What is “In the Shadows of Eternity”?

The year is 1345 Modern Time, more than half a millennia since a catastrophic event that decimated the earth’s population and left the southern hemisphere uninhabitable. The only things that stir there now are the mechanical monstrosities that arrive to assault the remaining peoples of the world in twice-yearly waves. The only thing standing between them and total annihilation are the men and women of the Reactionary Forces of Central, more commonly known as the souldiers.

“What… are they?” she said. “The enemy.”

“It’s hard to say,” said the man. “What is certain is that once upon a time, a great many centuries ago, we depended greatly on the intelligence they provided. The entire world is said to have engaged in a great race to outdo one another with the most wondrous inventions until, at some point, they slipped out of control…”

The idea for Central and the Line came to me almost twenty-five years ago now. It was my first year in senior high school, and I had just moved to a new school where I suffered terribly under the faithful attention of the local bullies. My writing started as a way to escape at first, a collection of notes and drawings about an imaginary future that could take my mind away from the events around me. As time went on, however, I started to see how it could become the vehicle for a story of a much more meaningful kind.

At its heart, I wanted to write a story about that time-honoured tradition of the science fiction genre, the evil robot uprising. Although the world had yet to see the likes of The Matrix, I was a very impressionable recent viewer of one of its forebears, Terminator. It had action, it had robots, it had high stakes, and every flash-forward to a vision of the bleak future filled my imagination with thoughts about how the world could end up in such a way. When the secret was finally revealed, however, I couldn’t convince myself that it could be something simple as a pushed button or a bad piece of code.

Unsatisfied, I set out to create my own.

“Never let your mind believe the design of an
object defines its only purpose.”

As you can probably guess, while I came to the idea much earlier in life, it’s taken me a long time to build up the experience to actually write it down. As much as I wanted to write it sooner, one benefit of that prolonged process is that the years in between gave me more time to grow as a person and refine the themes and approach to the story itself. The robots are still there (as well they should be) but the story has grown from one that focused on the conflict and the past to one of a much more personal kind.

In The Shadows of Eternity is as much a story of high stakes and fast-paced action as it is one of reflection and personal growth. It’s the heart-wrenching search of a young woman’s journey to discover what happened to her best friend set against the backdrop of a dangerous and unforgiving world whose secrets she must unravel (and survive) if she wants to discover the truth. It’s a love letter to introverts of all kinds, an ode to eastern and western science fiction, and the answer to many of the struggles I have encountered in life.

Perhaps you’re a fan of the mystery and emotional tension in Neon Genesis Evangelion, the character dynamics and growth in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, or the scope and grandeur of Horizon Zero Dawn. I’m a fan of all these series, too, and if these are the type of stories that resonate with you, I’m sure you’ll find something to enjoy here as well.

Want to learn more?

Read the first chapter –

Where is a.j.dahms?

Hi everyone,

Given the quiet over here and my other social media accounts over the past few months, you might be given to wondering –

Where on earth is a.j.dahms?

Well – I’m still here, but the truth is, there’ve been a couple of things.

First and foremost, publishing the first volume in the series was a momentous occasion. One made all the more special thanks to the support and kind words of so many amazing people. It was also the moment that, after a frantic schedule of research and preparation for so many years, my body decided it needed some well-earned rest.

Second, and perhaps more influentially, it’s been a demanding year all round. My day job has been extremely busy, I’ve had some personal issues to contend with, and – on a more positive note – after ten years of saving, my wife and I finally moved into our own home, a change that comes with as much joy as it does fresh responsibility.

So, what does all this mean for the series?

Needless to say, my original plan of publishing successive volumes once every six months seems a little ambitious now, doesn’t it. By this time of the year, I’d hoped to be announcing the release of the third volume, yet here I am, still figuring out some aspects of the second.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though.

While I haven’t been active on social media, I have written (and re-written) almost 80,000 words of concepts, chapter ideas, and lore for the world of Central and the Line. I have a much better handle on the series and feel confident that when it comes time to publishing the rest, they’ll be an order of magnitude better than anything I could have produced my first time round.

What it also means is that I’ll need to ask your patience a little while longer as I get things ready for the second volume. Things are moving ahead, though, and it’s in no small part due to the overwhelming support I’ve received from you all that I want to make sure that I get them absolutely right.

