: I got promoted.
So, I started to irritatingly care about my job again, and the combination of a difficult manager and low self-confidence found me frustrated again after a mere few months. Then I finally decided – in November 2009, to quit.
It was all very romantic. Wherever I looked I saw narratives of people giving up cushy corporate life for pursuing their passions in things like writing or yoga. For a little while things worked. An internship at a free local weekly led to an internship at The Walrus seemed Canada’s best magazine.
But towards the second half of that year, things started to slide. I met and got involved with a complicated man at The Walrus.
My single-minded focus towards my future started to fray at the edges. One reason was the level of drama in my relationship – much higher than that of previous ones – including one very angry ex-girlfriend flying across the country, parking herself in my boyfriend at the time’s house, and trying with all her might to get him back.
This was completely new to me.
I always thought in order to write, I needed some passion and heartbreak in my life, and truly – once it started it didn’t stop. That is till many years later.
Getting a job was another headache. I was advised to put in another six months into working for free. People asked me for free writing wherever I went (“But I thought you love to write!”).
In addition, dating someone in the same field gave rise to a slight competitiveness that soured things between us at times.
It was when I was in the final round for an interview, which paid half my last salary at my corporate job, and I was rejected for someone with much more experience, that I realised the fantasy was over.
Pursuing my passion wasn’t enough. I was turning 30, and didn’t want to live in a basement apartment, and think twice before every purchase I made. I realised, much to my dismay, that I was much more material than I would have liked to imagine. I wasn’t willing to give up what to would have to give up, to make this work.
There were several misguided things about what I had spent my time doing. Firstly – the writing scene in Canada is small and can be somewhat cliquey – and I most definitely did not fit in.
Secondly – my love has always been fiction, not journalism. That was my passion as a reader, and this was where my interest should have focused as a writer. I was never going to be a hard-hitting journalist who wrote about meaningful issues, but I could create change by weaving stories.
Storytelling – the made-up kind – was my passion.
Third – my life in Canada was devoid of stimulation. I had nothing to say. My writing shifted perceptibly after coming back to India, where something as simple as getting a pipe fixed was often accompanied by unanticipated adventure.
Lastly – my love of writing was a manifestation of my love of human psychology and motivation. Why do people do the things
It was only recently when I learned about the concept Ikigai, that the remaining pieces of the puzzle fit. Ikigai – that sweet spot between what you love, what the world needs, what you’re good at, and what you can get paid for – is something I wish I had realised in 2008.
Writing by itself was difficult to sustain myself – particularly in Canada which had a small and competitive writing scene. I ended up writing about a lot of things I didn’t like in order to make progress.
My Ikigai as well as all those little bubbles around it all required stimulation. There are people who are all about writing, or all about yoga, or all about healing or some other vocation or interest. I wasn’t one of them.
I was always going to be someone with simultaneous projects in different areas of life.
I have recently started learning coaching and suspect I will find some of my Ikigai there. However, it has been a life-long search – for that sweet spot that combines creativity, my love of human psychology, and being able to do something I feel proud of.
Have you found your purpose yet? I’d love to hear stories from other people on this elusive concept!