Following the compass of my joy has been a central topic for me lately. In fact one could say it’s the most important issue in my life at this moment. For the last several years my compass was strong, and I was following the course, I was sure about where I was headed. Maybe I never veered, but in the last few months, it seemed like I was at a very critical turning point and following the currents of my life was the most important matter, with serious consequences if not given full attention.
So I’ve essentially put myself on an indefinite sabbatical. I’m 32, barely have any retirement savings, actually make that none. Most people don’t do what I’m doing. This for me, and feels unavoidable. If I were to continue on in the same direction unchecked, I fell as though I’d surely have gone off track; resulting in feeling lifeless and unable to do the best job I could at anything.
If I were to keep going the direction I was heading without listening very close to my instincts, I would find my soul backed into a corner, I’d be stuck in a life I don’t want, or at least, a life I didn’t actively choose, and rather fell into. Even if it had all the staples of a “good life” i.e. family, house, rewarding job, vacations, passions, etc., it would have felt like I wound up in a place I didn’t want to be in, or didn’t choose for the wanting.
I should put in a disclaimer; this is a first world problem, in fact it’s a meta-first world problem. most people never have a choice about what they do with their time, or who their family is, or what city they live in, or what size income they have. In that way I’m a spoiled brat. I’m not rich, but I am able to take time off, travel, or just fart around unharmed and that’s something most people can’t do. I am grateful.
But for clarity of the worthwhileness of this post and not wasting any time, I think there’s enough people who at certain points in their life can actively choose a direction and need to for the fulfillment in their life. It’s important to know when we’re at a junction for one of these life choices, and to follow the choice that is best for us. In my case, the choice that is best, is one where I can continue to grow as a person, where my day to day activities allow me to pursue knowledge, health, happiness, and creativity. Where I love the people I’m with, do not have to endure or create pain or harm to be with them, and we mutually benefit from each others company and support.
The process of this sabbatical has not been uniform, in a way it started months ago when I saw my role at my company waning in importance. But technically, it started yesterday, when I had finally gotten over my jet lag from flying to California from Berlin. I’m staying with my parents in Palo Alto, in the house where I grew up, sleeping in my old bedroom, removing as many external forces that cloud my focus as possible. I’m getting to the center of what I want out of my life for the next 5-20 years. There are many things to consider in this process, where should I be? What people do I need to be near? What daily activities are healthy and encourage growth? Putting it all together, what I should be doing will be very clear, that’s my guess at least.
An important development came to me this morning; I found a central point to the geography of my designs, i.e. where I would like to spend my future. It came to me by way of a creative activity. Yesterday, I went out on a photo safari, and took photos all over Downtown Palo Alto with a new 35mm camera lens, and then headed up to the dish in the Stanford Foothills to take wide angle shots during the sunset with another new 11-16mm lens. After the sun had set and I’d come home, I looked through the photos. I’d taken pictures of people, buildings, landscapes, sidewalks, streets. All of which I’d seen hundreds of times. As I enhancing the images I played with the exposure, perspectives, highlights, black and whites, and colors. Finally I choose a few to post online to share with the world. Some people are curious about Palo Alto (I figured), and some people just enjoy city scenes, architecture, and landscapes. But by morning I realized it was a cue for me. This is not where I want to spend out my days. Then and still now, the final feeling was that it was all so blah. Nothing in them sparked a fire in my mind.
Perhaps anywhere will become monotonous as my hometown feels to me; repetition destaurates mystery, and when mystery goes, so does excitement. But at least for the next 5-20 years, I cannot imagine getting much of any inspiration from the surroundings of Silicon Valley. Berlin was different. Every moment was a moment in Europe, with people who were still new to me, on bikes that are new (actually quite old), and cobblestones that I’d only seen in the days of my last two years. The weather patterns were still new to me. And this is something that is important for choosing my direction. It doesn’t mean Berlin is the only place I can live, but it helped me to understand what I need from my surroundings.
I need to be somewhere that provides a new perspective. If I can describe every detail of the surroundings, I probably know it too well, and won’t find myself pleasantly amused by ongoing discovery, and that’s something I need.