I’ll be providing more updates as things go along, but for now, thank you for reading, and – as always – may the day be yours.

Editing update #4

Hi everyone!

Well, it’s hard to believe that almost two months have gone by since the release of Souldier. If you’d asked me where I expected things to be in two months’ time, I don’t think I could have answered, but suffice it to say, I’ve been overwhelmed by the support I have received.

To everyone who has set aside the time to give it a read, who has reached out to me with feedback or liked or supported my writing in any way, thank you. Your comments have settled me, given me insight into the direction to keep things moving, and made my day more than once, and I am eternally grateful for each and every one of you.

With the first volume out the door, then, what am I up to now?

Working on volume two, of course!

The good news there is that everything is still on track to publish it sometime around halfway through the year.

The bad news is that at the start of January, I ran into the greatest bout of writer’s block since the series began.

It might sound strange to encounter writer’s block on something that’s already been written, but volume two is an important one to me in more ways than one. After all, I wrote it during a time when external events affected myself and many of the people I knew at the time quite deeply, and those of you who have read the first volume can guess at some of the themes that might already appear in it.

In short, some care is needed.

This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered writer’s block during the series; in fact, it’s happened quite a bit. Most of the time, several hours, days, or – in this case – even weeks of introspection follow, during which all the worst possible emotions seem right at hand. Am I a terrible writer? Am I following the wrong direction? Maybe I was never meant to do this in the first place.

The voices go on and on.

Despite the negativity, time has shown me a more positive side to writer’s block as well. As I struggled with problems past and present, I came to find it isn’t so much a lack or ideas or inspiration, but that I need to spend more time listening to the characters. Writer’s block is like running into a brick wall during a marathon – the answer is rarely to keep moving forward, but to change direction instead. And it’s the characters who’ll tell you when something isn’t quite right, that they’re actually feeling a different way to the one you wanted to portray.

A few techniques can help, too. In my case, running is the most common cure. No matter how much sitting down and staring at a screen I do, there’s something about getting outside for a while that not only helps me move, but gets my thoughts running, too.

Safe to say, things are moving again now.

In other news, one or two readers have asked me to do some matchmaking so that they can go over some ideas about what’s going on in the story. If you’ve got any budding suspicions or have anything you’d like to go over, I’ve created a general discussion thread on Goodreads so that you can find some other readers –

https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/21865004-souldier—general-discussion-thread-spoilers

Got questions of a more direct nature?

I’m pleased to announce that after some wrangling, the Adjutant Corps have agreed to let me send some messages down the Line. If there’s anything you’d like to ask Vivian, send it along to me and I’ll pass it down the relay, then post the responses here on the site once she’s found some time to respond. Keep in mind that she’s a bit sensitive about certain topics at the moment, but she assures me she’ll make every effort to answer everything she can.

Until next, may the day be yours.

Wallpapers

Greetings, souldiers, and may the weather be a sign!

On behalf of the Adjutant Corps, I am pleased to announce the release of several images that are now available for official use.

There are three designs, two of which are more suitable to mobile devices, while the third is formatted for larger devices such as terminals and transifax pads.

During your time in Central, you have no doubt seen the seven-pointed star of Central on the fortress and many of the city’s other civic buildings. However, if you have yet to pass field training and receive an assignment on the Line, you might not be as familiar with its meaning.

The seven-pointed star of Central is one of the souldiers’ oldest symbols from the Age of Awakening. And, like many of the souldiers’ older traditions, it is rich in meaning.

Each of the seven points represents one of the major continents on Earth, the largest representing the homeland of the enemy, otherwise known as the ‘sundered continent’ or the ‘lost continent’. The star is always depicted upside down in mourning, with each of the points bound by the Line. The colour is important as well, representing one of the most important things that separates us from the enemy.

Can you guess what it stands for?

As for the background, be warned that it can get extremely humid on the Line during the summer months. Sudden rain on a hot morning often draws out the moisture in the jungle, creating clouds of mist that gather about the mountaintops. Spot commanders are advised to avoid similar conditions unless absolutely necessary due to decreased visibility; if you must enter affected areas, extreme caution is advised.

Further communications to follow.

Until then, good fortune!

Finding New Year’s resolutions in an uncertain world

Happy New Year!

