Tailors and Generals
The story goes that a man died and went to heaven. Meeting Saint Peter at the gates, watching the crowds of people passing through, he said, “Saint Peter, I’m curious. Point out to me the greatest general in history.” Saint Peter gazed into the mass of people, spotted the man he was looking for and pointing, said, “There he is, that one over there.” The man was shocked. He said, “That’s not a general. That’s just Harry, a tailor from my old neighborhood.”
Yes,” said Saint Peter, “you’re right, that is Harry the tailor. But had he been a soldier he would have been the greatest general in history.”
My question is, “Why are so many people leading a tailor’s life when they should be generals?”
The Urge to Grow and Flourish
In the title of a radio show I was a guest on was the word “destiny,” and I started by saying, “I couldn’t be on a more appropriate show. I’m a strong believer in destiny. Here’s what I mean…”
The word “destiny” has the same root as “destination.” It’s where you’re headed. Your destiny is not a pre-ordained life that you’re forced to lead because it’s been laid out before you in detail by some master planner who has absolute control over you. Your destiny depends more than anything on your own free will and it is as much a part of you as your ear.
Every living thing has an innate urge to grow, to flourish, to realize its full potential. A maple tree “wishes” to become all the maple tree it can be, an ear of corn, an ear of corn, a lilac a lilac, you an actor, to discover, develop, refine, and put to use your full talents in performances before an admiring public, and you, a painter, to see your works adorning walls.
This inner urge–this impulse–pushes all living things to strive to become what they are equipped for and have the potential to become, no matter how harsh or unaccommodating the environment. Composers and musical performers who, like Claude Debussy, grow up in unmusical families, and poets and other geniuses of the language whose parents are illiterate or who themselves quit school at twelve–Mark Twain, who claimed that he never let schooling interfere with his education–and Walt Whitman, one day to make himself through his own efforts, high ambitions, and self-teaching into, rather mysteriously, America’s best and most expressive poet.
Denied water, a tree will send out its roots long distances in search of it. Hidden in shadows, it will twist its branches until they reach sunlight. Some people too, will do whatever’s needed to reach sunlight.
You Have Two Destinies
You have not one, but two, destinies. One is your INTENDED DESTINY and the other is your ACTUAL DESTINY. Your intended destiny is the life you are fully equipped with the talents, gifts, personality, and intelligence to have. The other, your actual destiny, is what you actually became and the life you’re actually living. You know people who have all that’s necessary to become A, and actually became A. But most people’s intended and actual destinies are different. They should have become A, and wanted to become A, but became B instead.
Gary has all that it takes to become a fine architect, but never finished school and settled for being a draftsman. Erin has musical talent and was intended to write popular songs, but works as a sales clerk in a novelty shop and never gets around to writing. Neither put themselves on the right course, or seeing they were on the wrong course, never took it on themselves to change course. They are intended generals who became actual tailors.
The Ideal Is Very Possible
You’ve reached the ideal when your intended destiny is your actual destiny. Then you’re converting what you hold the promise of being into what you actually are. If you were equipped to be A, and not B, you would be A. Gary would be designing buildings; Erin would be producing songs.
Deep down you and I know that there is a most suitable life for us, more suitable than any other. We can feel that that it’s a specific life. Even if we don’t yet know exactly what it is we feel it and we spend part of our lives—possibly most of our lives—looking for it. To become clear as to what your intended destiny is and to say to it, “I devote myself to you,” is to feel an unstoppable drive toward its due fulfillment and to spring to life. Once you know you’re moving in the right direction and feel strongly about it you fly through your days aflame with energy and determination. If there are obstacles in your way you overcome them, particularly the fear of taking risks.
There’s a part of you that asks yourself, “Why are you here in life and not there? Account for yourself.” If you never start that novel or never start that business that you are equipped for, your conscience won’t let go. From time to time all your life you’ll think, “I should have written that book,” “I should have my own business” and you’ll feel regret, and you’ll never know what might have happened or what your life would have been like.
The Need to Finish What You Start
Sometimes what we put aside a long time ago but haven’t forgotten is a clue to our true destiny. Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik’s professor Kurt Lewin noticed that a waiter remembered orders only as long as the order was in the process of being served. When it was served, he forgot about it. From this, Zeigarnik developed the theory that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than they do completed tasks (now called “The Zeigarnik Effect”). People who suspend their work and get involved in unrelated activities (such as playing games) will remember material better than people who continue working without taking a break.
As applied to a lifetime it means that you will not forget important things you started even long ago, but did not complete—such as that painting in storage in your basement, or the project you intended to get back to, or the degree you started but never got. Not getting back to them causes a tension that brings repeated thoughts of the unfinished business that doesn’t end until the job is finished. It’s human nature to finish what we start and to feel uneasy until we do. As long as the task is uncompleted your mind continues to work on it, and it will not stop pestering you until you finish the task. I have a novel in a nice bright red binder that I started 35 years ago that has been on my mind ever since. What have you not forgotten that may indicate a direction you should follow?
It’s not unusual for people who distinguish themselves and feel fulfilled to discover the direction of achievements they will have later in life foreshadowed by the interests and preoccupations of their childhood. Quite early in life they became interested in an activity that they later pursued seriously, at times to the exclusion of almost everything else, and at times after pursuing other things that diverted them, often going down a fruitless path and coming to a dead end. The deepening of their interest over time became what guided them to their careers and largely determined their success. So, it could be a turning point when you feel yourself drifting away from your true destiny to ask what interested you when you were a child and haven’t forgotten: “When I was little, I liked especially….”
You may reach your intended destiny by a rapid jump, a quantum leap, even without any hints beforehand. It seems inconceivable that Joseph Conrad, born Jozef Konrad Korzeniowski, a Polish seaman who spent twenty years on ships and never took a writing class and didn’t learn English until he was in his twenties, should suddenly emerge as one of the greatest and most innovative stylists writing not in Polish, but English. He said later than when he started his first novel one day after breakfast, “I had written nothing but letters, and not very many of these. I never made a note of fact, of an impression or of an anecdote in my life.” His emerging full-blown into a master of the language is one of the puzzles of literary history and human development. But it happened.
You can never say that it’s too late to reach your intended destiny, however roundabout your journey to it has been, or however long it’s taken. Having set out in one direction, you are free to turn and set out in another like a fish in a stream that changes direction any time it wishes. When you overcome past mistakes, false starts, and failures and set out for your intended destiny you feel a sense of rightness, of confidence, of being in complete charge. You think, “This—this—finally is what my life was supposed to be.”
Your true destiny may appear at any time: in childhood, adolescence, adulthood, or late adulthood. Many people enter new paths later than others and they “catch up” quickly and often surpass the others. Duke Ellington’s career was undistinguished until he was forty. Authors Tolstoy, Turgenev, and William Faulkner showed little promise in their youth. They did their best work considerably later than others novelists. Paul Gauguin was a successful Parisian stock broker for years before he turned to art and became a great painter.
Jean Paul Sartre wrote that people exist first and only afterwards define themselves. “They are what they will have planned to be. They are what they conceive themselves to be.” A Japanese adage says, “Irrigators guide water, fletchers straighten arrows, carpenters bend wood, and as for wise people, they shape themselves.”
Shaping yourself into the person you conceive yourself to be—that’s what this post is about.
© 2014 David J. Rogers
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