Robert Bly, in his poem "Four Ways of Knowing", writes, "I usually ignore the other three / and learn by falling." Some force — God, your higher self, whatever — is out there, says Bly, and there are times when you desperately need to learn something. It starts with subtle hints: a shape in a tree, or a scent, or a snatch of overheard conversation. Then if that doesn’t work, it moves to more direct hints: "two strangers speak the same phrase in the same day." Then, dreams. Then, direct intervention. Then, if you still don’t learn, you just fall.
Some silly kid at work — because I work in a University office, there are plenty of college kids working there too — who is freshly graduated came up to me for advice today. I have no idea what possessed her to do this. She told me that she was having trouble choosing a direction for her life and asked what I thought she should do about that.
In my opinion, this is sort of on par with asking Quasimodo for cosmetic tips, or President Bush for tips on integrity. It’s kind of an exercise in futility. I didn’t say so to her face, of course, but I am not at all qualified to answer that question, so I told her that it would probably be best for her to talk to a career counselor at the University, something like that.
But upon further reflection, I think that there are definitely some pointers I’d give to people. Specifically, I’d like to go back in time and pound them into my younger self’s head. Maybe I would have gotten my act in gear and gotten something accomplished.
I don’t believe anyone when they say that they’ve always known what they want to do. I think it’s a lie, and that they are, at best, deluding themselves. I do think that each person has a purpose, though, and the means to achieve that purpose, provided that they act appropriately and take the opportunities that are given to them. That being said, here are the pointers for my younger self:
- First of all, if you don’t know what you want now, then do something. Even if you don’t like it. Find something to do, do it honestly and with integrity and honor and to the best of your ability. The first mistake is to not do something, and let things slip by while you just kind of wait for something to happen. If you do something — anything — then when you do find your purpose, or that spark that kindles the fire in your soul, then you can make that leap and have something to take with you. That’s the trick: you need to have something to take with you.
- The second point is, when you find something that you do want to do, then you have to go for it. If you’re doing something that you don’t like, and fail to go for your purpose when you discover what it is, then you’re stuck.
The first mistake is the one that I made. If you make that mistake, you run the risk of becoming a middle-aged, directionless fool without anything to take with you when you finally figure out what it is that you are meant to do, just kind of marking time. I’m not entirely sure what my purpose is, though I have a pretty good idea. It doesn’t really matter, though, because following up on it now would be an exercise in futility.
Anyway, if I could go back in time and beat some sense into my younger self, that’s the sense I’d beat into him. Me. Whatever. I never know what pronoun to use in this case.
On a more interesting note, I’ve decided to go along with Evilpheemy and send a campaign setting outline to Wizards of the Coast’s fantasy setting contest. Coming up with strange and interesting new worlds is something that I’ve always been pretty good at, even off the cuff. Putting stories in them is a bit of a challenge at times, but creating the worlds isn’t. Top prize is $120,000. There are folks, I know, who think that they could go ahead and publish their own game worlds on their own and somehow make millions, sort of like George Lucas did. I really want to know what fantasy world these people are living in. There are millions of incredibly talented and gifted visionaries out there, but while they can all inspire and stimulate, they can’t all be millionaires. $120,000 is pretty good for one solid idea. Let’s see if it pans out.