Across the world, the clock strikes twelve, signalling the end to a hectic and traumatic year. And now, as the fireworks fade and the year begins anew, I find myself wondering what the next twelve might bring.

Will they be better?

Will they be worse?

Even though I spent the year in an area less affected by the spread of the Coronavirus, I still found myself feeling its effects in ways I hadn’t expected. For example, as an introvert, I’m used to being at home, but I didn’t expect to miss an important connection with nature (also affected by the bushfires in Australia) as much as I did. Travel restrictions meant I couldn’t get out to see my colleagues in person as I had in past years, making it difficult to maintain closer connections. And, as a highly sensitive person, my feelings of anxiety over the state of affairs in the world and my worry for those in my life grew to a steady, constant stream that made it hard to focus or relax.

If the challenges I encountered were unexpected, however, then my response to them was equally so. Instead of turning to new things or making great changes in the way things were, my refuge came from questioning things I had long taken for granted instead. Was my work environment at home set up in a way that was actually comfortable and conducive to being productive? Was I reaching out to people in ways that helped me feel connected, and just what were my communication preferences, anyway?

In an uncertain world, my antidote was to make small changes, not take giant leaps.

Perhaps this goes a ways in explaining a problem I’ve always had with another curiosity of the change in calendars – New Year’s resolutions. On the one hand, the perennial list maker in me has always found them a great way to focus on the things I want to achieve in the coming year. But on the other, well… let’s just say I’m keenly aware of how often I fail to meet them.

(Then again, is there any surprise that it feels hard to suddenly get up and start going for runs in the morning when you never did so before? Just the thought of it makes me want to hit my alarm and get five more minutes in bed.)

What I’m coming to realise about New Year’s resolutions is that they are a change, just like any other. And that, just like any other change, I need to plot them out as a journey rather than treat them as a set of goals to achieve right away. And so, this year, I’m making the small changes that saw me through the previous year into my mantra for the coming one. I’m viewing the start of the year as exactly that – the first step towards goals that can take a year to achieve, measured in one small, incremental step after the other.

Here’s what I’ve got:

Exercise

I know, I know – I already moaned and complained about getting up and going for runs earlier in the post, but that’s not entirely what I had in mind. I already walk and jog, do some martial arts, but these are merely disconnected dots in a life spent mainly in front of a computer, typing away at a keyboard.

Late last year, at the recommendation of my wife, I began doing a series of stretches after waking up and before going to bed. I’ve never been particularly good at incorporating physical activities into my daily routine, but when the start is as small as a few seconds on one or two stretches, things get suddenly easier. Once that becomes familiar, another can be added, and so on until a routine takes shape in full.

Understanding

I’ve never been a very big user of social media, so when I started this website and became more active in other forums such as Twitter and LinkedIn, it was a bit of a shock to the system. What did I have to say? Would anyone read it, and how could someone who is not good at self-promotion get the word out?

What I’ve come to realise is that even though I feel emotions quite strongly, I don’t always connect them to what’s going on at the time. When I’m upset, there’s usually a specific reason, but it rears its head as a generalised sense of frustration at first. And even though I have many interests and many things to say about them, most of it ends locked up in my head in a similar way.

Although this is a problem I personally struggle with, I suspect it’s something other introverts and highly sensitive people deal with as well. Over the coming year, I plan to get better at telling myself to stop and think before reacting. In doing so, I’m hoping to find better ways to deal with situations that tend to feel overwhelming, and get better at articulating myself.

Gratitude

This brings us to my third and final point – giving thanks.

Throughout the challenges of the previous year, I found there were many things that I was grateful for as well. Not just the big things either, but being able to wake up in a safe place, to greet the dawn once more, and to feel the change of seasons. They say that sometimes, you don’t fully appreciate some things until you lose them, and last year made me painfully aware of the many things I enjoy each day, but took for granted.

I’m also eternally grateful for the many people who have shown me support over my own journey. As much as writing a story or creating articles is a personal activity, it’s a form of communication like any other, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without your support. In the coming year, I want to not only show gratitude for the small things, but connect this with my goal above and be a better person to you all.

And with that, this feels like a good place to wrap things up.

To all of you who have followed my work over the previous year, who have supported my journey in any way, thank you. It has been a great pleasure to be there and take part in your lives as well in some way, shape, or form, and I hope the coming year is a good one for you.

