Each of us has a destiny, a purpose in life. Finding it is the trick, because there are so many distractions and demands that lead us astray. The challenge of discovering our inner core and the life’s work that will bring meaning to our souls is one that we all face. Often we find ourselves on circuitous and unsatisfactory paths in our search for the feeling, the passion that will assure us that we have finally found the right fit for our personalities and talents. We question our very worth as we struggle to become the best of ourselves, and we grow jealous of those who appear to so easily find their way.
I was in my early thirties before I felt as though I had found the key to a happy life. Even then I would sometimes allow the inevitable bumps in the road to discourage me and question whether or not I had been successful in choosing a lifestyle and career that suited me. My brothers always seemed to know exactly what they wanted to accomplish in life. One of them boasted at the age of five that he wanted to be a mathematician and just as promised in his toddler days he carved out a highly satisfying career in the world of numbers. His was a straight road, a shortcut to being exactly what he wanted to be. I envied his clarity and determination because I was muddled and confused for all of my teenage years and most of my twenties. It took me so much time to construct a life that made me both happy and proud.
My years as an educator allowed me to be more gentle on myself, because I realized through watching my students that I was the norm and my brother was an outlier. Most people tend to stumble upon satisfaction through trial and error. Sometimes failures actually provide the answers that we seek. In the calculus of life we achieve closer and closer approximations of meaning as we try this and then that. With each new experience we learn what we dislike and what excites us.
I had thousands of students during my career. I no longer remember most of their names., but I see the faces looking to me for guidance. Certain individuals stood out from that crowd of countenances. There was something about them that told me that they were special and would make a significant mark on the world. Some of them were exemplary and well behaved students. Others were less than stunning academically and maybe even frustrating trouble makers. For whatever reason I always remembered them vividly, and quite often learned that they had indeed been incredibly successful. I suppose that I have always had an eye for talent. I have found it in the homeliest of places, and been challenged by my fellow teachers in proclaiming it’s existence in some of the most questionable cases.
Early in my career there was a young man who captured my attention. He was in what were then called Honors classes. He was not the most outstanding of the lot, but his intellect was nonetheless advanced. He had an unending sense of humor and often distracted me with jokes that invariably made me laugh. He was a very likable soul with a bounty of charisma, but he struggled a bit with Algebra I. He took longer to master concepts than some of his peers in the class. He persisted nonetheless and always eventually figured things out. What was most remarkable about him was his wit and a spark of mischief that revealed his natural creativity. I somehow always knew that he would be a remarkable adult, even when I learned that one of his pranks in high school had resulted in great trouble for him.
I eventually lost track of him and then one day read his name in the newspaper. I immediately recognized him as one of my favorite former students. He was working as a publicist for the Secretary of Education, a position that fit his personality to a tee. I located him on Facebook and have followed his journey with pride ever since. When his boss left Washington D.C so did my student. He now works in New York City with some of the most incredibly altruistic and cutting edge companies. His work and theirs is literally changing the world for the better. His talents and his big heart have made him into the person that I envisioned back when he was just a young boy. By following his inner voice and taking risks he has found not just success but more importantly fulfillment. His most current work is with an organization that brings much needed medical care to remote areas of the world. Specially designed drones are delivering blood, medications and equipment to people in emergency situations who formerly would have died for lack of resources. My student is proud of his work, and I am bursting with joy for him.
There are so many different ways to approach life, and it is often difficult to see the way ahead in our one size fits all society. We have people and situations demoralizing us all of the time. We compare ourselves to those who possess abilities that we don’t have and seem to have it all together. We listen to naysayers who discourage us from seeking the dreams that fill our hearts. We are pulled down by competitions and meaningless tasks. We lose sight of who we are and what provides us with a feeling of accomplishment. Because we sometimes have to work harder than others to achieve the same results we question our abilities. When we make mistakes we become our own worst critics. We are lead to believe that we should follow a blueprint that was designed by experts who think that they have insights into our hearts, even when it makes us feel uncomfortable. We listen to the noise of the crowd. We fall for the propaganda and find that we are lost.
It is only when we quiet our minds enough to hear the tiny voice that is inside every single one of us that we begin to realize what direction we must take. It is the guide that we need in order to find our own personal destiny. It helps us to understand what values are personally most important. It taps into the totality of our talents, our beliefs, and our desires. It soothes our very souls, and only each person knows if he/she has found it.
I have always told my students to list the things that make them happy. I encourage them to take note of the moments when they feel a surge of passion. Those are the clues that will lead them to choose the right trajectory for their lives. I caution them to think for themselves and to use their failures as lessons that are perhaps more important than the ones that bring them success. Most importantly I urge them to discover the moments that fill them with a sense of excitement, meaning and pride. That is when they will know what they must do.