Not surprisingly, 30 doesn’t feel any less confusing than 29 did … or 21 did … or 15 did. Yes, I feel like I have a better handle on my career – for the first time in quite awhile, I am energized by what I am doing and see where it can go. At 21, I had twenty different careers I wanted to pursue. At 15, I thought I could become a fashion designer – with zero eye for fashion and even fewer art skills, if that is possible.
But you realize that your career isn’t everything. When I tell people that I work for a non-profit organization, their first reaction is often to ask, “Why?” And with all honesty, I can say that on my worst day of work, the families that I help can so easily remind me why I do what I do. On one side of the coin, working for people who face bigger challenges than you do reminds you how good you really have it. On the other hand, knowing that what you do directly benefits people makes it more than a paycheck. You know that answering that one last e-mail, late at night on your BlackBerry, could have helped a mother who thought she had no options to find help for her child.
Yet even knowing that you help people isn’t infinitely fulfilling. When I lived in Charleston, I volunteered at the MUSC Children’s Hospital. My responsibilities were simple – I played with the inpatients to give their parents a break inbetween visits and to keep their minds off of what was really happening. You can never underestimate the strength of terminally ill children and their families – it is the only place where what seems to be the worst thing imaginable, never is in their eyes. For every child I had the chance to meet, I wanted to fix his life.
And so we pray. I was raised like most kids of my generation in my neighborhood – a Christmas and Easter Catholic who attended religious education long enough to complete my sacraments. I grew up with Catholic and Jewish kids until I left New York for Georgia. My freshman year left me feeling out of place, surrounded by people who were not only of other faiths, but had been truly raised in the church. I was ripe for the pickings by the cults – you know, the ones who prey upon lonely out-of-state freshmen in the dorms. I remember going to see Phish perform in Atlanta and going home for dinner with a girl who lived on my hall. Her mother asked me what religion I was and replied, “You do know Catholicism is a made up religion, don’t you?” And while I obviously knew that it wasn’t, I hadn’t the slightest clue how to reply.
My senior year, I volunteered at the Catholic Center to teach religious education classes. I was paired up with a girl who became one of my closest friends and together, we taught a small group of fourth graders. I was obviously learning with them. I remember a few key moments – accidentally telling the kids in one breath that I was 20 and then telling them that my Christmas tradition was “going out drinking on Christmas Eve.” Another time, we were supposed to discuss a chapter on stewardship … and it was about recycling. I had no idea how to reconcile the two. So I read it in my best “Jesus voice” and we moved on. I also may have been struck by lightning on the way home.
Either way, I was trying hard to find a place for religion in my life. I started attending church on Sundays at the Catholic Center and for the first time in my life, didn’t have to look at the cheat sheet when I recited the Apostle’s Creed. I lapsed when I returned to N.Y. (mostly because I really didn’t like the particular church I grew up in) but kept the idea of faith in my mind. When I moved to Charleston, I found a Catholic church that I fell in love with. I thoroughly enjoyed my Sunday 5 p.m. masses and listened intently to the priest, whose messages were relevant and thought-provoking.
Again, being in the South I had more friends that considered religion an important, if not the most important part of their lives. I actively wanted to feel what they did – but wasn’t sure what the missing piece was. And, unlike other faiths, the one thing I embraced most about Catholicism was forgiveness – I didn’t want to practice a faith that involved being saved.
One of my good friends was extremely active in her church – her entire life pretty much revolved around it. I was curious – she seemed happy with a very structured life (due to her denomination) and I envied how “sure” she seemed about all of it. A few years later, she had a crisis of faith and began to question what it all stood for. I watched as she had to dissect her beliefs into minutae – to find out what she really believed in, as opposed to what she was simply told to believe in. She returned to her faith and found that at a particularly challenging time in her life, there is no way she could have lived without it.
I don’t think I would be happy embracing a “very Christian life” – as I said, the concept of being saved is not what I believe in. I think at times, my life would feel more fulfilled if I actively included religion in it. Yet I never want it to feel forced. I want it to be something that I discover and impart in my own life.
So what gives you the answers? What makes your life make sense; what makes you feel both comfortable and content being YOU in your own skin? What makes you feel like you are making your mark on the world and really living your life – not just waking up and seeing the hours go by? How do you decide that most of the stuff you dwell on really doesn’t matter and devote yourself to figuring out the things that do?
I want to be a better person.
I want to be happy in my career.
I want to find love and give love in return.
I want to have faith.
I want to be steadfast in what I stand for and believe in.
I want to be an example for other people.
How do I find the missing piece to feeling secure, complete and most of all, fulfilled?
“This is your life, are you who you want to be
This is your life, is it everything you dreamed it would be
When the world was younger and you had everything to lose”
– “This is Your Life”