I’m sure we’ll connect more directly some time in the coming months, but until then, take care, and may your days be long.

It’s here!

Hi everyone,

After years of writing, months of editing, and weeks of anticipation, I’m thrilled to finally announce the release of my debut novel, Souldier –

Get it today on Amazon via the links above, or on Apple Books via the following:

Get it on Apple Books

After such a long time in the works, it’s a strange sensation seeing this story out there in the ‘real world’ alongside other authors and books. It’s a cathartic one as well, and as I stumble my way through these first steps in getting everything out there, I find myself eternally grateful for the support and enthusiasm of a great many people who have helped me get where I am today.

Many thanks go to my amazing beta readers, Tahlia Richardson, Martin Lopes, Lucy Bopf, Alex Wellstead, and Ellie Minto, and to Brice Fallen for sharing his insight into and knowledge of the publishing industry. Their advice and feedback has helped me grow as a writer in ways I could never have imagined, and I am deeply appreciative of the time and expertise they have shared with me.

Many thanks must also go to my wonderful wife, Chie, who has stood with me every step of this process, given my encouragement when I felt down, and gave me the strength to keep on going. Everything I am today, I am because of her.

And last but by no means least, thank you to you as well, dear reader. As I have mentioned before in other posts and forums, this series touches on a number of themes that are incredibly personal to me, and it is thanks to the support and consideration you have given me over this process that I have been able to find the courage to speak so openly about them.

Whether you go on to read the full series or your adventures remain here, I thank you for whatever serendipity has brought you to this page, and wish you good fortune.

Until next, may the day be yours.

Editing update #3

Finishing something – actually finishing it, once and for all – is a curious thing.

I’ve been sitting on this story for almost twenty-three years now, and in that time, I’ve re-written and re-approached it so many times that it’s almost hard to imagine it as a real and solid thing. Somewhere along the way, however, the rough edges have gotten smoother, the characters more real, and the scenes most important to the story stronger than the rest.

We’re still about three months away from the final publication date, and with a first draft in place, it might be hard to imagine what could possibly take so much time to complete. There’s work, of course, and other life events that dictate the amount of time I can spend editing, but more so than that is the sheer volume of things to do.

Most importantly, the closer I come to finishing the manuscript – to actually finishing it, once and for all – the more I’m becoming aware that these words that have been bouncing around inside my head for so long are themselves about to be decided, once and for all. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s also at this moment that the mind begins to wonder – have I been creative enough? Is this sentence quite right, and what does it mean to finish something, anyway?

The good news is that, after several weeks of constant editing and re-working, I’m happier with the story than ever before. Years of growing practice have helped me understand some of the areas I can improve, as has the feedback from a small group of dedicated beta readers whose praises I’ll be singing as we draw closer to the publication date. I’ve finished most of the major edits now, and am focusing on sentence-level changes, spot edits, and making sure the details of the world itself are right instead.

In short, there’s still more to come, but it’s all moving along.

10 Things to Do on Sabbatical – One Year On

When the opportunity came, I was well and truly in need of a break. After ten years of moving country and moving home, of changing and building careers and juggling the demands of my personal life with those of my professional one, the rigours of a busy lifestyle were taking their toll. My wife knew it – I knew it – but it wasn’t until the stars aligned in that tenth year that I could finally take an extended period away from work to rest, recharge, and relax. [1]

That short time away from work was a welcome one, but to take full advantage of it, I knew that it had to be more than just an extended holiday. Instead, some parts of it had to stick. But which ones would they be? Would the space and awareness that I found survive the rigours of a return to a full-time job, and would I find, as one colleague suggested, that I had changed for good?

With these questions in mind, I vowed to return in one year’s time to reflect on how it all went. In doing so, I hoped to find some insight not only into the long-term benefits of taking time away, but also how to incorporate some of those benefits into an otherwise busy lifestyle.

That time is now.

Finding time

One of the reasons it can be so hard to take time away is finding the time to set aside for it. We’re all busy, perhaps more so now than ever before. Competing priorities and the sheer volume of current world events can all conspire to make it tricky to find time for ourselves, let alone the multitude of tasks that demand our attention each day.

I was keenly aware of this when I started my time away, so I set out to take as much advantage of this newfound freedom as I could. I ran every morning at dawn, I went to martial arts classes twice a week, I created a proper sleeping schedule, and I spent time cleaning and organising my surroundings every day.

