In the United States, it’s once again the time of year when we gather around a veritable feast, enjoy (or endure) conversation with family and fall asleep in front of a football game. In recent years, Thanksgiving and the concept of colonizing the states and the subsequent effects on the native populations has come under increasing fire, or at least scrutiny, in the name of political posturing and social justice. Those who do so are overlooking the larger picture. Thanksgiving is about being thankful for the good things in life. It’s about reflecting on the past twelve months and seeking those times when we have been blessed beyond what we deserve – which is true for every blessing, come to think of it. While food and football are traditions, the act of reflecting on the positive aspects in life require neither, and is probably healthier than both!
As I think back on the past year, I realize how much I’ve grown and learned about myself. Self-understanding is a journey that lasts from the day you’re born to the day you take your last breath, but seems to accelerate at certain times of your life. The last few years have been a rapid period of introspection and education for me. I turned 40 this year, so I’ll note the probable influence of mid-life reflections. I started dabbling in MMO’s in 2011. Things were going well. I had a lot of things going for me including an easily tracked career trajectory. I don’t want to speak for everybody, but for myself and many men who I know, it’s very difficult to not self-identify based on the work that you do. This doesn’t seem to be quite as much of an issue for women I know, but things may be changing in that respect. At any rate, I began to question whether I really wanted to accomplish the career goals I’d set for myself, or if I had been resigned to them due to outside pressures and the fact that they seemed like a natural progression.
Almost a year after I started playing LOTRO heavily, I made simultaneously the best and most devastating decision of my professional life. I decided to halt my pursuit of a leadership position within my company (five years in the making) because I realized accomplishing that goal would not make me happy, and would likely even take away from the few years I had left with my kids. This was a good decision, for obvious reasons, but it also left me in a very difficult situation. I had no plan (and in some respects still don’t have a solid plan) for what to do next. I knew what I didn’t want to do, but plotting a strategy using the process of elimination is a long, tedious journey! This was mentally tough to handle, especially when you factor in the work self-identification I mentioned earlier. Diving deeper into gaming and content creation was probably a way to distract myself from that difficult reality.
Anyway, that was a very long, boring back-story to bring us to what I’m thankful for today. The thing I’ve learned about myself since diving deep into the MMO and gaming community a few years ago is that I love to create. Writing blog posts, producing podcasts, dabbling in video, designing wordpress pages, even organizing communities…these are all things that have tapped into a deep-seeded desire that I didn’t even realize was there. I prefer creating content to actually playing the games! This is especially surprising to me because I’ve always seen myself as being fairly left-brained. It’s why I gravitated towards a career in IT to begin with. Logic. Structure. Garbage-in, garbage out. It made more sense than staring at a painting and trying to decipher the hidden “meaning”. And yet, I’m learning that a certain amount of structure and formula is beneficial for creative endeavors, as well!
I like JRR Tolkien’s view of sub-creation, in which man seemingly can’t help but to mimic the true creator thanks to being patterned after His image. I think this is the perfect description of my recent discovery. I don’t have to be an artist to create. We all have both the means and desire to create imprinted deep in our psyche. Even “building” a career is a creation of sorts, if that’s your desire.
This year, I’m thankful for where I am in life. I’m finally at peace with the decision to change course several years ago. I’m even thankful for the psychological fallout I endured as a result of that decision, because it did indeed push me into trying things I otherwise wouldn’t have. I’m thankful that my decision favored my family. I’m thankful for the support from the gaming, blogging and podcasting communities during this time of exploration. I’m thankful for the audiences, who both validated the creations and helped guide me through the process through thoughtful critique. I’m thankful to have part of a plan (12% of a plan, as Star Lord would say) to follow in the coming months and years. Most of all, I’m thankful that as we gather together with family tomorrow, that I can truly enjoy the moment, because I know who I am and am at peace with it.