A few days ago, I attended an inaugural lecture. It was by one of the top scientists in the country. He said it was a lecture he had been preparing to give for 20 years.
It ended up being more than a science lecture: It was an inspiring story of a man, his deep relationship with his mentor, and his love for his craft. It helps me reflect on the value of listening to life stories of others.
The Stories of Others
One of the most useful things you can do, especially when you are young, is to read or listen to life stories. And don’t limit it to top scientists or entrepreneurs – people who the society normally looks up to. Listen to a taxi driver, a librarian, a French language student, or that old lady who was nice to you.
Here’s the reason.
When they share a story, the details of what happened may not be relevant to you. In fact, some of it might not even be accurate; we all misremember things when we tell stories.
But, at times, beneath the story, they reveal what truly matters to them in life.
Those are the gems you are looking for. And there are patterns to it too. I can tell you what some of those are, but it won’t affect you as much reading it here. For example, they wish they had spent more time with their children. Or, the more kindness you do to others, the lighter and more joyful your life will be.
Nothing new. Truth tends to manifest repeatedly. It affects you not because they are new. They enter your heart, very often, because they are absorbed through stories that are sincerely told. It is those moments when you catch yourself staring into the void.
Your Personal Story
The point of those stories is not for you to copy them. They are simply a gentle pat on your shoulder to remind you that you are writing yours, right here, right now.
People around you (your organisation, your colleagues, celebrities that you follow) will share with you an idea of how a ‘successful life’ looks like. And most of them do that because they genuinely care about you.
But their definition is inevitably coloured by their perspectives of the world. In other words, they are suggesting their plots to your story.
To pursue your own ‘Personal Legend’, as Paulo Coelho calls it, you must follow or reject those suggestions on your own terms. To write a life story that is authentically yours, you must select your own plots.
Here are practical things that you can do daily to enrich your story:
- Have a personal journal. Make a digital diary that is for your eyes only. Write on it as frequently as you can. Don’t worry if it’s short, incoherent or grammatically messy. It’s not a writing practice. It’s a practice of self-reflection.
- Read outside your discipline. If you are in science, read art history. If you are a historian, read fantasy. If you love fictions, read basic economic theory. It reminds you that there are other things out there that can be explored and enjoyed.
- Listen without judgement. Notice you egoic tendency to avoid listening to ‘less successful’ people in the eyes of society. Overcome it. Remember, the truth beneath a story matters more.
Choose Your Price
You also need to develop your intelligence in trusting your own voice. As you get older, you might find highly successful people who insist that you need to do this or that, and only then you will be successful. And they show you that one paved path of progression, with all the gold and glory at the end.
Yet deep inside, you constantly feel, ‘Is this what I really want to do with my life?’
If that happens, take it seriously. Re-examine your life. Never ignore that intuition.
You are going to doubt yourself, ‘Those people seem to have more money than me, more titles than me. Who am I to reject their views?’
The answer is: I don’t know. But whoever you are, you are not them.
Even if you can get exactly what they have now, you may still not be at peace. And remember, you rarely see what’s behind the magic. You don’t know exactly what they gave up to gain the money and titles. It might very well be the type of sacrifices that you will never, ever want to make.
Every magic has its price. So choose yours, thoughtfully.