We grow up being asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I was of the kind that never knew how to answer that. I was an average student, I felt smart but not book smart. I didn’t apply myself in any of my school years, save for a few projects in college that I happened to be interested in. I went college off and on from 2003 until I finally finished a bachelor’s degree more than 15 years later. I’m 38 now and I feel completely defeated. This might be why I’ve latched onto the minimalism movement. It’s within my control, right?
I started a web design business, it made less than 8 grand in its first year (last year). To someone else, that might seem like a success for a first-year but that came with 3 clients… over twelve months. That’s why it has felt like such an extreme failure. Over the last few weeks, I’ve felt myself questioning that future and my entire future in general. If you’ve read my other posts, you know I have 4 kids and a wife. Like many other people at this point in life… I have responsibilities. I’m 38, as I’ve said, and I am probably at my half-life–if not, I’m close. I still find myself questioning my past and worrying about my future.
I have a good career and by most standards, I’m successful with six figures, my family’s needs are met. Flipping back into my personal history book as that poor kid growing up in trailers… I’m someone I never thought I’d be. This begs the question though; why is this not enough? Why do I feel empty? It’s not that my wife and kids don’t fulfill me–because they do. This isn’t about them, it’s about me. While the career pulls in the money, it doesn’t pull in happiness. My career does not fulfill me, it drains me. Even though I don’t know what I want to do with my life I know it’s not spending 8 hours/day away from home working for someone else’s goals. The work itself is challenging, in a problem-solving way, but the carrot at the end of the stick just carries me to the next challenge and again, someone else’s goals.
All this leaves me doing some deep soul searching. What could I, Mark Penix, a 38-year-old husband and father of four have to offer anyone? I’m tempted to ask myself, yet again “What do you want to be when you grow up?” but I feel the better question is “Who do you want to be today, tomorrow, and what are you doing to get there.” It’s still not an easy question to answer, let alone, digest. It feels more manageable and workable than the former question though. Or even better… “What are you doing now that is getting in the way of being who you want to be?”
The quick answer is, I don’t know. The long answer is, I don’t know. Maybe that’s okay, for now. Maybe the most important thing is to actually be thinking about these questions in the first place. Maybe that’s the first step. I know I’m not alone in this. This anxiety and this stage of “going through the motions” is commonplace. It’s taken me to tears, worry, lumps in throats, and it’s driven me to hide these concerns from my friends and family. Just because I’m good at some things doesn’t mean I *should* do those for money or that they’ll bring me fulfillment or purpose.
Is my purpose to work 9-5, feed, shelter, entertain, and clothe my family until one day they move out and I die years later? Is that my ultimate impact? Is the only difference I make in the four little lives I have “control” over? Maybe it is, maybe that’s okay. Maybe. Is it enough for me to just “shut up and color,” unfortunately, it’s not.
The one saving grace I believe is on my side is that I’m creative. I come up with creative solutions to problems, I tend to think outside the realms of normalcy, and I like doing/making things with my own hands/mind. There’s a bit of therapy in those things. I’m not sure where I’m going or who I am right now but I want to find out. I’m desperate to find out.
I’m afraid of who I’ll be if I never do.