How To Answer Life's Question: What Will You Do Now? - Common Sense Living Newsletter
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How To Answer Life's Question: What Will You Do Now?

Jun 26, 2015


Last week I was staying at a hostel in Bruges, Belgium (the cutest fairytale town I have ever seen) and the guy running the hostel (hosteleer? is that a word?), Siehert, told me his story of how he went to India to find his purpose.

'We had a great idea, we were brimming with enthusiasm, we had a purpose. We collected every last penny and moved to India, the land of opportunity, to start a hostelling business. Two years later we came back to Bruges - out of money, spirits crushed, waving flags of failure.'

At that time, Siehert needed hope desperately. Failure can be heartbreaking we already know that. But as much as that, he needed money. And, a job.

A couple of days after he moved back to Bruges he saw a 'for sale' sign on an old building around the corner from his house. In that sign - he saw another sign. He saw a possibility, an answer to his desperation.

'Are you crazy?' His partner was still reeling from their massive failure and couldn't imagine diving right into another.

The Lybeer Hostel in Bruges, Belgium
Source: Anisa Virji

But he persisted. We can't give up on our dream. And just because we failed once doesn't mean we will again. We know better now. We know how to research a market, make the right connections, find the right deals. If we don't use the lessons we learned, then we will truly have failed.

Life is presenting an opportunity. Life is asking a question - will you try again, or will you walk away?

They answered life with a resounding yes, and grabbed the opportunity. They traveled the world looking for their purpose and found it right around the corner. And they now run a beautiful, thriving establishment hosting people from around the world in their extraordinarily beautiful hometown.

When you were put here on earth I doubt God was sitting with a wad of clay shaping each person and appointing him with a 'special purpose'... Thou shall invent a flying car. Thou shall become a renowned sitar player. Thou shall discover a new country. Or cure AIDS. Or travel to India.

If anything, I imagine God said to us as he plonked us down on this lovely but weird planet, 'You're all exactly the same. Now I'll put you in different circumstances and let's see what you can do with it.'

And what we do with our circumstances, that becomes our 'special purpose'... the thing we find for ourselves. The thing we spend ten thousand hours doing, obsessing with, pursuing stubbornly.

If you practice the drums for hours every day not caring even if your hands bleed, that becomes your special purpose (reference from a brilliant Hollywood movie, Whiplash).

If you believe so strongly in something that you march with a dandi to make salt from the sea, spin your own cloth on a charkha, stop eating and go on a fast, and stand up against an empire till it flees your country, that then is your special purpose (reference from the one and only Gandhi bapu).

If you do not want to get off your sofa for anything and sit there for thousands of hours year after year till you have a flat behind and extensive knowledge of every TV show ever made, then that is your special purpose (reference from personal experience). Do not blame God for this one at least.

Your special purpose then, is the life you live in answer to your special circumstance.

When things are tough - money is tight, your roof is leaking, health is failing, relationship is in trouble, you have lost your job... those situations hold within them a question. They are life's way of asking you, I'm throwing you a bouncer, what will you do now?

As Sachin Tendulkar's favourite song says...

Ruk jana nahin tu kahin haar ke
Kaanto pe chalke milenge saaye bahaar ke
Don't give up hope and stop...
It's only after you walk on thorns that you will find spring

When life lays out thorns, when it throws you that tough question, here's how you can respond...

First, count what you have.

It's too easy in a difficult circumstance to forget all the good your life is filled with. To count what you have, look both ways: to your past to bring up good memories, and to your future, to all the wonderful things that are still in store. Recognition of your past and anticipation of the future are both scientifically proven to boost happiness according to professor of psychology Sonja Ljubomirsky.

In her book, The How of Happiness, Sonja says:

"People prone to joyful anticipation, skilled at obtaining pleasure from looking forward and imagining future happy events, are especially likely to be optimistic and to experience intense emotions. In contrast, those proficient at reminiscing about the past-looking back on happy times, rekindling joy from happy memories-are best able to buffer stress."

Then, find out what you are willing to get uncomfortable for.

When life hits you with a difficult situation, it makes you uncomfortable. Failure, loss, heartbreak, illness... these are things that throw you out of your stride. Instead of giving up, you have now rallied your spirits and your strength by using the twin approach of recognition and anticipation. 

Now, think about what you want to do so badly, that an uncomfortable situation will not stop you. Your passion  for something will help you overcome the difficulty of the situation, and come out stronger and better. 

I once knew a Cambodian man who had been born and raised in the USA, where his family had taken refuge from the political turmoil. He had ended up joining a gang of thugs in the US, and was eventually arrested for a violent crime and deported, exiled basically, to his country of origin, Cambodia.

That was his circumstance - away from his family and friends, away from the only life he had known, in a country that was essentially foreign to him. Life was asking him, 'Can you deal with this situation? What will you do now?'

He had one passion, break-dance. He dedicated his life to teaching young children who lived on the street how to break-dance. He gave poor, unfortunate, children a purpose, a skill, an education, a better life. In that, beyond difficulty, beyond discomfort, his special purpose shone through.

'Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom'. - Frankl Viktor E.

So how will you respond to life's questions?

Will you now keep doing the same thing, lamenting your fate, cursing life's unfairness? Will you let the vagaries of life break your enormous human spirit?

Or will you rise above the smallness of your circumstances to find an answer that will lead you to your own unique life - however difficult, however happy, however easy, however uncomfortable each day may be?

If you are looking for a purpose, a goal, far away from you in the future, stop looking away and look to your now. Your life is today. It is every day in every way. As Tagore says...

"If life's journey be endless where is its goal? The answer is, it is everywhere."


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