In 2006, I failed at life.
Let me explain how.
Coming off of the 2004-2005 school year at SIU, I felt like I was on a roll. I made decent money for myself between my day job and my side gig playing cocktail piano at a bistro cafe in downtown Carbondale. My grades weren’t great, but they weren’t terrible either. I felt like I finally had a decent social life. Yet I wasn’t on fire for what I was doing with my life. I didn’t have any idea where I was going. In my brain, I kept telling myself that I’d finish my degree and write music for film, TV, video games, etc. I kept telling myself this even as I had difficulty in finding the motivation to keep working on improving my music.
Not that there was much time for actually composing and practicing. My work schedule didn’t always make that possible and I still needed to eat. If I did have free time, I usually felt too exhausted to accomplish much of anything. Something ate at me in the back of my mind, hidden by a fog of confusion.
I had musical talent. That was something that was always clear to my family from an early age. Everyone I knew in high-school and even still in college thought I was going to be a success. But I hated myself. I couldn’t make myself want the future that everyone wanted for me no matter how hard I try.
Now let me go back even further.
In 1997, during my 8th-grade year, I discovered a little book by Ayn Rand called The Fountainhead. To say it changed my life would be a tremendous understatement.
The character of Howard Roark disrupted all of my previous notions of what good looked like in a person, of what courage and integrity looked like. His zen-like sense of calm remained stable throughout the tumultuous events in the novel. His utter lack of concern with the opinions of others was oxygen to me, a kid who was a loner in school and not by choice. I quickly read as much of her other material as I could get my hands on.
I was a boy in love, but not with a girl. I was in love with ideas. The notion of being able to find objective truth through reason, that there was a way to live that perfectly suits actual human nature, the idea that morals can be based on facts instead of mystic faith; these were all very heady ideas that I discovered for the first time through Rand’s works.
If there are any doubters who wonder why Ayn Rand holds such appeal for the young, it’s that she tells them through her fiction and her philosophy that ideas matter, that you matter, and your power of reason can make sense of the world.
In 2005, I decided to live with a few friends in a roommate situation that blew up spectacularly. I started dating a girl who cheated on me multiple times. I lost my motivation at school and started failing classes because I just didn’t care anymore. By the fall of 2006, I had lost any motivation to continue. I was done.
I left college, telling myself the lie that I would take a year off and resume, yet in my heart, I knew I was done for good. Even after my discovery of Rand and her ideas, I spent too many of my years focused on pursuing a path others wanted for me, that I did not want for myself. The next year I found myself beginning a new life in a new town and a new state.
Moving to Springfield allowed me to finally achieve the headspace to figure out what my purpose is. I reconnected with the ideas and ideals of my youth, but now I have wisdom and experience that adds new depth to all of it. I now have a family that I love. Though I’m not financially successful, I know one thing with full certainty.
Dropping out of college was the best decision of my life. Through it, I found my ikigai.
Adam Buker is a freelance author living in Springfield, MO. When he’s not writing he’s usually cooking, playing with his kids, making music, taking photos, or otherwise pondering the mysteries of life.