In search of the undefined dream


Disclaimer and warning: This essay is very different from my usual theological discourse. It describes a somewhat personal and difficult problem for me. It is written from a male ‘blue’ point of view. I suspect that it is not something with which my readers of the fairer sex will sympathize. I post this essay in much fear and trepidation as I am revealing a problem without a solution, at least not one that I have been able to discover.

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When I was a young man, I used to dream about being the best computer tech support person in the world. I knew what I wanted and knew the path to get it. I was confident in what I was seeking. I had a plan and I could see myself in the position that I wanted. It was my goal to have the kind of job where I knew all the answers and could be paid to dispense knowledge.

I knew I wanted to study and work in computers. I was passionate about them. I knew that I would be using them all my life and wanted to be an expert. So I became one. I kept moving up the ladder until I now have a dream job as an IT Manager, a technical support guru. I am well paid to be the answer man for all technical problems at a very profitable company.

I achieved the dream. I accomplished what I set out to do. Now what? In earlier days I would seek for a better job, which invariably would include a better salary. I would find it, negotiate for it and land the job. But I can’t do that now because I already have the ultimate job for a techie like me. What do you do when you have accomplished and realized your dream?

The highest need in a man

Emerson Eggerichs identified the problem well for me when he postulated that the highest need in a man is the need for conquest. He identifies conquest as the desire to work and to achieve. He also teaches that men desire respect and honor more than anything else. I fully identify with that. In my experience, such thinking has been totally foreign to the women in my life.

The first time men meet each other in a social setting, invariably one will say to the other, “So, what do you do?” That implies of course, what the other man does for a living. It’s how men identify themselves – by their work. It’s as if they are saying to one another, “So, what have you accomplished with your life?” Most men want others to respond with respect.

I’m at that age where I want to be able to say that I’ve done more with my life than that I became an alpha geek. Sure, there are others who are geekier than me and many who are paid more than I am for the same kind of work, but it’s not about the money. Frankly, the technology is boring. I’m more excited by the challenge of helping others feel comfortable with technology.

Men do what they do for admiration

Before I was married, the formation of my dreams and aspirations were motivated by the love of one woman – my mother. I wanted to please her. I wanted her to admire and respect what I had become. A big part of my early success in my life and career I attribute to my mother. I could tell that she was proud of me and my chosen line of work. She told me so many times.

I used to change jobs very often when I was single. I used my jobs as stepping stones to get experience for better jobs. I wasn’t interested in longevity or long-term commitments. I sought the jobs that were a little bit of a stretch for me, won them and then discarded them after I had conquered them. My need for conquest was being met big time early in my career.

Once I married, I could no longer manage my life in this selfish manner. I had to learn to think for two instead of one. The first time I quit a job after we were married, I quickly realized that things were different. Health insurance had never been a concern. As we were expecting our first child, it became evident that I had made a very costly and a very selfish mistake.

Responsibility requires sacrifice

I still quit jobs in search of new challenges. But over time, I have stayed with jobs longer and longer, mainly to provide a sense of stability for my family. I think I have become responsible and reliable. I hope I provide my wife some foundation of security. I know that’s important to her. I don’t have that need. I have very little attachment to the material things of this life.

In order to provide security and stability I have had to suppress my need for conquest. I usually can master a new job within the first few months. It doesn’t take long to accomplish most of the objectives outlined in the job interview. Once that is done, the job becomes maintenance work and that’s not something I enjoy. I need the thrill of mastering something difficult.

About six months into every new job, I experience a crisis as the urge to move on comes upon me once again. But being the responsible man that I have become, I stick it out and keep trying to come up with new ideas to make the job interesting and exciting. It is a sacrifice to stick with the unfulfilling job in order to provide something better – the security that our family needs.

Defining the undefined dream

I have reached the pinnacle of my career. I have a cushy job that most men envy. I get to work from home most of the time and can set my own hours. In a sense I am self-employed yet I have the security of a steady paycheck, great health insurance as well as a regular bonus and a raise each year. What more could a man ask? I should be very happy and contented, right? Wrong.

