In a comment a couple weeks ago, Summer advised me to “give yourself over to God’s plan” and to “let go of your own plans of self import.” That’s certainly good advice. But it raises the more difficult question of how you figure out what that divine plan is.
There are any number of religious leaders who will be happy to tell you exactly what God’s plan is – it usually involves giving them money and voting the way they tell you. No thanks. Our ancestors used divinations and auguries to discern the will of their gods. I do the occasional Tarot reading and I’m always looking for messages and meanings, but something of this importance requires something more, something deeper.
I would start by saying I believe every person is born with a few obligations. Provide for yourself and your family, contribute your fair share to the common wealth and common good, and leave things better for the next generation than they were for you. After that, it’s all yours.
But that sets the bar rather low. I’m not interested in fulfilling my obligations and then slacking off for the rest of my life (although there are times when that looks awfully inviting). When I dig deep, I can see only two high-level options.
One is to live a life of sacrifice and service, best exemplified by Mother Theresa. The other is to take Joseph Campbell’s advice and follow your bliss.
At first glance there doesn’t appear to be much comparison. Following your bliss sounds like unbridled hedonism, while Mother Theresa was a saint (although her letters and other reports show she was much more fallible than she’s been portrayed). But a life of constant sacrifice is like a life of contemplation – maintaining it for an extended time requires true dedication. If it’s not your true calling, eventually you’ll crumble under its obligations and you’ll be of no use to anyone. That’s why there are so few true servants in the world.
There’s a reason why we all have the particular combination of skills and interests we do. Somewhere, those skills and interests match up with something this world needs, something that will help people live better, richer, fuller lives. Finding that intersection is one of the great quests of life.
It took me well into my 30’s to understand and accept that following my bliss didn’t mean getting rich. Now well into my 40’s, I think I understand where my true interests and skills really are.
The next step is to figure out how to apply those skills and interests in a useful and meaningful way. And until I figure it out (or until an opportunity presents itself), I’ll keep reading, studying, praying, and meditating, trying to learn as much as I can so I’ll be as ready as I can be when that opportunity finally comes.