It takes courage
To do what you want
Have a lot of plans for you.
— Joseph Campbell
The following is an excerpt from The Practice of Happiness, a book by John Kehoe.
Yes I am a husband, a son, a brother, a writer, and a tax-paying citizen of Canada, and each of these roles has responsibilities and duties, but first and foremost I am me. And this role I will honour above all else. For if I don’t honour myself, my vision first, by what compass can I chart my life? To what allegiance can I swear other than to my own inner calling? We all have within us hundreds of possible destinies. Not thousands or an unlimited number of destinies. Not all destinies are ours to live and explore, but neither is there just one. Life gives you a choice. Depending upon your circumstances, your actions, and choices, numerous opportunities will be made available to you.
To discover your destiny you must discover first what pleases you, where your heart leaps for joy. This is your first clue. Follow your instincts — these are in you for a reason. They are signposts to an exciting and fulfilling life. Choose a destiny that feels appropriate to you and follow it wherever it leads. There is a journey and an adventure ahead.
I am speaking now to the twenty-year-old who is beginning his or her life and does not know which way to go — trust your instinct. I speak also to the forty-year-old who is at a midpoint of his life — have courage; there are destinies awaiting you if you heed the call. Listen to the voice within — it is calling you. I speak also to the sixty-year-old who has one last chance to grow old disgracefully. I love that expression. It has spirit in it.
I read a book many years ago (the title I forget) about a woman who leaves her husband when she is in her early sixties. It was a true story, chronicling how she made the decision, the horror of the children, all middle-aged, as they tried to talk her out of her foolishness, her uncertainty as she left with only the clothes she could carry in one suitcase. She took only a few thousand dollars, leaving the house, the investments, all the valuables with her husband. The book told the story of her adventures both good and bad, including her lovers. It ended with her in Italy, married to a lusty farmer and living with him in his vineyard.
She did not heed her friends’ advice that life was over, and so further destinies awaited her. She had the courage to leave a chronically complaining husband and a marriage that was barren, to trust the call within. That’s growing old disgracefully.
There is a forgotten promised
land somewhere here, no, not a
land, not promised, not even
really forgotten, but something
calling to you.
— Amos Oz
When I was 21 (that’s 30 years ago) I was riding the streetcar to work reading Henry Miller for the first time. I think it was Sexus. I was a claims examiner at Allstate Insurance. It wasn’t a particularly exciting job, but it was okay, and besides, you have to do something with your life.
Each day I took the Queen Street streetcar and got off at Bay Street. This particular morning I was totally immersed in Miller’s writing — his writing style, his life as an artist, his freedom, his courage to follow what he believed in, even though he was starving and broke and no one would publish his work.
I had to catch myself, looking up suddenly to make sure I didn’t miss my stop, when the most delicious thought suddenly entered my mind. What if I don’t get off? What if I just stay on the streetcar? It was an outrageous idea. And then of course I began thinking how irresponsible that would be. People were counting on me. I had files to attend to. You can’t be selfish — if you’re going to quit do it properly and give notice. But the thought would not go away. It was a beautiful spring day, unseasonably warm, the sun was shining and I was alive with possibilities. My stop was now two stops away and I didn’t know whether I was going to get off or not. One stop away and still I didn’t know. There was no inner dialogue. No arguing back and forth. It was like I was watching a movie with myself in it — totally unaware of what was going to happen. Suddenly I’m at my stop. As I’m writing this I have the thrill of re-experiencing this moment. It’s as if it’s happening again. The scene is charged. I am at a crossroads. A point in destiny. The door opens. Am I getting out or not? I don’t know. I’m in Fate’s hands — something else is going to make the decision for me.
And here it’s as if time slows and the door seems to remain open forever — there is plenty of time to get out. Then finally it closes and the streetcar jerks on. I sit in my seat, totally amazed at what has happened. I ride the streetcar for about 20 minutes. I’m in unknown territory now. Seeing a park I get out, find a bench and continue to read Henry Miller. Sometime in the afternoon I call the company and quit on the spot. About a month later I went back to pick up whatever pay was owed me.
Over the next three years I wrote my first novel, which was never published.
Recently I was telling this story to a friend of mine, a Jungian psychologist. “And what do you think would have happened if you’d got off the streetcar?” he asked.
“I’d probably be manager by now,” I responded instantly from somewhere deep inside myself, surprising myself with what I said, for I hadn’t thought about that before.
“I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it calls itself my home, my fatherland, or my church . . . And I am not afraid to make a mistake, even a great mistake, a lifelong mistake, and perhaps as long as eternity too.”
— Stephen Dedolus
I’m not talking here about running away from your responsibilities and taking the path of least resistance. You don’t run away from something — you rather are called to be courageous and trust the voice within. You cannot fake it — you know clearly when you’re following the call and when you’re not.
When you rationalize your reasons for not going, when you give in to fear, play it safe or let others decide for you, something is lost. There is a hole in you that nothing can fill. You know that you have refused the call. Others may not know; in fact they may compliment you on your decision, but you know because the hole is so big you could drive a car through it. And each day that you try to deny it, you feel your integrity, your purpose, your lust for life leaking out through that gaping hole.
But when you follow the call every cell in your body is alive. There is an amplification of life and consciousness. Even if things are collapsing all around you, you feel invincible, as if you’re a warrior on a chariot, and everything within you is saying yes. You may not know what your next step is, but the adventure has begun and what an adventure. “Fortune favours the bold,” said Rupert Murdoch, and he is right. There is a providence, a sequence of events that happens when you have the guts to trust yourself. You will find that doors open, opportunities appear and helping hands are offered every step of the way. Does this surprise you? It should not, for you are now being guided by the star that burns bright within. And following this star will lead you to your personal destiny. What more could one ask of life?