Last year, I had a conversation with some friends that centered on one question: “How well do you/can you really know yourself?” It’s a relatively simple question with an infinitely more complicated answer, and one that is likely different for every person.
I think the answer to that question depends on how much genuine self-reflection you regularly do. In my experience, the average person doesn’t do much of that. That’s why so many people end up with lives they never planned or careers they never wanted; they just do things without really analyzing why they do them. Then they retroactively ask “How did I end up here?”
I was reminded of this debate because I started analyzing my own major life decisions lately. I moved to Los Angeles seven months ago to pursue a job in a more creative field. I made that decision because I felt unfulfilled in my previous profession. I at least knew that much; but I never really took the time to think about what exactly was leaving me unfulfilled.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a sports writer. I had my first writing internship while I was still in high school, I wrote for the school newspaper through all four years of college, and I spent three years after college working for a television station.
But through all of that time, I never really sat down and asked myself what it was about sports writing that was so interesting to me. I knew I loved sports and I could write well, so it seemed like a natural career choice.
But then why was my last job leaving me so unfulfilled? I spent all day watching sports and writing about them. So that should have been exactly what I wanted. And once I quit, I had every intention of continuing to write in my spare time. Yet I rarely did. Why?
The answer is because writing itself isn’t truly what I was passionate about. I mistakenly thought it was because I had always been a writer and always enjoyed what I did. The two just seemed to go hand in hand.
But my true satisfaction came from all the other facets of being a sports writer. Hearing the roar of the crowd at every game, analyzing what brings success to some players and failure to others, the rush of adrenaline you get when a thrilling game ends and you realize you have 10 minutes to encapsulate it.
In short, it was as close as I could get to the experience of being a professional athlete without actually being one. It had nothing to do with the writing itself. My writing essentially was just an outlet for me to relay everything I had seen and heard. It was just a byproduct of what I actually enjoyed about the job.
So when my last job took me out of the field and plopped me behind a desk, the true soul of my writing had been ripped out. I could no longer convey the excitement or tension each game deserved because I hadn’t witnessed it. I was like everyone else watching on TV.
When I realized the job no longer suited me, I assumed that meant my love of journalism had run its course. If I could no longer get excited about writing a game recap, it must be time to move on. So I did.
I moved to Los Angeles with every intention of leaving the journalism field behind me for good. But when I got here, a funny thing happened.
People asked me what I used to do for a living, and when I told them they invariably wanted to know more. What was it like? What did I get to do? What was my favorite part?
In my answers to those questions, the word “writing” never came up. It wasn’t writing a story that was exciting or enjoyable; it was covering the story that was so much fun. Getting to interview interesting people and see things I’d never seen before made me so excited that I had to get it on the page before I burst.
But the crazy thing is that I didn’t realize any of this until it was taken away. I knew I loved being a sports writer, but I never really understood why until I wasn’t doing it anymore. And now that I think about it, I really miss being a true sports journalist. So much so that it has renewed my interest in the field and made me want to get back into it.
So what does my little career-related anecdote have to do with that original question? I think it means that when we’re young, it’s impossible to really, truly, fully know ourselves. It’s impossible to know exactly what we want, who we want to be or how we want to live.
But that’s okay, because that makes every day its own little journey of self-discovery. I know much more about myself now than I did yesterday, and hopefully I’ll know even more tomorrow. That’s exciting and makes every day worth living.