Thursday, March 22, 2012
Today is my fifth wedding anniversary. Erin and I are having a fairly low-key celebration by going out to dinner. My students were asking me yesterday about what I was going to get her for our special day, and they were shocked to discover that I hadn’t purchased her a gift. Though I didn’t get her flowers or any other material good that can be purchased in a store, I did give her something tangible. When she gets the mail today, she will receive a 3 page letter I wrote during our spring vacation. I thought a great deal about what I wanted to tell her, which was much more difficult than I had anticipated. Some feelings cannot be conveyed with words, so I felt as if I was stumbling throughout the entire epistle. The time I took to reflect on the first five years of our marriage was instructive in that it made me realize how much I’ve grown as a person, a husband, and a teacher—all of which would have been impossible if it hadn’t been for her influence in my life. If anything, Erin’s belief in me helped me believe in myself, which is critical for creating the life you want to live, NIP. Are you living such a life? If not, why? Anyone can do this, to be honest. We can all craft our lives in a way that gives them meaning and purpose, but as I mentioned a few letters ago it takes patience and persistence to create our magnum opus, our “master work,” which is our life itself.
I read a great book titled The Alchemist during Spring Break that has left me thinking about this idea a lot. Throughout the short novel the protagonist, a young shepherd from Spain, is constantly reminded to discover his “personal legend,” his critical role to play in life and the world. Other characters tell the boy that each and every one of us has a personal legend, but it often goes unfulfilled because we let others tell us that trying to achieve our dreams is impossible. They also go on to tell him that it’s often a matter of paying attention to what life is telling us from moment to moment, as it is often trying to help us realize said dreams. The problem, however, is that we disregard these intuitions because we rationalize how impractical they are—which is exactly where we go wrong…
I can easily relate to this because for the longest time I completely ignored my own intuitive hunches about situations that have presented themselves throughout my life. In my cynical youth, I would talk myself out of doing this or that—even things that would have been better for me in the long run—because I was sure my rationalization was correct. Now that I’m older (and one would hope wiser), I am not too quick to dismiss my intuitive thoughts and feelings on certain subjects. I am open to exploring them now because when I do everything seems to fall into place. Just as in the book, if we are willing to make a good faith effort with every opportunity that presents itself we often are pleasantly surprised by the outcome. Things eventually did begin to work in my favor, as if life was somehow complicit in these outcomes. The bottom line, NIP, is that we should never be afraid to listen to our intuitions. They are often directly connected to our dreams and what we’d like to accomplish with our lives. We can discover our own destinies by listening to intuition and not limiting our opportunities for personal growth. Don’t be afraid to dream, and don’t be afraid to follow through on them, even if the whole world thinks your pursuit impractical. Only when we pursue that which we are most passionate about can we truly become authentic human beings filled with purpose. When we do so, it is then our obligation to share this with others and inspire them with our masterpiece, our life itself.
When I began writing these letters nearly two years ago, one of the first posts was “Top Ten Secrets”; it listed ten brief statements that have helped shape my life over the past few years. Number 1 on that list is “keep chipping away” because I had compared our individual lives to works of art. Your life, NIP, is a work of art if you choose to see it that way. Each day we wake we’re given another chance to work on our magnum opus, to sculpt our lives into what we want them to be. No two works of art will ever be the same, but in pursuing this ideal I believe we achieve something similar to the idea of “personal legend” found within the pages of The Alchemist. And though you wield the hammer and chisel and give shape to your life through the choices you make, others are helping you whether you realize it or not. I am grateful for all of the changes that I have successfully made to my life—none of which would have been possible without the love and support of my family, friends, colleagues, and students—but I am only just beginning to discern the shape of my life’s work. Sculpting anything is a slow, arduous process, even more so when it’s your own life, but it’s worth the effort. The other beautiful idea behind the sculpting metaphor is that there is no need to worry about mistakes. We all make mistakes in the form of bad choices, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be fixed. A sculptor would merely buff them out before picking up the hammer and chisel again. Never give up on your dreams, NIP. Some people will wonder what you’re working on, only to walk away puzzled. People think I’m a little crazy, and that’s just fine. It’s fine because I know deep down that I am really happy and seem to be more and more fulfilled each day. Creating our magnum opus is a lifelong process. If you have put down your chisel and hammer, NIP, maybe it’s time to pick them up again. It’s never too late to chase down your dreams and fulfill your personal legend.
Keep chipping away at your magnum opus!