What Is It That You Want To Do?

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Last month a close friend repeatedly asked me “what is it that you want to do?” This question is his way of trying to understand what it is I can do. I’m in this miserable and extended transition between having once lived as an information technology professional and now barely living as PhD student who is in perpetual existential crisis. Hence, I get to write the philosophy blog.

So we were pretty much stuffing ourselves with chocolate croissants and a gargantic piece of bread pudding at La Boulange in Cole Valley when I told him I’d like to get paid for ideas, for connecting ideas, for dreaming up ideas, and the freedom to explore them while making a living at it. That was the long and vague answer in the midst of a carb high; but quite close to the truth of things. He just stared at me. I then told him I’d do anything. He gestured to a smear of chocolate that apparently glazed my chin and said, “Hmmm. I have to think about that.”

He still doesn’t know what it is I can do. And in some sense neither do I. This week’s theme on Risk, like last week’s theme on Responsibility, I’ll discuss in light of Commitment. The risk of committing to a single path or idea, in a sophomoric sense, leads someone to assume she is limiting herself. Once she chooses an idea in which to commit, freedom to explore other avenues of thought and action is at risk. But the risk of not committing, of not acting, leaves her muddled in existential crisis. Aahhh, paradox, love it. Risk without commitment is meaningless. And risk of commitment both frees you and limits you.

Years ago I left corporate culture, a padded cubicle decorated with an inspirational poster which read “follow your bliss.” That totally gags me now, but I took the risk, both financially and existentially, determined to write a novel I’d been ruminating over, a story about a woman’s search for meaning that spans generations and belief systems. The commitment to write turned into a commitment to research (I actually became a Quaker for a month) which in turn became a commitment to education and mental masturbation. A few years later, the book remains a pile of napkin notes. The risk was taken, but the path toward the initial goal changed leaving the goal yet to be reached.

I look back on the decisions I’ve made throughout this life process which have led me here to ask what is it that I want to do. My favourite quote (you guessed it) is act in order to know. My actions in retrospect were not actions of doing the writing. I read and researched. The risk inherent to writing, of laying oneself bare, of perhaps knowing oneself deeper through the process of writing and coming to terms whether I have value as a writer is crazy-making. So let me ask you… what is it that you love to do, for which you’ll take the risk? What paradox is revealed through the risk of commitment? What kind of risk taker are you?

PhotoCredit: Christmas w/a K

About The Author

Cynthia Vale is a budding scholar and doctoral student in Transformative Inquiry at the California Institute of Integral Studies. She writes the dot429 philosophy blog. You can reach Cynthia at cynthia@valediscovery.com.

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