Unfortunately, some of these habits didn’t survive the transition to work. My wife and I still go for a walk every day, but I no longer find the energy to wake up early enough in the morning to go running. Likewise, I only get to martial arts once a week, and I certainly don’t sleep as well as I used to.

What I did realise, however, was that I didn’t have to do all these things. It was good to explore some options and to understand my preferences, but most of the things I wanted to focus on and improve in the long term, I was already working on every day. As such, it was less about finding the time to do more things, and more about finding the time to do the right things. And whether we have three months, three days, three hours, or even just three minutes to ourselves, the things of the most importance to us are those we can work on while we do them.

Finding focus

One of my core goals during my time away was to take better care of myself. I sorted through old belongings and made some hard decisions about what still felt like me and what needed to move on. I made an effort to get out and about and see more of the state where I was born. And, most importantly, I went to the doctor’s to get checked.

Many of these were one-off activities that I still benefit from today, but much like the item above, it is the process rather than the activities themselves that has lingered with me the most.

When we’re caught up in the whirlwind of our daily lives, it can be easy to shut out the messages our bodies send us. Are you a poor sleeper, someone who suffers from patchy skin, or who feels tired or unwell after certain types of activity or food? All of these can be related to stress, of course, but there might be another cause, one that has been with you for so long it no longer registers as out of the ordinary. Pay attention to the patterns and rhythms of your body, and you might find it comes down to getting pillows or mattresses more suited to you, finding a better skin routine, warming up properly before working out, or that certain types of foods just disagree with you. (And yep, all of these apply to me.)

Challenge what feels normal.

Finding inspiration

Reflection was always going to be a big part of my time away, and I’m glad I set aside some time for it. Meditating, keeping a diary, and searching through my feelings all helped me sort out a number of professional goals and perspectives. It helped me identify the things that mattered to me, and helped me prepare for my return to work.

The most inspiring revelation, however, came from one of the most unexpected sources: re-reading The Lord of the Rings.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been a fan of science fiction and fantasy. Whether it was because I had to focus on my career or some abstract idea of ‘growing up’, however, somewhere along the way, I forgot all about that. Instead, I got to thinking that everything I did had to somehow ‘mean’ something or contribute to getting ahead, and in doing so, I missed one of the most important messages of all.

Not everything we do needs to ‘mean’ something. Some things are meant to be enjoyed for the sake of enjoyment itself, and that’s enough. They almost always connect back to some core part of our being, hold some special, untouchable meaning of their own, and the more we refuse to accept them, the more we drift astray.

Since re-reading that childhood favourite, I’ve been re-exploring some of the titles from my childhood and getting in touch with a part of myself that I had long thought cast aside. I wrote about some of that in my previous post, Nordock. And as I have, it’s been encouraging to see that rather than the rejection of these parts of my life I had always feared, I’ve found more supporters than ever, including my wife (who, much to my surprise, happens to be a hill dwarf barbarian).

Looking back on my time away, I am eternally grateful for this period and the reprieve it gave me. Likewise, for the encouragement and support of my wife to build up the courage to take this opportunity. In hindsight, there were some experiences I could only have gotten in doing so. However, it’s also encouraging to see that the most important benefits are those we can all tap into by taking a few simple steps in our daily lives.

[1] https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/10-things-do-sabbatical-andrew-dahms/

10 Things to Do on Sabbatical – One Year On

Nordock

In hindsight, it was a rather curious scene.

Sixty-three elves, dwarves, half-orcs and heaven knows what else, all standing around a misty clearing in front of a lone human. Some sat on a series of wooden couches mis-matched with the natural surroundings, others next to the edge of a precarious set of cliffs that dropped away into a bottomless abyss marking the edges of the space. As they talked amongst themselves, a beam of pure light appeared from the heavens as another figure arrived – the count now reaching sixty-four, an important number – and the figures all gathered round as the newcomer stepped forward and held out a staff.

How did we get here? 

The story begins almost two years before, some months before the start of my second year in university. I had just been the victim of an episode of traumatic violence – the kind that puts a rather sudden stop on one’s life – and while my physical wounds healed quickly, the psychological ones were still very raw and deep. One thing led to another, and after a series of similar and unfortunate shocks in the weeks that followed, my mind simply couldn’t take it anymore and I entered into a period of severe and prolonged PTSD.

