“What am I going to do with my life?”
“What do I want to be when I grow up?”
“How can I find my calling?”
It seems everyone my age is obsessed with finding their answer to this question. Is this quarter-age crisis a new phenomenon? Is the ‘no such thing as a job for life’ adage paralysing us with choice? Either way, there are a wealth of articles, books, films, written about these aching questions. I’m not going to write here about these questions, but here’s a post that is pretty helpful on that front.
Instead, I find a more useful question to ask is:
What do you want from life?
It’s a question I’ve considered again and again, and in the last year or so, I’ve found some sort of clarity surrounding this.
Most recently, we discussed this at a TEDxBrum away day, where one of the team asked everyone, “If you were given £50 Billion to spend on whatever you like, what would you do with it?” The classic lottery question. Surely everyone has considered this question at some point or another?
So what was my answer? Well, after squirrelling aside enough of it to never have to worry about money again, this is what I’d spend my money – and time – on:
1. Family. By family, I mean the people I love, with whom I have formed unbreakable bonds with – whether related by blood or not. These are the people in my life who I would fly across the world for, if they needed me. It includes the family I have now, and a family I hope to have in the future.
2. Love. This sort of counts under #1, but is enough to have its own place on the list. I’m an old romantic at heart. I go to Paris every year on my own to wander the streets and read books, and so it’s my own fault, really.
3. Making an impact. You live, and then you die, and it’s what you change in between that matters. I want to know: How do you make a real difference? My experiences thus far have taught me that good intentions are not enough. I believe the world is a beautiful place, and that beauty should be available to everybody – not just the privileged few. And yet somehow, our world appears to be getting more unjust – despite all the technology, innovation and ‘progress’. It’s not just about ensuring everyone has enough bread; it’s enabling everyone the freedom to enjoy the roses too. I want to learn about and then work with others to create a sustainable, scalable, disruptive impact in this world.
4. Adventure, beauty, exploration. I believe that the world is a beautiful place. I know Utopia doesn’t exist, and yes, maybe we won’t entirely solve world poverty, but by gosh, once we’ve done it, we’d better have a plan for what next. And for me, what’s next is awe, art, curiosity. There’s a quote often attributed to Churchill, from the Second World War. It was suggested that they should cut funding to the arts to pay for Britain’s war, to which Churchill responded, “Then what would we be fighting for?” I don’t know whether he said it or not, but the essence still remains as valid as ever. I have played in the sea, I have built sandcastles. I have climbed mountains, I have swum in rivers and lakes. I have tasted delicious food, and been taught how to try and make it. I have had the joy of experiencing great works of art, and been so fortunate to dabble at creating my own. After all, and above all, this, is what life is about.
So that was my four. But lately I’ve wondered whether there’s something I missed off. Something that seems to fit into every category, and yet, seemingly deserves a whole category of its own;
5. Human Connection. What do I mean by this? I mean the spark between one person and another – regardless of whether they know each other or not – the glimmer that passes invisibly in the ether between two people when they share a smile, or tears, or simply eye contact. There’s something incredibly powerful about that sensation, and I think it plugs in, somehow, to the very essence of what it means to be alive.
That’s my list. That’s what I want for my life. £50 billion or not, that’s what I want. I’ve been told that these things are incompatible, that they are too idealistic, that I am living in a dream world.
I’ve also been told that ‘todo es posible‘. I’ve been shown on occasion that this is true.
And that, is what I chose to believe.
“”What are you going to do with your life?” In one way or another it seemed that people had been asking her this forever; teachers, her parents, friends at three in the morning, but the question had never seemed this pressing and still she was no nearer an answer… “Live each day as if it’s your last’, that was the conventional advice, but really, who had the energy for that? What if it rained or you felt a bit glandy? It just wasn’t practical. Better by far to be good and courageous and bold and to make difference. Not change the world exactly, but the bit around you. Cherish your friends, stay true to your principles, live passionately and fully and well. Experience new things. Love and be loved, if you ever get the chance.”
― David Nicholls, One Day