“You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures.” ― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
I’m a sucker for quotes. This one is no exception.
But think about it.
How many of us know our path let alone spend meaningful time trying to build something?
As I reflect on my own journey, I realise how much time I’ve wasted doing the wrong thing:
and a slew of other meaningless sh*t.
I accept that life is not meant to be linear — more likely it’s full of zigs and zags — but, in hindsight, I wish, no I really do wish, that I’d sat down and asked myself a few more serious questions than those that I did.
I still love this question posed by the late Alan Watts:
“If money was no object what would you do [with your life]?”
You might think it childish. I don’t. In fact, I think it should be writ large in every school, in every business and in every home.
What would you do?
If you can’t immediately answer it, there’s no shame in saying “I don’t know”, but it doesn’t stop there.
What it behoves is a deep investigation around your personhood; namely, Who am I at the deepest most profound level? Of course, that’s not the same territory as the doing question but then again, think how many people think of themselves a noun and not a verb.
Sorry, that’s a bit oblique.
What I’m saying is that too many of us have come to be identified with our job titles and not understanding that one thing, one label, one company will never enable us to live out our life, fully.
Here’s the thing.
If you’re seriously interested in life — your life that is — then all you really need to consider what brings you greatest joy and build your life around that. (I hope you don’t say drinking, sex or doing drugs!)
And when I say joy, I don’t mean the ephemeral, false positive type that wears off in a day or so. I mean the sort of thing that you return to again and again and find there’s no trying or perseverance necessary. It’s just pure bliss.
I love the fact that my (now dead) poetry hero (for all the wrong reasons…!) had the words “Don’t try” written on his headstone, alongside the image of a boxer.
If you need to know about Buk’s philosophy, you could do worse than read the letter he wrote to his good friend, fellow poet and founder of New York Quarterly magazine William Packard in 1990:
“Dec. 23, I990
Hello Wm Packard:
No, you’re not down, maybe I’m down, sometimes I feel like my skivvies are down around my ankles and my butt is a target for hyena turds.
Listen, your Pincus is awful hard on the poets. I thought I was hard on the poets. Well, I’m glad I get by him. And he’s right on WAITING. Only if the octipus has you in its tentacals you can’t wait too long.
On WAITING I know what he means. Too many writers write for the wrong reasons. They want to get famous or they want to get rich or they want to get laid by the girls with bluebells in their hair. (Maybe that last ain’t a bad idea).
When everything works best it’s not because you chose writing but because writing chose you. It’s when you’re mad with it, it’s when it’s stuffed in your ears, your nostrils, under your fingernails. It’s when there’s no hope but that.
Once in Atlanta, starving in a tar paper shack, freezing. There were only newspapers for a floor. And I found a pencil stub and I wrote on the white margins of the edges of those newspapers with the pencil stub, knowing that nobody would ever see it. It was a cancer madness. And it was never work or planned or part of a school. It was. That’s all.
And why do we fail? It’s the age, something about the age, our Age. For half a century there has been nothing., No real breakthrough, no newness, no blazing energy, no gamble.
What? Who? Lowell? That grasshopper? Don’t sing me crap songs.
We do what we can and we don’t do very well.
Strictured. Locked. We pose at it.
We work too hard. We try too hard.
Don’t try. Don’t work. It’s there. It’s been looking right at us, aching to kick out of the closed womb.
There’s been too much direction. It’s all free, we needn’t be told.
Classes? Classes are for asses.
Writing a poem is as easy as beating your meat or drinking a bottle of beer. Look. Here’s one:
mother saw the racoon, my wife told me.
ah, I said.
and that was just about the shape of things tonight.
HAPPY NEW YEAR”
(my emphasis added)
In the end, what you do is what you do. Yes, that’s cryptic but I can no more exhort you to reexamine how you see your life than you can change it by adopting a faux practice. You’re either drawn to enquire or you’re not.
But please remember that life is fleeting, life is harsh and this moment will never happen again. Therefore, the longer you put things off (and even asking lots of self-referential questions can be a form of procrastination), the more likely it is you’ll never discover who and what you were born to do.