When I was young, success for men was defined as having a great job that paid well, and finding a trophy wife who was not only beautiful, but smart and someone who could keep house and raise kids, besides being eye-candy at social events. Evidence of success for men included a fine home and a sleek, powerful car, maybe some tech gadgets, and perhaps a golf club membership. For women, success included a well-kept house, well-behaved children, and a generally well-ordered life. The woman was supposed to attract a mate who made enough money to provide her with the finer things in life. A little later on in my life, success for women was expanded to include a satisfying career for women, at least until she got married, and then maybe just interrupted for a short time for child-raising. Very few, if any, people ever talked about trying to find their “purpose” in life.
A blogger asked some of his subscribers to define success recently, and one of his readers came up with a really succinct, precise definition.
Success to me means discovering your purpose in life and fulfilling it. –Ronald Chirembo
A couple of weeks ago I finally got hold of a copy of The Afterlife of Billy Fingers, by Annie Kagan. The book tells about Kagan’s communication with her brother shortly after his death due to alcohol and drug abuse. Billy Fingers tells his sister Annie that the purpose of his life was to have some harsh experiences that would burn off a bunch of karma and make him more sensitive to other people. A lot of times when people talk about their “purpose” in life, they think in terms of helping others or leaving the world a better place, but spiritually speaking, our purpose is often a lot more like Billy Fingers’ purpose – to have certain kinds of experiences that will end up making us better co-workers with God. “You can’t judge the true value of anyone’s life, including your own,” said Billy Fingers to his sister.
The carrot illustration above is a good way to visualize Billy’s advice. Billy Fingers’ life didn’t look at all good. In fact, it looked downright degenerate. Billy was a drinker who did drugs and dealt with shady elements. At the end of his life (and he died quite young), he was having health problems directly due to his abuse of drugs and alcohol. Few people, looking at Billy’s life at the surface level, would have guessed that his life was fulfilling some sort of divine plan. Nobody would have termed his life successful. If you and I had looked at his life, we would have judged it just like the carrot on the left side of the drawing, the one with skimpy leaves above ground, unaware of the huge carrot growing beneath the soil.
If Billy had been aware of his “purpose” in life, would he have accepted it? Would he have fought against it? It’s hard to say. But it occurred to me that in his particular case, knowing his Soul purpose might not have been the best thing. I’ve always thought it was important to know our Soul purpose, but now I’m thinking that this may not work for everyone.
What if the best advice in life is the one that sounds the most lame? Just do the best you can. 🙂