Whale and Petunia Life Lessons
When I think about who I am or my purpose, I often end up thinking about the whale and the bowl of petunias in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The ending of that scene isn’t pretty. The whale meets the ground, naively happily because they are still figuring out the big questions of “who am I”, “what’s my purpose in life” and wanted to befriend the ground...the bowl of petunias only thought is, “Oh no, not again.” The first couple questions of the whale are generally what pop into my brain when I’m feeling rather unsure of myself. As I write this, I imagine myself yelling them at the moon, for some reason... They are some basic questions to which I often want answers. Unfortunately, real life isn’t so simple and answering those questions is not an easy task.
Who am I? I’m not my job as a typesetter or designer, though I may enjoy doing either from time to time. I’m not my looks, though I do sometimes like the way I present to the world. I’m not my salary; it’s small though still rather useful. And, I am most definitely not my productivity; I suck at being productive all the time or even part of the time, I also just don’t want to be that productive...
I don’t want to be defined by one thing, or even many things that I may do to either make money or pass the time. I am me. No one else is. But that often doesn’t feel like enough in this world of perfect social media posts and ads that makes you feel like you aren’t doing it right, or aren’t enough. I already struggle so much with feeling like enough, I definitely don’t need more, thank you very much.
Mostly I just want to be me, no labels, no add-ons. Just me. I’ve found that I tend to hide behind things like my job rather than explore who I am beneath all the outer layers. I don’t like to ask myself what I want to do. I should like to know, but, because I often feel worried that there isn’t anything there, I don’t like to face it. The more I push past the outer things that are a part of my identity but not what defines me, the more I am finding I do know what I want. I’ve let fear rule for so long that I had forgotten my dreams and ambitions.
What’s my purpose? Simply put, maybe, to be the best version of myself; to be kind, honest and helpful to others and myself. I can try to define that further by finding a job or an outlet that lets me do all or some of those things. In thinking about where I want my life to take me I’m not sure of the destination, but I know that I will feel more fulfilled along the way if I can be a helper in some small way. In actual practice, this gets more muddled.
Purpose had me stalled for a long time, I’ve felt driven to be more creative, to make more money, to be more something, or to do more. Those are good goals, but as a purpose they kinda suck. They end and you are left aimless until the next thing comes along. I’m honestly not sure if I’m arguing semantics right now, but I just feel that a purpose is so much bigger than your next creation or job. It’s about an overarching direction that may shift, change, and/or grow with you.
There are moments when I’m all excited to ask myself these questions, like the whale, but inevitably there are times that I feel more like the bowl of petunias...Oh no, not again! These last few years my purpose has changed on multiple occasions, not just shifted but drastically altered as I continue to discover myself. There were many bowl-of-petunia moments where I was just not pleased with having to think it through all over again. But, unlike the bowl of petunias, I’m still happy I’ve done all the work, even when it feels terribly unstable. You don’t find out until later that the bowl of petunias has been through some shit...and hasn’t handled it well. Don’t be a bowl of petunias...
We all need purpose in our life, but it’s also something that will never be nailed down at any point in life. Knowing yourself can be just as hard to come by as defining your purpose. Both are things where it’s more about the journey than the destination. You’ll have headings but it will be elusive and sketchy too.
And, if we are sticking with the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, do my answers really mean anything? I mean, we all know that the answer to life, the universe, and everything is 42. Just kidding. I’m just a nerd who really enjoyed Douglas Adams’ trilogy of five and saw an opportunity…
—A Recovering Design Imposter
PS. I found this photo amusingly fitting for this post, not quite the same thing but still relevant.