Purpose. It’s a hell of a thing, right? I mean, we all have goals in life. Milestones we want to hit before responsibility comes-a-calling. But what happens after we achieve them? By all accounts, we should feel fulfilled. Satisfied in our determination to see a task through to the end. This obviously wears off at some point, leaving us with the feeling of: What do I do now? This feeling of unease is something a lot of us go through as we reach a certain age. Especially as we edge ever closer to our thirties. After all, we’re supposed to have this whole life “thing” figured out by then.

It’s not easy. But then again, no one ever said it was supposed to be either. Whether you’ve just graduated from university or reached a point in life where you’ve simply hit a wall, the pressures of purpose can always feel overwhelming. And why shouldn’t it? This may be the first time you’ve truly stared down the barrel of the rest of your life. This of course comes with its own set of questions. Is this all there is? What do I want to be? Am I doing something wrong? I mean, imagine trying to distil your entire existence through the lens of a few vague questions. it would be ludicrous.

The worst part about life is that no one can really tell you how to do it. Each of us is gifted with a set of inherent skills that will eventually determine where we fit into the world. Add onto this a mixed bag of good and bad personal experiences, and what we’re left with is a human being entirely unique from anyone else. So in short, no, I can't tell you how to live your life, but I can tell you how to find direction. To help make something so vast and unquantifiable as life just that much easier to digest.

Before I came to university, I had a dead-end job in the middle of nowhere. Before that, I had my first run-in with another university. This time I wanted to be an illustrator. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t for me. So I decided to drop out halfway through my first year. When I returned home I told myself I would learn how to draw on my own. As you’d expect - despite my best intentions - life found a way to put a pin in that. Since I was living with my parents, they asked that I get a job - something small to pay for room and board. After a year of unemployment, I was hired to stack shelves and sell rugs at an interiors store. I’m sure at one time or another we’ve all been an extra in that old tale.

What should have been a part time thing - at least until I felt confident in my skills as an illustrator - turned into a four-year commitment. Part time became full time. Room and board became a house share with two other full-timers. As far as I was concerned that was it for me. I had done it. I had the job. I had the house, I even had disposable income to buy whatever I wanted. So why wasn’t I happy?

Well, you could argue it was for a myriad of reasons. I wasn’t feeling challenged enough. I was perhaps too comfortable. Maybe I just didn’t like what I had become. I mean, we all have expectations for ourselves. Dreams from our childhood of the lives we wanted to live, the things we wanted to do as we grew up. Obviously it’s hard to live up to these expectations sometimes, but that doesn’t always mean it’s impossible. We just have to level with reality a smidge.

It was during my lowest point, when I - much like thousands of other people - faced the same existential abyss of “forever”. I remember a very specific moment that seemed to herald this need for change. It was a shift like any other and I had just been asked to go into the back area to pack away a shipment of towels we’d received earlier that day. This would happen every week without fault. I realised after about twenty minutes or so, that I had just been staring at this open box of magenta coloured face towels. I couldn’t move. I was stuck in an almost catatonic state. There were no thoughts, just the realisation that this was it. This was my life.

Naturally, my initial reaction was to just leave. Open the fire exit in the back and run home. But there I stood and continued to stand for another twenty minutes. At some point my boss walked in and chided me for not making any progress, so my primitive motor functions kicked in and that was that. By around six-thirty in the evening the packing was done, and since it was another slow weekday there was little else to do. So I stayed in the back and found something else to occupy my time.

This moment and my initial reaction to it was the culmination of those four terrible years. This perpetual desire to find the next thing to distract me and keep my mind occupied. The thought process being that if I didn't think about it there was nothing I had to solve - and since my soul had been worn down to its dullest nib, I was far too tired to solve much of anything. This took the form of drinking - a rather large component actually, playing video games, watching movies. Anything so long as it released me from the now.

It became obvious to me that I had to do the unthinkable and really take a look at my life and where it was heading. So I began by asking myself reasonable questions like: What are the tangible things in my life that are making me so unhappy? Obviously, this question is a little bit more difficult to answer so candidly. My job. Where I lived. My overall declining social life. I felt like I was going to explode if I stayed in that space any longer. So, keeping with that thought of small steps, I asked: Well, how do we go about changing that?

The most draining aspect at that point was absolutely my job. Now, my choices were very limited, which was good in a way. If I hated my job so much, I could simply quit, right? The only problem with that line of thought was that if I ended up quitting my job I would have to get another one just like it. Remember I still had rent to pay. Since I was a university dropout, with little to no professional skills, I would have a hard time finding something truly satisfying. Maybe I could move somewhere where there were more jobs available? This answer always struck me as superficial. A solution that was never meant to tackle the problem at its core. Now, don’t get me wrong, change can be good. But if you’re unhappy with your job, I don't think suddenly going to the gym would be a healthy way of confronting it.

So, what could I do to widen my potential job search? Well, my qualifications were nothing to brag about. Maybe I could work on that? But that would mean going back to university again, and I'd already tried that. And yet what were my alternatives? It hit all the criteria. I could - even if it all was only for a few years - get away from that house, that place. I could meet a whole bunch of like-minded people. And most importantly I could work towards developing a substantial set of skills tailored made for the working world I was best suited for - whatever that was. At the end of the day, what did I have to lose?

Much like those around me, I found change to be a scary concept. To uproot this comfortable lifestyle I'd carved out for myself. It all felt like so much work, even something as simple as checking out the universities. It’s hard to remember much from back then, but I wouldn't be surprised if the very notion of extra work after a long ten-hour shift was enough to call the whole thing off. But as I was already halfway through my twenties I would have to make the time or risk stewing in mediocrity for the rest of my life.

It was around March of 2018 that I sent my applications off and after a few hiccups with my disastrously antiquated qualifications as well as a whole summer of no news or updates, I was finally accepted. Albeit, so long as I passed their foundation year first. I won’t go through my whole university career, since we’d be here all day. And really, that's not the point I want you to take away from this. I’m not saying that university will solve all your problems. The point is that for significant change to happen, you need to really take stock of your life and ask yourself those often dreaded questions. Namely, Why am I not happy? Now, some people might absolutely be comfortable with their lot in life and more power to them. But if you’re not, then it’s time to take charge.

These decisions won’t come easy and might require a lot of work to achieve them. But isn’t that what life is all about? A series of obstacles to overcome? My dad really put it into perspective for me a long time ago when he said “you don’t want to be that old man on his rocking chair, regretting all the things you never did.” and I suppose when we’re young, we believe we have all the time in the world to make those things happen. But as we all end up discovering, life really does have a tendency to sneak up on you. And before you know it, you’re that much older and those choices you thought were so plentiful have seemingly passed you by.

I’m now reaching the end of university, and with it another four years of my life. Do I regret it? Absolutely not. Do I still fear the future? Of course I do, who doesn’t? But I am truly grateful for what I have achieved. And for the first time in almost eight years, I feel confident in my life moving forward. I’ve met some fantastic people that have really inspired me while I've been a student. And most importantly I found something - a tangible skill - that I'm good at. This has opened the way for so many different possibilities and even though I don't have anything lined up immediately after graduating there are so many options to choose from now that I don't feel quite as anxious anymore.

So, regardless of where you are or the circumstances you think are depriving you of meaning, take the time and find those tiny first steps towards something else - wherever that might be. They could be big steps. Or they can be small. But it’s better to be honest with yourself while you still have the time to do so.

Liam Cope
Liam Cope

A freelance copywriter, keeping his thumb to the back roads of Adland with nothing but a saddlebag, and some unfinished notebooks.

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