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It was a winter’s day and I was dragging my feet through the computer science department.
It was a dark and ominous day on campus, and I was shivering. It was not so much about the jitters most students feel during their first year in university. Rather, I was despondent, on the verge of tears, and there were questions that kept haunting me again and again: “What am I doing here?” and “How did I end up studying a subject that I hate?”
The answers eluded me, and for months the tears flowed.
In the years that followed, I came to realize a connection between my upbringing and the chronology of my journey up to that point in time. We often go through primary and secondary socialization phases, starting within our primary household in the former and society in the latter, which leads to a set of expected behaviors and preferences, including those affecting our career and educational paths.
The label of doctor or engineer is worn like a badge of honor in my community, and became an ambition that was imposed, unintentionally, within my household. My father was an engineer, and my uncles, brothers, and cousins have all ventured along career paths in respect of those two labels. So, at an early age, I understood unconsciously that there were only two boxes from which to choose at the university level.
This had a profound impact on me because as a child, I was most passionate about the arts and human interaction. Singing, drama, writing poetry, painting, and stage performances made me feel wholesome and alive. But it was my performance in other school subjects, like mathematics, that mattered more to my father and my community.
I was doomed to become either a doctor or an engineer—or a social misfit.
So, I abandoned my passion for art to focus more on maintaining high grades in anticipation of following my prescribed destiny. I convinced myself that the imposed ambitions were noble since doctors and engineers are in high demand and have even higher earning potential.
I earned top grades in high school, but even that wasn’t enough to get me a seat in the engineering school. That was the first pain for me—I did what I’d been told, and still couldn’t achieve what they’d hoped for me. I thought, “I’m still a misfit.”
Eventually, I settled on computer science.
Shortly after I started, I heard this quote from a medical student who was visiting our college: “Computer science and medical science are essentially one and the same; the only difference is that medical students study humans, while students in computer science study machines that pretend to be human.”
Medicine had never been my thing, but human behavior and psychology had always been an interest of mine. Being able to draw a nexus between computer behavior and its complex, compositional structures to that of humans, provided me the proper perspective to get excited about university, and a fulfilling career in Information Technology (IT).
However, I couldn’t help but wonder: “Is this how I want to spend the rest of my life?”
I was good at the various roles that I played throughout my 16-year career in IT. I got my masters and even a PhD scholarship which, thankfully, I dismissed. But I was neither mastering nor enjoying any of those roles. A voice inside me kept echoing that there was “more to life than just this.” Over time, it began to wear on my conscience. I had found myself back at that point where I was caught between a quandary of labels that did not fit with who I am.
And then my mother passed away.
That incident shifted my focus from career to that of self. I pondered how she lived, if she had any regrets, and how her life ended suddenly. I started to become more absorbed with the possibility that I too would look back and wonder if I had truly lived.
My career in IT had taught me a lot, so my epiphany did not come at the expense of my gratitude. Computer science helped me develop a more structured thought process, which included advanced analysis and problem-solving skills. But it was time for me to pursue a career that was more in line with my convictions.
I started to reconfigure my life, which started with becoming a youth life coach, mentoring and guiding them through the rigors of life, and the ebbs and flows they may encounter. I re-ignited my passion for writing, making jewelry, and painting (albeit, not at the stature of Vincent van Gogh). But it is through these mediums that I was able to discover my calling in life and actively pursue it, even now.
This is what my journey has taught me:
1. Always be aware and ask yourself why you have decided to venture on a certain path.
It is always good practice to start with simple questions, such as: What is my favorite flower? Consider why you like it and if it’s truly a representation of you or of the impressions you’ve adopted by way of social consensus. It might be difficult at the beginning, but it will become easier and even enjoyable once you begin to question the origin of your preferences—both large and small.
2. Become a child again.
Reflect back to your childhood and reacquaint yourself with the things that you loved to do. Our childhood is often an unblemished existence wherein our imaginations were boundless, and our creativity reflected the pureness of our being.
3. It is never too late to start again.
At any age, we will have this fear: starting over. The older we get, the more this fear is magnified, making it seem like we are in a race toward a certain end. A common fear is that we do not want to go back to our starting point. So, we carry our life experiences with the mindset that it is only a detour and not a setback that brings us back to the starting line.
4. Transcend softly, not radically.
A leap of faith can be soft, and with preparation, it will feel less like a sudden jump and more like a smooth flight. So we shouldn’t push ourselves to jump or listen to others when they are trying to push us. We must set our own pace, while also expanding that space to take more steps. Dare to try different things, but do not commit until it feels right. In the meantime, muster up the confidence until you’re assured that it’s time.
5. Learn from the past and don’t “shift-delete.”
Life does not always progress in a linear fashion, so view every experience as a benefit. Don’t throw away what you have learned from the past. For me, computer science directed me to my passion for psychology and humanitarian studies.
6. Be open to opportunities and don’t say no to new things—be curious.
It is especially important in the beginning to try and not deprive yourself of any given opportunity. The more you are curious to try new things, the more you will learn about yourself. After a while, you will start to recognize which opportunities will lead you to where you want to go.
7. Dream and set a vision.
We can allow ourselves to have the wildest dreams, but we must also become rooted in those dreams. Set a plan and approach it from your highest level of consciousness—decide where you want to go and then work for it.
8. Unleash your fears and embrace courage.
None of the above will happen if we don’t lean into our courage at any given moment and conquer our fear. It is a transformational process that can’t be reached without daring to take uncomfortable steps. And when it comes to courage, we can apply it in small steps until it becomes easier to take bigger ones.
Oscar Wilde said, “If you want to be a grocer, or a general, or a politician, or a judge, you will invariably become it; that is your punishment. If you never know what you want to be, if you live what some might call the dynamic life but what I will call the artistic life, if each day you are unsure of who you are and what you know, you will never become anything, and that is your reward.”
We shouldn’t view every situation that fulfills us as a destination. At every step, we will want more because we have more inside to give and deliver. I tell myself daily, “Dare to be multi-talented and don’t look at it as being superfluous. Discover and rediscover. Be more of who you are—don’t settle.”
Instead, view what moves you as a way of furnishing your being to become a multi-faceted resource, whereby you can use your set of skills to benefit not only yourself but others as well. If we keep searching to become more of who we truly are, the journey will never be boring. It will, instead, be a joyful discovery.
Now that I have opened myself to exploring my true being, it feels like I am breathing through my existence with more than just oxygen. I am breathing more of who I truly am.