Finding your own way can be a difficult task after years of following directions. I know it was for me. It was as if my life was already predetermined for me, and I was just going through the motions. The ability to pick small details – which sports I would play, what college I would attend, my college major – created a small sense of freedom, but honestly, I was on auto-pilot.
After college I felt lost, because my life plan got a bit vague after graduation. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, or even who I wanted to be. I envisioned myself as important and successful, but that was pretty much it. I knew more about what kind of car I wanted to drive than what I wanted to do with my life.
My predetermined plan said that I should continue my career as an executive in retail, climb the corporate ladder, make more money, buy more things, and so on and so on. One day my roommate asked me, “what do you like to do?” and I couldn’t answer with any depth. I knew I liked to shop and talk to my friends, but that was too shallow to truly make me happy, wasn’t it?
I decided to dedicate every second I wasn’t at work to answering that question, as I attempted to figure out who I was. I bought a pink beach cruiser, downloaded my favorite music, bought some really cool leather bound notebooks, and set out to explore Los Angeles.
I would visit a pet store and hold puppies for an hour, pop in all the cool stores on Fairfax, flirting with the hipsters, as they encouraged me to bring my bike in while I shopped. I’d buy a crop top with ‘fuck’ printed on it in some inconspicuous way, then hop back on my bike, put my headphones in and continue riding throughout the city. I’d ride down Fairfax to the Grove shopping center, stop in the farmer’s market for two scoops of ice cream, and then head over to the park next-door and empty out the basket of my bike. I always carried a comfy blanket to sit on, one of my cool journals, a good book (at that time I was reading the Hunger Games and Game of Thrones series) and a flask filled with Hennessy.
I’d sit in the park and write and read for hours. I wrote poetry for the first time since high school, created short stories and essays that would now be blog posts and, most importantly, I crafted brutally honest letters to myself. I wrote about my fears and insecurities. I was afraid that my fun twenties would quickly turn into my lost thirties if I didn’t create a new plan for myself. I felt like I was floating through life on autopilot. I didn’t want to allow life to happen to me, as I drifted through. Instead, I desired to choose what I wanted out of life and strive to accomplish it. I just had to keep learning what I liked and what I wanted.
I started buying Groupon deals, and trying different things I never would have. I walked or rode my bike to the deal locations, listening to my favorite music, exploring the neighborhoods as I went. Once, I got a massage from a very strong-handed Asian woman, another time I got a Brazilian wax from an older lady that had forgotten her eyeglasses, so she had to wear sunglasses for the procedure. I got my eyebrows threaded, had some of the best sushi, Cuban, Mexican, and Italian food ever, got my hair cut and dyed, went to see a black and white movie, a Lakers game and an art exhibit at LACMA – all from Groupon deals.
I would only have done these types of things if a friend recommended them and tagged along, or a guy took me on a date (although a Brazilian wax would be an awful first date). In a sense, I was dating myself. I spent about 2 months doing this on my time off before I quit my career and lived like this full time.
No one ever told me that I needed to get to know myself. That wasn’t included in any of my predetermined plans. There wasn’t a course in high school dedicated to self-discovery or a requirement of knowing who you are, for college graduation. I was so focused on meeting my benchmarks that I never even stopped to focus on myself.
While many people think this is something you’ll ‘figure out’ along the way, I strongly disagree. There are plenty of people that go through the entire generic American life plan, only to retire without knowing who they are or what they want. You have this idea that your job is stopping you from doing what you want, but the truth is you may not even know what you like to do. And if your job is eliminated tomorrow, you wouldn’t know what to do with your time, simply because you don’t know yourself.
I did my work, and although it may not seem like work, it was. Riding a bike around LA sounds whimsical, but I felt silly at first, riding around by myself. Eating lunch and going to Lakers games may not sound like a task, but I am very shy and going out by myself was intimidating for me. Your ‘work’ may look much different than mine. I’m definitely not recommending everyone buy a pink beach cruiser and crop top to ride around LA.
What I am suggesting, to find your cool, is to dedicate time to understanding and appreciating yourself. Fall head over heels in love with yourself and get to know everything there is to know about you. Try new foods and activities, indulge in the things that make you smile, write your thoughts, desires and dreams down. Study yourself like you studied courses in school. Understanding who you are, who you want to be, and what you want, is the most important exam in your life.
Remember when you were a child and had all these plans of what you wanted to be? At some point, the life plans started to come into play and you let go of your cool to focus on jumping from one accomplishment to the next. I encourage you to get back to your optimism laced, child-like imagination. Reclaim your cool and use it as the blueprint for your life plan. Follow your passions, chase your dreams and live your truth. But you have to discover your passions, identify your dreams and acknowledge your truth before any of that can happen.
Don’t live life on autopilot, find your cool.