There is something nagging at me. I can’t quite put my finger on it. I call it the undefined dream. There is this deep sense that there is something I am supposed to do with my life and that I am not yet doing it. I sense that it is waiting there for me, just out of reach, beckoning me and making its presence known. I haven’t yet been able to identify it or discover what it is.

I ponder about it. I pray about it. I go to the temple and ask the Lord to reveal it to me. I think about it constantly. I dream about it. I write about it. I wonder what it is. I ask myself why I can’t define it. I think about connecting the dots of all the things that have brought me to this place in my life. Surely the Lord had a hand in all this. I am not where I am just by chance.

Summary and conclusion

If you have been a regular reader of my essays you know that I am very formulaic. I like to write in sections of three paragraphs each. I like my sentences short. I like my paragraphs to be only four of five sentences. And I always have a summary and conclusion. Today, I can summarize but I have not come to a conclusion. I am stuck and am in need of wisdom from others.

Am I the only man who has experienced this kind of mid-life crisis? Carol calls it my mid-year crisis. Do you see the problem? Have I identified it clearly? I know I am blessed beyond measure compared to most people in this world. Yet I struggle to find fulfillment. Am I just being selfish? Do I just need to forget about me and lose myself in the service of others?

Lest you get the wrong impression, let me clarify that this is not about my service in the kingdom or my testimony. That is very rewarding and fulfilling. It is about my day-to-day work, which is where I spend the majority of my time. Perhaps I should look elsewhere for fulfillment and see the job for what it is – just a way to pay the bills. What would you do in my situation?

11 Responses

  1. Your blogs usually leave me with a lot of good things to think about but not so much to say or respond to. This time, something came up right away that will hopefully assist you.You can still find something for yourself to learn and work on- achieve something new (conquer). There are plenty of skills or hobbies that might help fulfill another dream outside of career. Start defining yourself in a new way and work your way up that ladder. My goal is to always be well-rounded, not too much of one area developed over another. When I feel something is missing, I can usually relate it to an area of my life I have left alone for some time and need to rejuvenate. That would be my suggestion.

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  2. I completely relate to what you are saying. I have reached my career goals, and now I wonder should I be going in a different direction. Maybe I should apply to the CES? Maybe I should stay in one place and try to retire in comfort. And, yes, I still think, all the time, that there is a higher purpose for me to reach — there is more to do.I am sure blogging has helped contribute to my need to do more. My mind is willing, but my body does not always cooperate.Thanks for the openness in this essay. I recognize the same issues in myself, and similarly I have no answers, except we must deliver ourselves to the Lord and accept HIS time schedule, NOT our own.

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  3. Tim,As a young engineer the feeling after solving a major technical problem was always bitter sweet. Sure, celebration was in order, but I was also saddened because the learning was over. This bitter sweet feeling came again when I reached the cushy well paid pinnacle of my technical career. I stayed too long precisely because it was cushy and well paid. Eventually I reinvented myself and moved into upper management. Since then I have come to look upon the experience you describe as being “spiritually parked”, that is when we are no longer focusing long hours on our career or other pursuits being “stuck” is often a spiritual opportunity. As the distractions melt away and we silence our minds to ponder our situation and ask for help, we become much more receptive to inspiration and personal revelation. I suspect that answers to my personal dilemmas have actually been withheld to prolong this period of receptiveness allowing me to discover other valuable truths along the way.

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  4. John: I like it. Define myself in a new way…hmmm…I’m going to ponder that one. Perhaps I can become more involved in professional associations and organizations. Or perhaps I can refocus on the tech writing that I started at the first of the year. Whatever it is, I want it to be something where I give back to the profession that has helped me so much in this life.S.Faux: As always, thank you for your thoughtful comments. I have great admiration for CES teachers I have known. Our senior high counselor, who owns his own flower growing business, teaches Institute classes in the evenings. He does so much good in helping the young single adults get that well-rounded education. I see in you the gift of writing. Is there a book in there somewhere?

