I love the word “paradigm” when describing my life. There have been several times when I thought I had embraced a new paradigm, but it was just a false alarm. One paradigm that has changed my life is the “positivity paradigm.” I think I’ve found a new paradigm to follow: the “explorative paradigm.” I recently discovered that I ascribe to an “introspective paradigm,” where I think that I can find purpose in my life, and other answers, just by thinking about myself. Now, I don’t think this is enough. I want to augment my introspection with exploration.
During my searches for purpose, I’ve usually assumed that the introspective approach is the proper approach. If I want to find out what I should do with my life, then I need only look within. Much of the literature I’ve read has reinforced this approach. I’ve seen someone advise sitting down with a blank piece of paper and writing until you find something that makes you cry with meaning. I’ve gone through a book that inventories my strengths and likes, and then is supposed to help me find a career. I’ve gone through several introspective exercises that were supposed to help me create goals, but it’s never satisfied me. I’ve never found THE ONE thing that I’m supposed to do. Occasionally, I’ll be filled with fire, but it will quickly fade. I can’t find the one goal that will sustain me. My current approach suggests that all I’ve got to do is search harder within myself, and I’ll find it.
I don’t think the pure introspective approach will help me find what I love because love is something that grows. Several activities that I love started out as things I was indifferent towards. When I first watched football, I had no idea what was going on. It was something just to pass the time because I was constantly bored freshman year in college. No one in my family had any interest in football, nor did any of my close friends, so I never cared about football either. At the football games in high school, I never paid attention to the game. Yet after I started figuring out what was going on, I started enjoying the game. Now, I love football. During football season, I watch it all weekend and then I spend a bunch of time on fantasy football. My comic was also something that I grew to enjoy. I’ve always needed a creative outlet, but The Chalkboard Manifesto was never a huge priority. There were fallow periods where I wouldn’t update for a month of more. Now I have a lot more pride in my comic, and I update very regularly. Yet there were long periods of time where I was very confused about my comic. Did I love doing this, or did I not? Was this something I really wanted to do? Only through constantly working on my comic, by focusing more on the craft of writing them, did I gain a deeper appreciation of my comic.
Now think of where I’d be with the introspective approach. If I sat in a room alone, and thought about what I loved, I would never have watched a game of football. If I analyzed my feelings, I would’ve decided that my confusion indicated that I wasn’t dedicated to my comic. My life wouldn’t be as rich as it is today.
Even now, I may be closing doors because of the introspective paradigm. I was recently talking to a friend about the business end of my comic, which is stagnant. I’ve never done anything like it before, and I’ve never shown any particular interest in business. Maybe I don’t like it, and I should forget about it. After all, if I had any real interest, then I would’ve done it already, right? This thought-process seems to close off a promising avenue. Shit, maybe I should just try it out, right?
This leads me to a different paradigm: the explorative paradigm. I don’t want to reject introspection, but I want to add more exploration to my life. I want it to be a priority, and I want it to be part of my strategy for finding purpose. If I just look within, I’ll never find all the things I could come to love. I have to look outwards to find everything that I will enjoy. I need an attitude that values exploration.
So I think some of the advice I’ve read before won’t work for me. Maybe when you’re 35 years old, you’ve done enough to figure out what you love and what you don’t love. You just have to think about it and find it within. (Or maybe not.) People my age, though, I don’t think they know what the fuck they want yet. (Some of them.) More importantly, I don’t think they know enough to know what they want. I think they still have a lot of exploration to do in order to figure that out. There’s not enough inside to figure out their purpose yet.
I want to add one thing to this “explorative paradigm”: Trying new things is not enough. It’s not enough to just go out and try something to see if you like it. Let’s say you’re playing Super Smash Brothers, and you’re new to the game. You’re getting absolutely schooled, and you yell, “I hate this game.” Yet after you play a bunch and get better, you start to like the game. The game grows on you. Your initial assessment was based on your inability to play the game, not the game’s objective merits. Sometimes a little mastery is required to even get to the point where you can decide whether you like something or not. Moreover, it may be the fact that you played the game so much that caused you to love it.
Love is something that grows. When I think of relationships — not just romantic ones — the love you have for a person isn’t something that is absolute and fixed at the beginning. You care for a person because of all the time you spend with them. It’s not that you meet a person, instantly decide how you feel about him or her, and then ration out your time that you will spend with that person. The same kind of thing applies to the activities that one does. I came to enjoy my comic a lot more because of all the time that I put into it. Sometimes you spend a lot of time with someone, but then you realize you don’t like that person so much. But it wouldn’t make sense to look at that person right away and decide that you hate him. There has to be a period where you suspend judgment, and you’re fine with just exploring who that person is… or what that activity is.
So it’s important to spend a lot of time out in the world exploring new things, instead of just looking within. One won’t know automatically what one likes or dislikes. No matter how long I lock myself in a dark room, I won’t find myself by staring at a blank sheet of paper. I have to try out all the new things I can and suspend judgment until I’m qualified enough. I have to be okay with the fact that I won’t automatically know what I’m going to do for a career. I have to explore and know that it’s okay to explore.