Transition periods: they’re a real bitch.  There’s nothing like uncertainty about both now and the future to make your mind feel like it’s just come ashore on some wobbly sea legs.  The key qualities of a transition period are vague direction, multiple possibilities or options, groundlessness, and uprootedness.  Namely, you’ve leapt from one island of safety but have yet to land on the other and meanwhile hang suspended with your gut rising into your chest like Wile E. Coyote.  My gut instinct when in a period of transition is to get out of it as soon as possible: make landfall, find safety, place pro, whatever I’ve got to do to reduce the uncertainty.  But this approach doesn’t recognize the benefits of this state, and as one is often in a state of transition without a controllable end, it’s pointless to lament, and it’s productive to capitalize on what is ultimately a useful state of being.

Security is an illusion. Always.  There is nothing that can’t change and nothing that won’t eventually do so.  To be in a state of transition makes this truth startlingly clear, as the ideas that we normally use to shield ourselves from this fact have been taken away.  This is such an uncomfortable state of being that most people, by my read at least, spend a significant, if not dominant, portion of their time and effort and energy avoiding it like the plague.

Recently I’ve found myself approaching a transition: in a month, the grant that funds my research will have paid me all that it can, and beyond that date I’m unsure of where or how I’ll be employed.  My search for work, especially in this job market, has highlighted for me that mobility is one of my greatest assets in finding a job.  Thus, I’m looking at jobs in Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, and elsewhere.  The thing is, I don’t know where I’ll end up, or if I’ll even want to leave Portland.  There’s more for me here than my heart cares to admit.

As this transition approaches and I try to find a direction, I’ve asked myself what I believe to by my purpose in life.  Yawn, you say, give me a good YouTube link and I’m out of here.  But I’m not about to offer any conclusions, just an idea about how to get to them, which will perhaps be useful to you.

I often find myself trying to reverse-engineer this problem by asking what it is that I want, and then figuring out how to get it.  Without committing my thoughts to paper, I was vaguely answering that question with ‘free time’, ‘mobility’, and ‘money’.  But I recently attempted an exercise that suggested spending 30-60 minutes writing down every idea that popped into my head about what my life’s purpose might be, no matter how absurd or immoral it might sound.  45 minutes later and with 134 answers, I’d made a bit of headway.

But more than making headway, I made a small but important realization.  It’s not rationally founded, but I think that self-examination on your part might confirm that what I’ve found is true.  What I found is that ultimately my sense of fulfillment comes from releasing the energy that I have inside of me towards a focused end.  No, not the hyper energy, or the sort that comes from coffee, but the driving energy that is the basis of yearning, determination, and willpower.  The object of this energy, i.e. that towards which is flows, changes pretty much seasonally, but my sense of fulfillment and my happiness are greatest when it is flowing.

So, to maximize these states (fulfillment, happiness), there are two paths to follow.  The first is to amplify the energy itself, so that it carries more weight and is less-easily stymied.  The second, and likely more useful in the short-term, is to identify the hindrances to its flowing-forth, and to remove each blockage by whatever means are proper.  The greatest block is fear, but there are others: distraction, poor health, inertia– no doubt you can produce your own list.

What my babbling boils down to is a different idea about how to find direction: rather than picking external aims and working towards them, more returns in happiness and fulfillment will come from eliminating the blocks that hinder expression of your internal energy.  During this process, it may be necessary to support yourself by non-inspiring means, but ultimately, you will have freed yourself to be a creative and effective force at whatever it is that you choose to do.  We can think of the energy that leads to fulfillment like money: to produce wealth in the long-term, it’s much more effective to reinvest in the capital that produces wealth than it is to work at managing the bit of money that you already make.