Society has always made me believe that my sense of self must coincide with my profession.
See, when I was younger, everyone asked me the same old question:
“Who do you want to be when you grow up?”
I’ve never had a real answer to that, so I told them what my current obsession was at the time.
When I was a child I was obsessed with car tyres.
They were so big, and their smell was so intoxicating. Clearly, I wanted to be a tyre dealer.
“A tyre dealer!”
“Oh… are you sure you don’t wanna be an astronaut, maybe?”
I wasn’t looking at the stars as I was supposed to, apparently.
When I was a boy I was obsessed with videogames.
They were an escape from reality, sometimes even a better reality. Clearly, I wanted to be a gamer.
“A… a gamer?”
“But that’s not a job!”
“An electrical engineer.”
“Good choice, you’ll certainly find a job! And in these times… that’s gold.”
Therefore, I was being convinced that I had found my vocation and, in this way, also myself.
Or so I thought. After three months since I started my bachelor’s degree, I suddenly quit.
I hated all those classes, I hated the place, I hated those people… and I hated myself. Because that wasn’t me.
I then spent the next six months trying to figure out who I was and what to do with my life.
In those dark times, I became obsessed with some psychological TV series.
I was thrilled about discovering why killers do some unconceivable things and how they lie about it. Clearly, I wanted to be a criminal psychologist.
“A criminal psychologist!”
“Well, this is not an easy choice… but if you really like it, go for it.”
That time, I wasn’t so sure that I had found myself in my new vocation. Nevertheless, I loved most of those classes, I loved the place, I loved those people… and I pretty liked myself. Because that was more me.
During the five years of my master’s degree, I became very interested in the domain of cognitive neuroscience, hence I changed tracks. This ultimately led to a thesis on the nature of consciousness.
So, it was all downhill from there, right? Wrong.
The next natural step would have been completing a one-year traineeship, but where?
If I had wished to stay in the field of consciousness, there wouldn’t have been any possibilities at my university or anywhere else in my country, as far as I knew. And moving abroad was completely out of the question.
I didn’t want to change again my aim, but doing so I was aimless.
And then a series of unforeseen consequences happened. Maybe I could call it luck.
At the very end of my summer vacation, I took a bad flu. Because the wheezing didn’t stop after a couple of days at home, I went to visit my lung specialist at the main hospital of my hometown: it had probably been a psychosomatic effect of my apprehension about the future. We were talking about it, when she mentioned that the hospital had a clinical psychology ward and that I should have sent my curriculum there.
It was not my field and I didn’t want to send anything, but I did.
Partly because I didn’t think I was going to be accepted, partly because I would have followed this strange flow if I had been accepted. And, in the end, I was.
The first few months were hard, very hard. The incoherence between what I had been studying for so many years and what I was working on was, from time to time, totally unbearable. I felt frustrated, upset and miserable.
But when I stopped focusing on what I was doing and started paying attention to the people with whom I was doing it, my mindset completely overturned. I felt esteemed, grateful and content.
Now I was learning a lot, some things I would have never anticipated to learn.
But another thing I would have never ever expected to happen in my whole life, well… it did happen.
One of my dearest friends killed himself.
It happened so out of the blue that it took a heavy toll on me.
The house of cards which was my life instantly collapsed. Everything I believed I wished for my future didn’t matter anymore, nothing mattered anymore. My head was again full of questions, instead of answers.
Because of this, I was emotionally exhausted every single day of the last months of traineeship. Only some of my relationships kept me afloat.
After my year as a trainee, I should have studied for my professional qualification exam and, subsequently, I should have decided where I preferred to enrol in: a doctoral school or a specialization school. Finally, perhaps, I could have had a real job as a neuro or clinical psychologist.
I’ve always said to my friends and colleagues that I wanted to pursue this typical career path.
I’ve always said to my family that I didn’t feel on par with this supposed normality.
I lied to both of them: I truly hated the idea to spend another three to four years of my life studying and working, but I knew I would have done it, in the end. Because… what else was I supposed to do?
After my year as a trainee, I was feeling so overwhelmed by my friend’s sudden death that I had two options: pretend it never happened and passively proceed with a life dictated by the expectations of society, or embrace it to actively help myself figure out new revelations about life and its inner meaning.
If I chose the first alternative, I wouldn’t be here now.
At first, I was fixated with the obvious question:
“Why did he take his own life?”
But I soon understood that knowing his reasons wasn’t important at all, because it couldn’t have changed the past.
I needed to answer a slightly different question:
“Why would someone wish to kill themselves?”
I believed that knowing the general reason underlying all the specific reasons may have changed the future.
After a few months of discovery and self-reflection, I thought I had found an answer: to live is more terrifying than to die. In other words, it’s so painfully hard to find the meaning of life that death appears as the greatest relief.
That’s depressing but, honestly, it’s good reason to die.
So, I myself searched for the meaning of life.
I’ve come to the following conclusion: there’s absolutely no point in living. None.
Life has no hardwired meaning.
And… that’s really fucking beautiful.
Because when I realized this, for the first time I could scream in joy:
“Fuck you society, only I get to decide what the meaning of my own life is,
only I get to choose what to do with it. Seriously, fuck you.”
The meaning I’ve chosen for myself?
My friend lost his will to live too soon. I then felt like I had to hold onto my life and double up the vitality therein in order to preserve his own, in order to honour some type of natural equilibrium.
Now I want to become the best possible version of myself and help other people in doing the same.
I want to prevent them from deciding to end their own lives.
I believe my friend’s legacy is my purpose.
And I believe this is the right thing to do.
How can I do it? Oh, I have plenty of pieces to begin with, but I don’t want to talk about them now. Let’s just say I have a plan.
Going back to the self-equals-profession argument:
I have a degree in psychology, but I am not a psychologist.
I’ve built this website, but I am not a web developer.
I’m travelling somewhere, but I am not a traveller.
I run every time I can, but I am not a runner.
… and so on.
Because I don’t have a “real job”as one of them, I’d be a nobody if that equivalence held true.
But I am somebody even just for the sheer fact that I exist, am I not?
Basically, society has always conveyed a view of myself that’s deeply flawed, therefore it must be rejected: to identify my sense of self with a non-existent profession is simply nonsense.
Instead, I believe my identity is made up by the sum of all the things that have ever piqued my curiosity and of my feelings about them. As a result, I happen to be someone who loves whatever he’s doing in the present. I am someone who loves all his current obsessions, the first of which is to realize that purpose.
Yes, this certainly hinders a precise and concise definition of myself: I honestly wouldn’t know what to write on my identity card. Nonetheless, I’m now a happy human being.
Is it so bad, then, that I cannot be defined?
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