How I Figured Out What I Wanted To Do

How I Figured Out What I Wanted To Do

A few months ago, I was sitting in the hammock on my porch, trying to read, and being rather unsuccessful. I was also trying to write about where my brain was currently at, in an attempt to organize it I guess, but was also being rather unsuccessful.

I listened to soapy water sloshing around in the dishwasher and the hum of the vacuum running on thick carpet. The porch doors were slid open because it wasn’t so hot outside and the breeze was full of whistles from songbirds in the valley that I could hear when the vacuum was unplugged and rolled back to the closet.

I was feeling rather guilty if I’m honest, because I wasn’t being particularly productive, and yet I didn’t really know how to be. As if doing nothing except pushing a hammock forward and back with the tips of my toes was somehow poor time management on my part, even though there wasn’t anywhere I needed to be at the time.

I felt stuck under the need to figure out “what I wanted to do with my whooooolllleeee life” (Yes, again. Hopefully I’m not the only one who gets ambushed by that particular dilemma every once in a while) right that moment because if I didn’t I was wasting time. Gotta love vague, indecisive, emotionally manipulative moments of doubt and worry.

How I Figured Out What I Want To Do

I had been thinking a lot about rediscovery lately. It seemed to be a common thread in lots of what I listened to lately. Like books and sermons and devotionals. Several in the last couple weeks alone mentioned how many times people try to redefine themselves. To start all over, to make themselves. And how really, what they’re trying to do is rediscover the person they are that got buried a long time ago.

Noise and business and endless redefining is easier than rediscovery I suppose. There’s no time to think about what’s missing. Redefining is full steam ahead, random shots in the dark, yet if none of them match who we were originally made to be, it never stops feeling fake. Not to mention there’s a lot of effort involved in having to create everything about yourself anew. Rediscovery is a bit more soul searching. It takes time and organized thoughts, hoping you can rediscover your hopes and wants that seemed to get a little lost somewhere down the line. I like the concept of it much more, because it puts less pressure on me creating myself and returns the credit to the God who already did. The problem is, sometimes we’re not really sure what we’re going to find if we go looking for that person that got belittled and shoved deep down, and we aren’t sure how long it’ll take to find it either. So we go along, not really sure why we’re discontent but not willing to pay the expense involved in sitting still enough to figure it out.

Part of me didn’t really want to sit and sort it out, even though I knew it was probably a good time to do so. There wasn’t a whole lot taking up my time at that particular moment, so I was almost forced to sit still and organize my thoughts about it all.

But part of me resisted because I secretly thought I’d come up empty.

I thought I’d discover that I didn’t have any grand hopes and passions and ambitions. That there was nothing specific I wanted to do with my time, day in and day out.

Yet the other part of me recognized that for the silliness that it was. C’mon. There had to be something I could see myself waking up to continue every day. So how did I figure it out?

Be Still Christian Quotes Mug

I read a book recently talking about that whole process of rediscovery. It asked the reader what was buried in the past and forgotten about, but not erased, due to lack of time, energy, or resources? I struggled to think of things in a question that open and vague.

But then I remembered the Benjamin Franklin quote: “Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing about.” I decided that was solid advice and a pretty good place to start. I was a writer after all. I wrote about lots of different things.

So, if I didn’t know what I wanted to do, what was it I wrote about? What did I have my characters do?

For me, what came to mind was a novel I started when I was in high school.

Perhaps I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but now, looking back on all the elements I included in the story, I was basically writing about bits and pieces of life I found most appealing. A life I could daydream about and have immortalized in print forever even if I never lived it.

I had never made the connection to myself before, even though thinking about it now it’s almost glaringly obvious.

I wrote about a girl living in a cute, quirky little house on my own in a summer between college semesters. It was near the beach and the main character would sometimes scoop up a duvet and fall asleep just far back enough from the waves. She likes painting doors and walls in her house, and making it cozy with fluffy blankets and always available coffee cups.

She is a painter and a writer and worked at a local art studio assisting the teach with kids classes in exchange for joining a drawing class. Her two college friends stay in the town for the summer too and they’re constantly hanging out.

She has an older brother figure in the story who loved her immensely and she him. He is the traveling adventure to her steady, small town lifestyle, and surprises her with a visit or two occasionally. They swap stories and he tries to teach her how to stay up to date with his photos on Instagram but her phone is always dead.

One day her little sister comes to stay with her for the summer, and the older tries to show the younger all the joys (simple that they are) in her life. Only the younger sister notices the main character is isolated a majority of the time, with the exception of her two college friends, stuck in routine and a little afraid of all things “new”. So she sets her older sister up with a guy taking the same art class.

