If everyone in a tribe wanted to weave baskets and no-one felt inclined to hunt, that tribe would struggle. It might also struggle if everyone in the tribe hunted, and no-one felt inclined to weave baskets.
But what if some members of the tribe were inclined to hunt while others wanted to weave? What if someone else found seasonal fruit and shellfish because she liked finding patterns in the seasons and the tides? And someone else, drawn to water, found a plentiful source of food in the ocean? Someone adept at working with wood might invent the canoe. A would-be arsonist might work out how to make fire.
That tribe would do well. Any tribe with those skills would function considerably better than a tribe with no diversity.
For that reason we evolved to be diverse. We evolved to have legs, arms, eyes . . . and inclinations. It’s a reason why we differ considerably from one another. It’s why some of us sign up for dangerous missions, marry the Eiffel Tower, raise children, eat light globes, become serial killers, collect blowflies, build empires . . . We all know of the nerd who can plot the course of a space probe but can’t change a spark plug, and we know the boofhead who can’t spell the name of his home town, but can reassemble a car. Look around you. The diversity in our desires, skills, appearance, behaviours, inclinations . . . is extraordinary.
Some of us get lucky and our diversity benefits us and the tribe. Others, not so lucky. Those of us born with propensities not wanted by society tend to inhibit them or act upon them secretly.
‘The problem with the gene pool is that there is no lifeguard.’
Evolution is a loose cannon that doesn’t care about the ‘collateral damage’ it causes because in the long run, diversity works for our species.
When people say ‘he’s not normal‘ the irony is that he isn’t supposed to be. Our species isn’t meant to be composed of ‘normal’ people. Diversity helps the tribe. ‘Normal’ people are an aberration. Thankfully, they are few and far between.
The Iraqi bomb squad often had to defuse an improvised exploding device:
In his book, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, A photographer’s chronicle of the Iraq war”, Ashley Gilbertson writes: ‘ . . . Lieutenant Majid Mahdi and Lieutenant Hazim Kadhem of the Iraqi police used the one tool at their disposal: speed. Their procedure was simple. They drove to the site, got out of their beaten up pickup truck, and sprinted toward the bomb. The trick, they explained, was to cut the wires before the insurgent responsible for placing the device had a chance to press the button and blow them up.’
Those two extraordinary men were not keen on having this job, obviously, but somewhere in their makeup they had the capacity to do it. They are an astonishing example of our species’ seemingly boundless diversity.
Can you imagine?
(Ashley writes: ‘Both Majid and Hazim were eventually killed in separate incidents while the bombs they were trying to defuse exploded.’)
Each of us is born with inclinations. We may not discover what they are – someone born in central Russia may never discover that she was born for the sea.
And even if we know our inclination, we might be thwarted from following it.
Further, sometimes we have the inclination to do something but don’t have the talent to do it well. That can suck. But thankfully, we don’t have to be good at something to enjoy doing it. (Tightrope walkers excepted.)
This all means: if you feel the need to follow a particular path, and can follow it, do so. If you want to dance in theatre, write poetry, become a plumber, collect beer cans, raise a family, do voluntary work, train horses . . . and have the opportunity to do it, do so. Collecting blowflies might not help the world, but it will feed your soul.
‘Mark, are you advising us to “follow our heart”?’
Yep, to be the person you were meant to be.”
But consider: no one is born with a propensity to reassemble cars. Cars are not part of our evolutionary history. However, we might be born with the propensity to solve puzzles, which can manifest as a propensity to reassemble cars. No one is born with genes prompting them to gaze at stars and create navigation, but they might be born with genes that prompt them to look for patterns, and that propensity can manifest in the study of stars. Or manifest in the study of waves, tides, strategies . . . We are not born with an innate propensity to weave baskets, but we can be born with the inclination to work with our hands, and that might manifest in basket weaving. That’s a significant distinction! Why? Because it means we can satisfy our innate inclinations at work. Someone born with the propensity to work with their hands has a hundred vocations to choose from, as has someone who enjoys looking for patterns, as has someone who likes looking for differences. And so on. It isn’t difficult to follow our heart.
Smart employers have figured this out. They find niches that suit their employees’ strengths. If you can find a vocation that interests you, go for it! Though it can get scary. Collecting blowflies is easy because we succeed with every blowfly we find, but aiming to be a vet, for example, might be daunting. The journey down that road can stretch long into the distance, and your self-worth might be on the line. You will find a million reasons to stay in your comfort zone and avoid taking those steps, but find the courage to go for it.
‘The longest journey begins with a single step.’
The philosopher, Lao Tzu.
An excerpt from a speech given by the late Steve Jobs to the graduating class of Stanford University on June 12, 2005: ‘Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.’
Even if you can’t find that special job, don’t worry. We aren’t just hunters or just basket weavers; we have within us a myriad of minor inclinations as well. That means we don’t even need the perfect job to be satisfied, because some jobs can satisfy some of our inclinations some of the time, and that can be enough. That’s why many of us can have an uninspiring job yet still feel satisfied. The job makes use of our propensities just enough to make it palatable. There is even an expression for it: we make the best of it.
‘Mark, what if my job simply sucks. Period.’
Set aside a few minutes each night to pursue your interest. Don’t be distracted. Switch off the computer (unless you’re a writer) and let your phone take messages. For just five minutes a day satisfy your need to be the person you were meant to be.