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  5. Howard: Profound! Wow – I’m not alone. You nailed the feelings that I have been experiencing precisely. Thank you so much for the reflection. Like John’s suggestion to redefine, your experience with reinventing yourself is what I am going through right now. The luxury of many undisturbed hours has indeed brought spiritual reflection and new insights. Yet the requested straightforward answers as to how to best engage are withheld. Like you, I suspect I am left to my own to work things out so that I can discover new truths along the way. Your comments are greatly appreciated. Thanks for sharing.

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  6. Tim,You have hit upon something that I too have pondered continually for the past 5-6 years or so. Fortunately, I have thought about it from the beginning of my career. A book which helped me tremendously in understanding this is Approaching Zion by Hugh Nibley. Have you read this book? It changed my life. It changed my worldview. It changed my focus. It helped me see what the real purposes in life are. I will forever be grateful for having read these papers by Nibley. I highly recommend it. I’ve read it twice and want to read it again and again.What I have learned from it is that this life is not about the day-to-day work. It is a necessary evil to put bread on the table, but it is beside the point. Work we must but the lunch is free. I don’t think any kind of worldly work will lend itself to lasting fulfillment for anyone. I think much of this work is not fulfilling because it does not last. It is not eternal. It is temporal. What we do from 8-5 every day largely doesn’t matter in the eternal scheme of things. Unless we can find something to do or to focus the majority of our time which will leave a lasting effect upon people, and lend towards their salvation, and the building up of the kingdom of God on the earth, we will be left unfulfilled. It is when we making lasting changes in people’s lives that we will have lasting fulfillment.To be honest, I think what you are doing here on your blog is a big part of you trying to find that fulfillment, and I think you are succeeding.

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  7. Bryce,Thank you for the encouraging words. I appreciate the added insight about work and career. I have not read Hugh Nibley’s book on Approaching Zion, but will do so at your recommendation.I agree that life really is not about our day-to-day work, but it sure is easy to forget that when work consumes so much of our time. You also confirm for me that nagging suspicion that the sense of fulfillment I seek will not be found in the work I do to put bread on the table.I do enjoy writing on my blog and sharing what I think are insights worth considering. I also very much appreciate reading and commenting on essays shared by others who are faithfully trying to build the kingdom – as opposed to those who question so much that it is difficult to determine if they have any faith at all.I know I will find what I am looking for over time. Thanks again for giving me another direction to search in Nibley’s writings. Cheers!

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  8. I am sorry that your concern is so foreign to my environment. I would love to have at least a hint but I don’t.Yet I wanted to comment on this: “In my experience, such thinking has been totally foreign to the women in my life.”You need to meet my mother and my best friend.

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  9. Just came across these words by Elder Maxwell that I thought applied:”The true believer has struck a balance between being too content with himself and being caught up in the equally dangerous human tendency of wishing for an enlarged and more important role. Alma said, ‘I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me’ (Alma 29:3). Often ignored is the tutoring sixth verse which follows: ‘Now, seeing that I know these things, why should I desire more than to perform the work to which I have been called?’ To develop careful contentment by using our existing opportunities is obviously one of our great challenges, particularly so when we seem to be in a ‘flat’ period of life. We may feel underused, underwhelmed, and underappreciated, even as we ironically ignore unused opportunities for service which are all about us.”This seems to have come from a talk he gave in April 2000 Conference entitled, “Content with the Things Allotted Unto Us.” It looks like he borrowed the idea from an Ensign article he wrote back in 1981 entitled, “The Christ-Centered Life.”

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  10. It does apply. Thanks Bryce. I went back and read both talks again. I especially like the part about unused opportunities. They are easy to overlook when seeking something of greater significance. Yet, as Elder Maxwell points out, the greatest blessings come in doing the daily activities of a disciple of Christ. I am finding hidden treasures daily in some of the most basic tasks, but almost always associated with helping others. I am blessed to be able to make a living serving others.

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  11. I’ll de-lurk and second what Bryce said regarding Approaching Zion. It is thought provoking, horizon expanding, and life changing.

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