A Love Letter to Purpose

Well, hello 2010.

Hello to the year American Idol died.

Hello to the year that the story of an island ended on “Lost” and began on “The Jersey Shore.”

Hello to the year we finally got sick of Kristen Stewart’s perpetual scowl.

Hello me.

At around 3:30 any weekday afternoon, you can find me still at school. With a handful of other angsty teenagers, and though most of them are just looking for a spot just off campus to smoke a joint, I’d like to think the vast majority are participating in after-school extra-curricular activities. Clubs, sports, etc. My world is much different. Smaller. Less important. My future only goes as far as Saturday morning and my past only goes as far as 1st period or the last time I kissed a girl. My actions have little effect on the outside world and those around me.

Basically if I can make it through a school day without pissing off my girlfriend (tough), without being sent to the Principal’s (we had 5 different ones) office, and hopefully witnessing a hallway fight (blood is a bonus) — then all is well in my world.

My parents are still married. My brother is happy, social, and (for the most part) under control. My girlfriend is rich (in fact, insanely rich in my eyes, because my family hardly had two nickels to rub together the day after payday most months). College is a million years away, even though I’m beginning my senior year — and to me, college is not about grades, futures, and building a foundation for adult life and a career. It’s about parties, sex, and finally being “off-the-leash.”

But with all that, you will still find me here. Doing something similar to what I’m doing now. Leaning back in my chair, sipping on an energy drink (my 4th or 5th of the day because ‘Murica), resting my hands on a cheap taxpayer-funded computer desk typing at 60 words-per-minute on a computer that may be older than my younger brother. I’m sitting in a classroom with white walls, decorated with pegboards enveloped in borders purchased at the Teacher’s Supply Store and inspirational signs. Past issues of my pride and joy, The Eagle Angle (our school newspaper), line the back wall opposite a plain corrugated door with a tiny window above the doorknob.

{Have you ever noticed that most schools are more secure than a lot of prisons? A lot of banks? Yet they keep that little window right above the door lock and knob so if you really wanted to get into a locked-down classroom, just bring a hammer.}

You will find me surrounded by 3 other people on most days. Our Newspaper Advisor (I checked the AP Stylebook, that’s how you spell that word when referring to the instructor), our Editor-in-Chief, and our Sports Editor. Oddly enough, we aren’t that different in age, and have all worked on The Eagle Angle as editors for some time. We sit and we grapple with the same thing that I imagine “real” journalists grapple with, writing stories about things no one cares about for people who won’t read them. Yet we work. And we sweat. And we strain over the production of this little news-magazine-hybrid that we couldn’t convince our own writers to read, let alone our peers that would rather use it for the aforementioned joint paper.

But we know what we’re doing is important. We write profiles on important athletes, faces of the school, and even those who have raised eyebrows among our peers (pregnant teens struggling to balance work, school, and life at such a young age, geniuses who belong anywhere but a high school with 5,500 children in it, and teachers who push students to be great and go home to personal issues, illnesses, and real life in the evenings).

I took Journalism my first year in high school (which was sophomore year since our school was so large they had to separate the freshman). To be honest, I only took it because I needed an elective and I had just watched All The President’s Men with my Dad. I loved the idea of being a watchdog, and a little bit annoying to people in charge of the world. While we’re on this journey back in time, if you’ll stop me and ask me what I want to be when I “grow up,” I’ll tell you, confidently, an Investigative Journalist.

After about a month of Journalism, I realized it was real work. You had to learn about ethics, what to do and when to do it, and the history of journalism and how important it was. I just wanted to write.

I’ve always just wanted to write.

Needless to say, I got a C in that class, much to the dismay of our Advisor, who knew I could do better if only I applied myself. Get in line, lady, every other teacher feels the same way about me.

See, school was boring. I never read a book in my English classes, never touched a History textbook, and couldn’t bear the idea of doing Math homework. Yet I passed every class, every year. Not only that, but I scored around a 1280 on my SATs when all was said and done, and got a perfect score on my AP English Exam. (I literally used the words, “alas” and “henceforth” in my composition section of that exam, which I think sealed the deal on that)

It was a struggle to decide to join the Newspaper Staff at my school after muddling through a Journalism class. But eventually, I caved to my Dad and my Advisor and joined.

My first month on staff, I stayed late after school one day and returned to the Newspaper room to finish up an assignment (and when I say “finish up an assignment,” I mean that my curiosity got the best of me and I wanted to see how the Newspaper was made and brown-nose with my Editors, who I had never met).

There I met Elisabeth, who was our Managing Editor at the time. She just had an eye for what (and sometimes more importantly, who) was “good” for the paper. She wasn’t in charge yet but you wouldn’t know if you just dropped by and weren’t on staff. She stayed late to correct things, build layouts, and design the paper even when our Editor-in-Chief would go home.

And so it began. Competition. Elisabeth was the first person in my journalism/Newspaper coursework that saw through my bullshit and instilled a meritocracy in me that crafted my role with the paper. I would stay just a few minutes later than her, learn a few more things about the programs we used than she knew, and edit the stories she didn’t have time for.

It was really the first time I wanted to be a part of something I wasn’t running; the first time I wanted to make an impact at school and be part of the team. The first challenge I had run into in nearly 11 years of schooling.

A year later, it’s 2010. Fall. My senior year. While others were having the time of their lives, I was not playing football anymore, not distracted with a girlfriend, and committed to this otherwise-insignificant paper that had become my calling. Elisabeth and I fawned over the school papers that won awards throughout the state and modeled ours after theirs, perfecting and perfecting until we were tired and growing more frustrated with our staff, that called this thing what it was — a school paper. With stories no one cared about. Which no one read.

I had fallen in love with writing.

I had fallen in love with creating.

I had fallen in love with the news.

But just like most love, it wasn’t destined to be. Life moved on. Yes, we won awards and created some great things. But then we graduated. Elisabeth went to college. I went to work. Our sports editor took up an internship with The Dallas Morning News (where he still works) and went to school.

I spent the better part of the next two years learning about the real world. Real work.

My parents got divorced. I started seriously dating the woman I’m still with today — the mother of my two beautiful sons. I moved out of my parent’s house. I was dirt-broke. I tried to go to school and failed — lacking the commitment and excitement I once had.

But of everything that happened, this was the worst: I fell out of love with writing. My first love.

My hands no longer held a pen, they carried boxes, operated forklifts, and pushed a mop and broom.

The thing that gave me purpose slipped away from me, replaced with the real world. I succumbed to the evil that engulfs us all: losing sight of what drives us for our own personal capitalism.

It bothers me immensely to see people walk away from what they care about and I will not be that man. I have two sons to answer to, and when they ask me if I have any regrets, I will confidently respond in the negative.

As I stare out from this cliff over the abyss of my longing, knowing the long road I will toil over to get back to my purpose on the other side, I will not retreat. I will not surrender.

This is my promise to Purpose.

This is my vow to vanquish the vicissitudes I find in my life.

This is my commitment to change.

Hello 2016. Let’s get started.