‘Mark, I want to climb mountains. I can’t do that every night for five minutes.’
Andre the Giant would have struggled to be a jockey, too. But remember, you were not born to climb mountains. It just feels that way. You were born with an inclination, and climbing mountains is just one possible manifestation of that inclination. Find the deeper, more pervasive force driving you. Who knows, you might find another, more practicable way to satisfy the feeling.
‘I don’t have even five minutes to follow my heart. I have a family to support. I live in the real world.’
Following your heart (being the person you were meant to be) is the real world. That’s when life becomes real.
Graham Greene fed his soul: ‘Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.’
There is a bonus: when we satisfy our innate inclinations and add to our core happiness we also satisfy that other ongoing innate need: to contribute to the tribe. Commonsense might tell us we are not contributing – after all, who needs a blowfly collection? But it’s the act of collecting those blowflies which provides that ‘contributing feeling’. Logic doesn’t play a big part. If we have the inclination to do something it means we are ‘wired’ to think it’s important. It’s why blowfly collectors and mountain climbers would look at each other askance.
Two needs converge: a need to contribute and a need to act upon innate inclinations. We end up with a blowfly collection or an invention that shapes the world. Or anything in between. It’s a cosmic lucky dip and it explains the world we see.
You were born a chocolate. Your job is to unwrap yourself and discover which one.
Q. ‘Even if we follow our heart that doesn’t mean we will be good at what we do.’ Thankfully it’s the journey which matters. No matter how poor the end result, the act of ‘following our heart’ will still satisfy our need to contribute. If we fail to inspire others with our work the consequent disappointment will be insignificant compared to the enjoyment we felt trying.
I wrote this book knowing I would struggle to find a publisher. But I needed to write it. The journey has been a significant contributor to my core happiness.
The only way I could have failed was to have ignored my compulsion to write it.
‘When you do things from your soul you feel a river moving in you, a joy.’
13th century Persian philosopher, Mawlana Jalal-ad-Din Rumi.
Q. ‘If I want to play video games, or watch magic, or listen to music, I’ll be following my heart?’
Be the doer, not the watcher. Don’t just play video games, design them. Create, don’t gawk at someone else’s creation.
Q. ‘Singing would be one way for me to follow my heart.’
Good, but ask yourself: is it the singing which appeals? Or is it the fame? The glamour? The attention?
Although we need to avoid being corralled into working in a career we don’t want, we also need to avoid fooling ourselves into choosing a profession that doesn’t suit us. We need to know if our choice is based on novelty, or on jealousy, or on ego. We need to be aware of the difference between ‘that sounds like fun’ and our true vocation.
‘. . . any path is only a path, and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you to do. But your decision to keep on the path or to leave it must be free of fear or ambition. I warn you. Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself, and yourself alone, one question. This question is one that only a very old man asks. My benefactor told me about it when I was young, and my blood was too vigorous for me to understand it. I will tell you what it is: Does this path have a heart? All paths are the same: they lead nowhere. They are paths going through the bush, or into the bush. In my own life I could say that I have traversed long, long paths, but I am not anywhere. My benefactor’s question has meaning now. Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t, it is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere: but one has a heart, the other doesn’t. One makes a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. One makes you strong; the other weakens you.’
Carlos Castaneda, in his book, ‘The Teachings of Don Juan’.
Q. ‘If my dog has the chance to be ‘the dog it was meant to be’ will it be happy?’
Yep. A dog will have an innate need to chase prey, hunt at dawn and dusk, explore, play with other dogs, and be in a pack. But those needs can manifest in other ways, so to keep a dog happy:
chase prey = let it chase the balls you throw
hunt at dawn and dusk = walk your dog morning and night. Exhaust it.
explore = walk your dog in different parks
play with other dogs = let it play with other dogs in a leash free park.
be in a pack = ensure it has company day and night.
But if you just stick it in a backyard all day . . .
Q. ‘I have interests I’d like to follow, but people will think I’m eccentric.’
No-one gives a damn. Remember Key #1? If someone thinks badly of you it’s for about two seconds, and then they’re thinking about something else. They become bored with the thought and move on.
Think about it: when you think badly of someone, do you dwell on the thought? Or do you quickly move on, not wanting to waste your thoughts on the person?
It works the other way, too. If someone thinks highly of you it’s only for a few seconds, and then they think their next thought.
Instead of worrying about what people think of you, remind yourself that people spend only seconds evaluating. It’s so transitory it’s not worth worrying about. You have the freedom to focus on being the person you were meant to be.
Besides, it’s the eccentric ones that change the world.
Q. ‘Mark, what is a good way to find our path?
’ You may well find it in the job you do. If you work in a bank you might find yourself drawn to customer relations, or accounting, or finance. . . Follow the thread of what you like. And, do you have a hobby, an interest? Do it.
Here’s an exercise:
It’s a common one but it can be helpful.
You don’t need to be realistic with your answers. Be bold. If your answer seems absurd, don’t censor it. Look a little deeper. For example, if you want to be an astronaut, acknowledge it. Look deeply into why you want to be an astronaut, then search for other ways to satisfy that want.
1. If you could meet a world expert, in what field would the expert be?
2. In which pleasurable activities do you concentrate so much that you lose track of time?
3. If you knew for certain you would succeed, what would you attempt to do?
4. When do you feel passionate about what you are doing?
The book, ‘What colour is my parachute’ has helped many people answer the above questions. Most libraries have it.