Choosing a direction for life need not be a linear process

March 27, 2017

I was saddened to hear of the recent death of the Nobel prize-winning poet Derek Walcott. He led an extraordinary life rooted in the arts, training as a painter as well as becoming immersed in writing; he was garlanded with awards and enjoyed a career in academia from Boston University to the University of Alberta and the University of Essex.

Walcott lived to 87, but he was a man who knew who he was and where he wanted to go from a young age. That knowledge was power, fuel to his pen.

His prescience is not unusual among artists, many of whom know the direction of their future at a young age: think of Pablo Picasso painting in his recognisable style at nine, Camille Saint-Saëns giving his piano debut at the same age.

Such direction is a blessing. So many of us find it difficult to find and decide on a path. We flit from idea to idea, exploring aspects of our personality, our experience and our intelligence as we grow up.

It can make choices such as university or career difficult. One can feel one is making mistakes and heading down the wrong path. Or circumstances may intervene – world events, the allure of a new love, the needs of a parent, the discipline of financial independence.

I wonder, how many of us have realised that we have not found our true direction until later in life? Worse, we hear the tick of life’s clock and start to worry, is it all too little, too late?

I had a glimmer of where I wanted to go and who I wanted to be when I was much younger. But it still took many years to navigate the maze of life before finally finding my path.

Perhaps I may be permitted to suggest another way of looking at it? If one sees life not as a linear journey but as a collage of experiences which may occur at any time in one’s life (but do not need to be ordered like a mathematical sequence), then the world opens up in every direction. Our life is a testament to our character formed by experience not just our ambition.

If our ultimate ambition is spiritual enlightenment, then we could try being open to learning and to change, even if it means picking up childhood dreams long after we put them aside and however sensible it seemed to discard them at the time.

Bruno Wang, founder of the Pureland Foundation