He sees all the quiet joy and savoring of life that she does and adores her for it like she’s a creature he’s never seen before. He gives her coffee to wake up to on her birthday and she walks to the kitchen to discover he and the little sister had filled up the living room with balloons. He, like her brother, helps her realize that a little spontaneity is healthy even if it’s something as small as getting sweet potato fries in your pajamas. She meets his grandparents and they’re unbelievably endearing and kind and close with their grandson, loving her by extension. He gets to know her better as he watches her teach her sister how to swim and have lazy days on the seaside, and celebrate thunderstorms with pancakes and how not to mind if the staircase is crooked or the floors are cold. They send postcards to their traveling parents and wrap presents for her college friends in brown paper with polka dot stickers and go back out on the beach once more. Her friends and his team up and they all go on road trips to the nearest towns that are big enough to have carnivals and fun fairs and for their first date they climb one of the cliffs that has the best view at the top.

There’s adventure, simplicity, progress, and background noise of life without being so rushed. And all the while a supernatural element threads its way between her and everyone around her, hinting that there’s more than meets the eye here. That there’s more going on in her simple little life than what it looks like on the outside. In the end she finds out that she wasn’t just a nobody in a little town after all, and the purpose she searched for was found as all the strings pulled together.

At least one of those elements leaked into everything I wrote about and then in college it was the same way. Whenever I write about modern day lifestyle I come back to pieces of this unfinished story again and again.

I choose it over and over, because I can’t get enough of what this story represents.

I didn’t connect the dots until recently though that these were all pieces that added up to create a lifestyle I wanted. And that just because I wrote pieces down in a story, didn’t mean I couldn’t bring pieces into my reality.

That was always part of the struggle with that story. There’s so many elements, moments, and scenes I envisioned including in that girl’s life. Like putting all my favorite chapters from all my favorite books into one, because I thought it would be so cool if one person’s life could look like that.

But here’s what I was thinking about as my toes pushed the hammock forward and back on the porch, right as autumn came rushing in to make life busy again:

Who says mine can’t?

Instead of just thinking, “wouldn’t it be fun to write about a girl who did this, this, and this.” I also want to think, “Wouldn’t it be fun to be a girl who did this, this, and this.” And then go do that.

Perhaps I can’t make all of them a reality in the exact way I wrote about them, but it’s the general idea just the same. Because I don’t write about mansions and fancy cars and jobs that require tights and pointy shoes and loads of other things that always seem impossible and somewhat overrated. Instead, I write about lots of little things that I personally enjoy that could easily be added into my day starting right now.

Sure, there’s a lot of favorite pieces that I’d love to include into one story. There’s a lot of running through airports, driving with the windows down and the music loud, kissing in the rain, and dancing in the grocery store. It’s saving up for reunions in Italy and road trips that take longer than expected. It’s painting one wall in the attic turquoise, and adding string lights to everything. There’s braiding a toddler’s hair, inventing new traditions during thunderstorms, and laughing with friends over pizza and an old radio that loses connection every few minutes. There’s spilling pancake batter on the floor and polaroid photos that print a little blurry, prayers whispered in hospital rooms, and lots and lots of snow at Christmas time.

I had been worried there would be no hopes or ambitions or anything I wanted to do day after day after day, yet I had been carving them all onto paper without even realizing.

This realization changed everything. I don’t have to be paralyzed and overwhelmed anymore, wondering what in the world I want to do with my days and having no idea where I’m supposed to start.

I don’t have to reinvent who I am and create goals out of thin air that were never part of me to begin with.

I can remember that story I haven’t yet finished writing about. The one full of those hopes, joys, and adventures that have been inside me for a very long time. They haven’t been erased. They haven’t been buried too deeply under deadlines and technicalities that I can’t dig them up again. If I’ve deemed the adventures worth writing and reading, then they’ve got to be worth doing.

So as a few reminders to my future self whenever I have that moment of doubt and indecision again:

If you could write a story about anything, what would it be about?

Look back at the common themes and pieces of life you like to write about over and over.

There’s absolutely no reason why that list has to remain in print but never in your own life.

You’ll be able to include more if you start right now. Who knows, maybe later you’ll discover you included so many you need to write more down in that story so it catches up with you.

Don’t disregard any of them for not being “grand” enough ambitions for your life because to you they were worth writing about and worth doing and that’s all that matters.

One by one they’ll start to add up, and before you know it you might look back and find none of it was little and insignificant at all. They just might become much more important and impactful than you originally gave them credit for.

Like when the butterfly flaps its wings and shakes the earth on the other side of the globe.

madeleine hagan the salt compass blog christian student

How I Figured Out What I Wanted To Do When I Didn't Even Know Where To Start

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