It’s strange, looking back on it all now and seeing how bad it was in those first days. Even though there was no rational basis for it, I was so assured that someone was going to come inside my room and kill me at any given moment that I couldn’t sleep at all, and I spent most of my days hiding under the covers of my bed, reading books. Imagine the moment you’re about to stand up and give a speech in front of a huge crowd, except the feeling is much stronger, and it doesn’t stop – not for a second, not for a minute – for at least several months.

Over time, the sensation improved to the point where I could step outside my bed and my room, but the boundaries of my comfort were still confined to my home. I had read all the books on my shelf, played the few games that I’d owned, and was quickly running out of material to get through the day. There was no social media, no streaming or online content; our home only had a single internet connection, and downloads were metered to the point where it was expensive to do anything online.

I don’t quite remember what got me on to it, but one day, I heard about an online server running one of the role-playing games I enjoyed. One originally designed for single play, but modified to create an entire persistent world that anyone could join. Most importantly, run by our ISP so that it wouldn’t be metered. There would be other people – other players – and other rules and places, and I didn’t know what to expect.

It’s name – Nordock.

One evening, half out of curiosity, I created a character and joined.

I was immediately hooked.

Unlike the standard version of the game, you couldn’t press pause or save your position, you couldn’t re-load or restart. If you opened a menu, the action kept going in the background without you whether you wanted it to or not. If you logged out in the middle of a fight to avoid a crippling blow, quite often, logging back in a day or even several days later placed you right back where you were to get immediately swamped. And if you died, you had to pay a hefty price in terms of gold and experience, and you paid it, no questions asked.

In short, the stakes were very high.

It wasn’t just the stakes, however, but the highs as well. Magic items were rare, and certain ones became coveted because encountering one was almost as rare as winning the lottery. You could go for days, months, even years without finding one of these character-defining items, and gifting them to others or finding them in the field was a real achievement.

The server had its rough edges, too. After all, it was an ad-hoc world that someone had created well before the days of the MMORPG, and the rules were, to say the least, very casually put together. Even if you encountered one of these mythical items, for example, it was still surprisingly easy to lose. For example, monsters (and sometimes other characters) could disarm you, leaving your precious weapon lying there for anyone to take, or if the server reset while they lay there, they were gone forever. Other times, some of the less well-intentioned characters might simply steal them or gang up to kill you in the wilds, and the moment you stepped outside the protective gates of the portal, you were very much on your own.

Despite the frequent horrors and the glitches, we still teamed up and braved the wilds, exploring the farthest reaches (ah, the elemental planes…) and sharing knowledge about the risks we found there (someone accidentally spawned a super dragon on the road to Tobaro; stay very, very far away). We risked our lives for each other, we raced across the world to rescue fallen comrades and retrieve their items before a reset, and most important of all, sometimes, we just talked.

Every once and again, usually in the late hours of the night, someone would begin talking. Perhaps you’d just raised them from the dead, run into them in the wilds, or finished an encounter that was just a little too close for comfort. The beginning was always the same – a slight pause, then a question about something other than the events at hand – the real world – and it would all begin.

In the end, we were all there for reasons other than just the adventures. Some of us were insecure and just wanted to find acceptance. Some of us were troubled young men and women in the real world, and this was the one place where someone was willing to sit down with them and talk, one person to another. Others again to have a good time, to set up crazy tasks and bring us all together in ways we couldn’t have imagined on our own.

We were a group.

All good things, however, must one day come to an end. When the time came to graduate from university, I accepted an offer in Japan and had to leave the country. After two years of adventures, making friends and helping one another through some difficult times, an end date was in sight and I had to leave it all behind. Word spread quickly, and one afternoon, one of the other players asked me to be online at a specific time.

In the minutes before that moment, an array of thoughts ran through my mind. Of the adventures we had run, the friends I had made along the way and the difficult times we had helped one another through. We weren’t always there for one another, and we weren’t always perfect, but we’d tried. The help and acceptance we found so hard to find outside in the real world came naturally here, and even though the lands we ran through might not be real, our memories of them were.

I logged on, and waited in the gateway to the world where we always came to meet as one player after another slowly assembled and the count reached sixty four, the maximum capacity. That rag-tag band of mismatched would-be heroes in the clearing? They were my friends. And that human was me.

