Motivation and the art of soapmaking.


The house smells like tea tree oil and patchouli. The basement reeks of lavender, and my mum stands in the middle of it all, hair askew, sleeves rolled up to the elbows, making batch after batch of soap. This venture into the realm of saponification was inspired by a colleague, and she continues simply because it brings her joy, a chance to exercise her creative abilities. It has also caused me to reconsider what I deem “worthwhile” pastimes for my future; as I go off into the world of higher academics, how will I determine the ways I spend my time? Will they be because I genuinely enjoy them, or will I once again be motivated by fulfilling a resume for some faceless institution?

You wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at my mum that she spent the first half of her life in a war zone. Perhaps you might hear the Belfast accent in her voice, a little worn after almost 19 years in Ohio, or notice the idiosyncrasies in her actions that speak of a childhood of sarcastic humor. Her life, portrayed in my mind by sophisticated exchanges, hill walks in the Scottish Highlands, and love letters criss-crossing the Atlantic between my parents, is also a study in how one’s life can be influenced by the smallest of choices.

As a Ph.D. holder in psychology, one might expect her to work professionally. Instead she works at a non-profit organization in Franklinton that helps women recovering from drug addiction. It is incredibly draining on an emotional level, but the knowledge that even a conversation might bring someone one step further from dying of an overdose, or a bit closer to being reunited with a child provides her with both meaning and purpose. 

My goal is not to shame wealthy people into quitting their jobs to barely make minimum wage, nor is it to make my mum look like some patron saint of the West Side. In fact, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized the reason my mum can live in UA and work at a non-profit is due largely in part to generational wealth and a certain amount of serendipity; my grandparents provided us with the means to afford a downpayment, and if my dad hadn’t gotten a job at OSU we might still be living in Glasgow. 

What I want to express, maybe for just the tampering of my own insecurities, is that the connections we make, the people we befriend and the lessons we learn will last far longer than the money we make or the prestige we seek in order to validate our preconceived notions of who we should be. I can’t tell you what success means because that’s up to you. I don’t want to tell you how to live your life, because I can barely even speak for myself; I’m writing this in a cafe, on a campus, at a college I may not even attend, trying to grasp what in the world the next four years will look like. 

What I can say, hopefully without anyone jumping on my case, is that human change is not linear. Unlike what public education teaches us, there is no consistent upward projection for the paths of our lives, which is why it is so important to actively search for the things that bring us joy. Human beings, no matter what your personality type is, need control, but we also need beauty. Whether that be leaving the comforts of home, or starting a soap business in your fifties, don’t settle for what you think is the right thing. Instead, be encouraged by the notion that no matter where you end up or what you do, your purpose is for you alone to define, not your mistakes, not your past, not your current situation and most importantly on your own terms.