How I’m Becoming the Person I Want to Be by Embracing a Job I Didn’t Expect

WITH MY ROLLED UP DENIM apron in hand, I hang onto the decrepit wooden railing as the thoughts run through my mind: Just focus on today. Not how I’ll get through this tomorrow, not the mistakes of yesterday.

Today. I get to work. I’m on a break at a new job that signifies the beginning of the next chapter in my life.

With thirty minutes, I shut my eyes and begin my meditation practice. I hear the seals barking down on the shore below; I hear people walking past. The sounds become white noise as I focus my mind on compassion, gratitude, and joy for where I am.

I’ve never worked in a restaurant — but now I’m bussing tables in San Diego, what I believe to be a vital lesson in the school of life.

On a day-to-day basis, I’m training my spiritual muscle. Do the work; be there for others; smile through it all, because life is a gift. Chop wood. Carry water.

Still, it’s not quite what I had in mind immediately following the release of my first book; but without the “next step” clearly laid out regarding a career in writing, perhaps getting down and dirty is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.

The only way I’ll know is by giving it a shot as the fool: one who is willing to start at the bottom, who’s hopeful, and eager to learn.

Uncovering Our Path

Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces who made the ancient story of the hero’s journey well known, writes:

If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it's not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take.

In a sense, I’m in between stories. My book encapsulates who I am at this stage of my life — Vincent Van Patten at twenty-five years old — the apprentice, the seeker of meaning, the student.

Writing the book felt like a vital step. Rather than trying to prove something, it’s a book of exploration.

Writing came to me like a gift; I started because I didn’t know where else to seek meaning. Still, maybe to get to where we’re ultimately supposed to be, we’ll need to diverge from what we think is our straight and necessary path.

We might find that trying different jobs and exploring alternate fields will enhance our skills in our respective passion or career.

This job has already given me much inspiration to write; while it’s seldom easy (no meaningful pursuit will ever be easy) it could be essential.

Live the Questions Now

Regardless of the season you’re in, it’s natural to wonder: What’s next? What “should” I be doing to move ahead? It’s scary to be in a position where we don’t know which step to take next. We want to know what the future entails.

But instead of fearing the unknown, perhaps you must do everything you can to embrace the mystery, for the mystery is the source of inspiration, creativity, and boundless life if you’re willing to venture into its depths.

When you don’t know which step to take, sometimes all you must do is ask.

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue,

writes the twentieth-century Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke in his Letters to a Young Poet.

Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now.

When you ask: what will I do next? Try reconsidering what stage you’re in at this moment. This moment — today — is what’s next.

If the universe suddenly gifted us the answers to what we’re supposed to be doing, perhaps, as Rilke states, we wouldn’t have the wisdom to live out those answers properly.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. Perhaps I don’t know what I truly want; but today I’m going to live with my entire heart and soul — I’m going to strive to live the questions now.

The Gift of a Problem

The questions cause me to stir in the middle of the night, grab the notebook by my bed and write. That’s a good thing.

Bereft of solutions, I had at least been granted the gift of a problem,

writes Jordan Peterson in his first book Maps of Meaning.

If you have questions, it means that you care in which direction your life is moving. Perhaps meaning, that which sustains and gives us a reason to continue, comes from grappling with worthwhile problems.

We’re susceptible to believing we’re not making progress or we’re stuck in a rut because that’s how it might appear on the surface.

When we wonder what’s next, regarding the action we’re going to take — the job, the career move, the life change — perhaps we’re not seeing the steps in a moral and a spiritual sense, nor how we’re changing underneath the surface.

Our Path Comprises More Than a Progressing Career

We have the opportunity every day to grow from the inside out through how we act, no matter the situation we’re in. When we wonder what next step to take, perhaps we must ask, who do I want to be? Not necessarily what, but who?

Who comprises much more than just a job or career — who is a way of being. Bussing tables is part of who I want to be; hardworking, able to retain my joy through anything, constantly striving to help.

This is the genuine test of spiritual fortitude.

I can write about cultivating my moral principles all I want — acting them out in the real world is an entirely different test; a daily, meaningful game, a proper opportunity to become all that we’re meant to be.

The Fool

Most importantly, I’m the fool. The fool isn’t afraid to start from the bottom with their gaze set forward and up.

It will take time to figure everything out — the fool, the apprentice, is willing to suffer in the moment, knowing that what’s being gleaned from a novel experience will make them a more individual and competent human being.

No one unwilling to be a foolish beginner can learn,

writes Jordan Peterson in his book Beyond Order: Twelve More Rules for Life.

It was for this reason, among others, that Carl Jung regarded the Fool as the archetypal precursor to the figure of the equally archetypal Redeemer, the perfected individual.

To be the fool is to confront the unknown, believing that what lies beyond our explored territory is the key to spiritual growth. I’m essentially running around like a chicken with my head cut off, but I’m learning something new every single day.

Today, it was how to carry a tray of waters slightly more efficiently (I spilled water on my second day, feeling foolish indeed) knowing where to find certain items in the labyrinthian cellar, and how to appease often contrasting personalities at once.

From one day to the next, I feel slightly more competent and willing to fall, only to get back up stronger. Perhaps we need this constant trying, falling, and rising to know what we’re truly able to overcome.

I’d be lying if I said I don’t feel like a nuisance asking for help, or if I don’t fear looking dumb as I struggle to bring down the umbrella that’s on the brink of flying off the edge of the patio while the entire restaurant watches.

But even in the moment of insecurity, I know nothing can hurt me. We must put ourselves in this position which perhaps seems trivial on the surface, but stands for something profound and real.

To one day be the hero of our own life story, we must first act as the fool.

From the Fool to the Hero

In his blog post “Pick yourself” author and daily blogger Seth Godin writes that there is nobody stopping you from grabbing the microphone, the pen, the stage, and sharing who you are. Godin writes:

What pick yourself means is that it's never been easier to decide to be responsible for your own work, for your own agenda, for the change you make in the world.

Still, we feel imposter syndrome. While the possibility is there, grabbing the mic is incredibly daunting. We feel like we must know what we’re doing before we can create real change.

But nobody has ever known exactly what they were doing before diving into the void of the unexplored.

You don’t need to have it all figured out before stepping past your comfort zone. The attitude — the willingness to try, fail, fall, and rise again — is more important than having it all figured out.

Perhaps to be humble and willing is the precondition for true advancement in ourselves, and the world.

Jordan Peterson writes in Maps of Meaning:

Acceptance of mortal weakness --the fool-- is the paradoxical humility that serves as a precondition for true heroism. This belief is further based upon faith in human potential - upon faith that the individual spirit will respond to challenge and flourish.
This is the necessary leap that makes courageous and creative action possible. Humility means therefore: I am not yet what I could be. This an adage both cautious and hopeful.

I’m okay with not knowing what next steps I’ll take. I’m at peace with this moment. I’m learning, falling, and cultivating my way of being, regardless of the situation.

I’m determined to play the fool with a smile, to fall with grace and get back up, and to continue taking steps forward. For now: chop wood, carry water.

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