Growing Up: For You (And Me), It’s Never Too Late To Find Your “Why?”

I’m 48 years old.

And I never grew up.

Yes, I’m elongated from my former child-self, but that just means I’m taller … not grown up. In a sense, I’m a vertical juvenile, reaching the proper height but not the proper “heights.”

For the latter … “heights” … I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I often wonder if other 48-year-olds suffer this same terrible fate. I envy those who’ve unhinged from Peter Pan, the ones who grew up, who found direction, who flew back from Neverland to pursue their passions and purpose.

So what if, at 48 years old, one doesn’t know his passion … his purpose? It’s a painful (“clawing” is a good adjective too, like a ghost clawing to be set free) existence, an icy wink to Milton’s famous quote:

The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.

Purpose is its own place, and its discovery can make heaven of hell; its lack thereof … a hell of heaven. For those stuck in this hell (that dark realm of anti-purpose), the hold does not have to be eternal. One can grow up … even at 48 years old … and bloom beyond this hellish gravity.

Even at 48 years old, one can still find his purpose.

A “Why” To Live Can Be An Elusive “Why”

So what is this terrible monster that makes a hell of heaven? It’s anti-purpose … a constant and always pounding void, the opposite of this sentiment from Victor Frankl:

Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.

Those without a purpose, myself included, struggle mightily with our “why.” I don’t mean this in the sense of depression (though that is a part of it) but in the sense of a waking and persistent struggle to find our true north.

Like little figurines, God places us upon this vast celestial playground, and once placed, some find direction and begin running. Some begin running as children, knowing their destiny at a young age. Others begin running in college or a little later, maybe during their first job.

But others remain painfully and eternally still, fixed in place, their toy legs tethered to the plastic base that anchors them upright. These directionless, little figures (myself included) suffer from immobility, and in this frozen state, we suffer the ever echoing question of purpose. As little things, we look upward every day and beg God for the gift of purpose. We consider, with suffering obsession, why we were sent here. And as time moves forward, we fear — the greatest of all our fears — that the mystery of our “why” might never be solved.

There Is Hope But …

But there’s always hope for Generation “Why.” In saying this, I could illustrate “hope” with a list of late bloomers. Vera Wang, Ray Croc, Samuel L. Jackson, to name a few, all found success later in life. But this illustration would be disingenuous because finding success and finding your “why” are different things. The former — finding success — is good because it feeds your potential; the latter — finding your “why” — is godly because it feeds your soul.

Having read (several times) Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, the same passage always sticks with me:

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedomsto choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

In a way, life without a “why” is a life with everything taken from you. To be rudderless, directionless, without passion and meaning … the absence of these things is an absence of your foundation. It’s not the equivalent of Frankl’s Nazi imprisonment, but it is an imprisonment all the same … to be locked away within yourself, always asking the same unanswerable, same painful question “Why am I here?”

Hope comes in Frankl’s truth that you have the freedom to choose your “attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” As a 48-year journeyman of the “why,” this advice (admittedly) sounds trite. It’s simplicity feels good, but as an application, it lacks teeth to grind against the tonnage of my unanswered question.

But then I saw this attitude in action, and I began to feel better. I witnessed a “why” answered. I witnessed hope.

… Hope May Require Hard Work

By pure chance, I stumbled upon the The Entreleadership Podcast, episode #396 “How to Find Meaningful Work with Shawn Askinosie.” Shawn, like me, once practiced law, and, like me, he began to seriously question his “why.” He had a successful career as a criminal defense lawyer, but his work had lost its meaning. Facing this loss, he began to search, to deeply question his “why.” He applied the teeth of Frankl’s advice; he practiced the difficult art of choosing one’s own way.

What makes Shawn’s journey so inspiring is that the finding of his own way was neither spontaneous nor mystical. There was hard work involved — a five-year search, volunteering with hospice patients, unravelling his past — and all of it led him to the “why” of becoming a chocolatier. From lawyer to “a maker or seller of chocolate” … vastly different things, but it might take vastly different things to find your purpose (mine too). And undoubtedly, as Shawn’s story illustrates, it might take work … deep work … but therein lies the inspiration, that the answer lies within oneself. Also inspiring … that there IS an answer out there, somewhere, and if you’re willing to claw at the wall, to claw at the dirt, to claw at the gray matter, you will eventually unearth your “why.”

But you and me … we have to first do the work.

Claw, Claw, Claw … And Keep Clawing!

There is a deep envy for those who don’t have to do the work. Those born into their destiny, those with a “why” burning brightly upon their infant souls. For these lucky ones, the answer was gifted to them unwalled from the echoing questions, unearthed from the depths of soul, untethered from the secret, recessional gray matter. I say “un” a lot because it reflects the other side, those who are (dare I say) unlucky. Our “why” feels “unavailable,” like the blessed gift may never come … thus, making us mortally and eternally unfulfilled.

Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.Viktor Frankl

But the fulfillment of your “why” is out there somewhere. Typically, this is the spot where I’d bombard you with my “3 steps” to finding your “why.” However, the word “steps” implies a list of concrete movements. I’d be lying if I said this “finding” was formulaic. It is not.

For some, talent is innate; for others, it’s the end result of practice and commitment. It’s the same for one’s “why” … some are born with it, others have to work at it. It’s like the undersized child who puts in 10,000 practice hours to become an NBA great. Finding your why, even at 48-years-old, might require 10,000 practice hours.

Listen to Shawn Askinosie’s story, and you’ll see that there’s practice involved. It may sound daunting and unjust (to work at it when others don’t), but it’s comforting to know that the persistent question — ”Why?” — can be eroded. Don’t wait on mere magic or the pithy blog post (this post included) or the light bulb moment or the venerable quote. Stop lingering on these workless things.

The answer to your “why” (our “why”) is discoverable, but for some of us, it requires a dogged and determined clawing at the question. For some of us, growing up demands “the last of the human freedoms — to choose.” And though Frankl doesn’t say this, “to choose” is active not passive. Frankl never said the action would be easy; only that we have this freedom, that it’s always accessible, and that it can never — even if your 48-years-old — be taken away.

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