As we assembled there that final time and shared what words we could, I realised I no longer feared the outside world quite as much as I once did, that their help had helped me, too. Their camaraderie, their trust, and the kindness they showed me that night gave me the strength step back out into the world and face the adventures that awaited there as well.

So when they handed me that staff, did I cry?

You bet I did.

Know yourself

Several months before my thirtieth birthday, I lost my job.

I wish I could say that I didn’t see it coming, but the truth is, the signs were there for all to see. The company I was working for at the time was going through several rounds of widespread redundancies, and neither position nor performance mattered as team after team were let go.

Whatever the cause, it couldn’t have come at a worse time.

After spending several years building a new skill set, I had only just moved fields from one to another, and I didn’t have enough experience in my new one to get a job there, nor enough opportunities in my old, either. What I did have, however, was a dwindling bank account and an ongoing stream of bills to pay that set a strict timeline until I arrived at complete and utter bankruptcy.

It was terrifying.

For all the direness of the situation, however, one odd detail about my job searching at that time stuck out to me. The majority of positions I applied for were in the new field I had moved into, but each and every one of them terrified me. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do the work or even found them unappealing. On the contrary, the majority were well-paid, and far more stable and well respected than those in my previous career. 

What was going on, then?

As I searched for the right path forward, the answer to this question eluded me until one day, when a specific event brought it all into focus. On a whim, I decided to look at the careers page of a company I had been interested in for some time when I found an advertisement for an interesting role. One that combined the skills from my old career with the new, but one in which I had little direct experience. It was, however, the first time in months that I had seen an advertisement and felt calm.

I applied.

The very next day, a contact at my old company rang and offered me a position in a related department to my old one, and suddenly, I was in a bind.

On the one hand, I had an immediate opportunity in my new field that could give me the stability I wanted, kick start my career, and protect my bank account all at the same time. I would be employed at the time the clock ticked over on that big milestone age – an important psychological factor to me at the time – but I would also carry around that same, unplaceable feeling of dread. On the other, I could take a chance at an opportunity I had no guarantee of getting, but one that made me feel calm and relieved merely thinking about it.

The situation in this example is dramatic, but each and every one of us faces ones just like it every day. Big and small, our interests and possibilities are constantly cast up against raw need and the ebb and flow of the world, forcing us to choose.

When you were younger, it was often easier to align your interests with the things that spoke to you. Whether you liked a movie, a type of food, a place, or an activity, your mind and heart were connected as one. As you grew older, however, it became harder to connect certain activities to the outcomes you wanted, and your parents, friends, and families often urged you – from the best of intents – to take paths more guaranteed to provide a greater chance of success, whatever they might be.

And so you lost your connection.

You lost your voice.

But it’s not gone forever.

Deep down inside your heart, it remains. Your true self, the one that remembers all those things that captured your attention when you were young. Though it might grow wiser over the years, develop and evolve as your tastes and understanding do, the piece that is uniquely you can never be given away.

Most importantly, it knows the way.

Each time you make a decision that goes against that voice, a sense of wrongness grows inside your heart. You become more tired, stressed out, and frazzled, and if you keep on going, you’ll eventually reach the point where you’ve tricked yourself into believing this is all there is in life, that this is how it’s supposed to be for you.

But it’s not.

You don’t have to choose things that terrify you because that’s what everyone expects.

You don’t have to shy away from things and places because they don’t fit some golden path, and you don’t have to give up on something you love because you should have ‘grown out of it’ long ago.

What you do need to do is rediscover that voice, and remember who you are.

It will be quiet in the beginning, but that’s only because you haven’t spoken to it in some time.

Its ideas will sound strange, too, but that’s only because you haven’t listened to them for so long.

But it’s still there, I promise you.

And the more you nurture it, the more you turn your attention to its needs, the more that sense of wrongness will begin to disappear. You’ll start to wonder why you ever carried it around on your back to begin with and, more importantly, you’ll discover there are other people in the world who are just like you, who accept you as you are. 

In the end, I chose my heart, turning down the opportunity for the one less certain. I got it, and in the end, it turned out to be the perfect combination of new and old I was hoping for from the very beginning, one that’s opened me to other possibilities and avenues I hadn’t even considered because I had blocked them out from my wanting for so long.

Know yourself.