Friday, November 7, 2014

Quick! DO something!

“Don’t you want to do something?” she asked. Big emphasis on the DO.

A sense of worthlessness descended on me. I have nothing to call my life’s purpose. It was as if I just realized my entire life has had no meaning and time is running short for me to accomplish anything great in my waning years.
“Well, um,” I sputtered, “I guess I’m sort of retired. I paint furniture sometimes. I visit my elderly mother and I do a lot of yoga. I fix some things at home that need fixing. I even clean my own house.” I failed to mention that I have alphabetized my spices. She would have been impressed.
I clean my own house. That’s it? That’s my sense of purpose? Oh, Lord, help me. I seem like such a ninny. Windex is my life. I couldn’t exist without a high quality vacuum cleaner. I hang my laundry outside on the clothesline in nice weather and I worry that my house smells like cat pee.

Somewhere in the past six decades I forgot to find a purpose. My Franklin Planner is filled with quotes about setting goals and reaching them, about action plans, and strategies for success. I always thought those quotes were meant for other people. I read that football coach Lou Holtz said that if you don’t get up every morning with a burning desire to do things, then you don’t have enough goals. Most mornings my only goal is to make a good cup of coffee. Is that an impressive goal? I think it’s safe to bet that I won’t win a Nobel Prize in any category. Damn. Not economics or physics? Not even literature? Quick—write a book. Write it about the influence of physics on socioeconomics in developing countries. But it should be allegorical, perhaps a deeply spiritual novel set in a 17th century French village where a volcano is about to erupt and kill everyone. Okay, maybe I can do that over the weekend.
Having a career of substance never interested me. Maybe it was a fear of pantyhose. I thought a woman with a serious career had to wear pantyhose and I wanted none of it. Yes, I worked. For years I worked, but I can honestly say I never had a job that I really cared about. A job is not the same as a career. Some jobs I tolerated because I liked my co-workers, but mostly I went to work every day because I needed a paycheck and health insurance. And yes, I went to school—including college and graduate school—but still I never was driven to accomplish anything big. To me nothing seemed worthy of being labeled my life’s purpose.

I had kids. They are grown now and have kids of their own. I love them like crazy and I did anything and everything I could to be a good mother to them. But that was love, duty, dedication—simply what I was in the base of my soul, not what I considered a career. Was being a mother my purpose? Perhaps, but I never thought to label it that way. I don’t want to Franklin Planner motherhood—it’s in a category way beyond action plans and goals and strategies.

It’s probably much too late to care about finding a real purpose in my life at this point. Truthfully, I still don’t care. I’ll write the book about physics and the French village and the volcano. Then I’ll make a really good cup of coffee. That’s enough.


  1. No sense of purpose?
    Then I guess I should thank you for the free therapy ... I discovered your blog in 2012 and soon became a frequent visitor. Your posts have kept me company through a number of sleepless nights. A lot of what you write resonates with me. I only wish you had more recognition for your skillful and entertaining writing style ...
    How is your book coming along?

    1. Thanks, Anon. We should have a 3 a.m. support group. I appreciate the kind words. Yes, the book is coming along just fine. In "stages of change" theory it has moved from pre-contemplation to the weakest contemplation stage. Meaning I might think about it eventually. Oh, wait--the physics-economics-allegorical-volcano book that I'm supposed to write this weekend? Oooooh. . . that.

  2. How did you know it's always at 3 a.m.? By the way, I wish I could paint furniture like you...
    Have a nice weekend!

    1. Painting furniture isn't that hard. You just have to be fearless and know that most mistakes can be corrected. Practice, practice, practice.

  3. I don't think we find our life's purpose, I think our life's purpose finds us. And I think sometimes we are well into our sixties before our lives are uncluttered enough for that to happen. Up until now, it's always been someone else's turn, you supporting the dreams of others. Now it's your turn. Your life's purpose will probably turn out to be a heightened version of something you've been doing all along, something that is second nature and that never really felt like work, much less purpose-driven work.

  4. You have two different Anonymi talking to you here. :-) To pick up on what your first Anon said, painting furniture is a skill that can take you in unexpected directions. Habitat for Humanity refurbishes houses. Do they refurbish furniture too, or align with a sister organization that does? If they do, you could work with them. If they don't (or if they do but they're a bunch of doinks), you could start one. One that also teaches people how to repaint their own pieces. Or you could work with a charity that furnishes apartments for women getting out of abusive relationships, or pulling together their first apartments out of homeless shelters, rehab or prison.

    If you're doing Annie Sloan products, you might explore online recipes for making chalk paint out of regular paint. Adding just the right amount of plaster of Paris and mixing it in with that attachment that turns a power drill into an immersion blender. That would open up a lot of other colors, and it would bring down the cost. Turning dingy stuff into beautiful stuff sounds right up your alley, and teaching how, to people who could use more beauty in their surroundings. Many poor people with shabby stuff would laugh at the idea of any technique that intentionally mars an undisturbed surface. But there is a poetry to the kind of repainting that offers glimpses into what lies beneath. It would be a poetry, the way you would teach it.