I like to make crazy to-do lists and elaborate budget spreadsheets, I like to read the last page in a book before I start it and I especially like to know the ending of a movie before I watch it. I guess you could say that I’m a planner, which is why the idea of living my life without a clear purpose has caused me a lot of anxiety over the years.
I have often tried to define my life by carefully planning out my future – where I would work, what my budget would be, where I would travel, what kind of food I would eat, what kind of pet I would have, when I would retire, etc., and have spent countless days attempting to map it all out on paper (via crazy lists and spreadsheets).
In the fall of 2006, I was in one of my manic life-planning, soul-searching moods and wandered into a tiny bookshop in Lerwick (in the Shetland Islands), searching for something that would reveal my true self, and my true purpose, to me. I randomly picked a book off the shelf and it fell open to this passage:
I once went to see a master writer. Long retired, white-haired, and fragile, she nevertheless evinced a sharp and discerning mind. I was a novice writer. She had edited hundreds of great authors. I peppered her with all my anxieties and asked her all the questions that my teachers never answered. To most of my questions she would only answer, “Yes.” She knew all the answers, and she knew all the exceptions, and she knew the best thing that an old person could tell a younger person was, “Yes.” Yes, the affirmative. Yes, as in keep exploring. Yes, as in there are no ultimate answers.
I used to push for an immediate resolution to daily problems. Now, I am not so anxious. Is science right about things. or is religion? Is there good and evil on a metaphysical level? Is there one god, or are there many gods, or no gods? A hundred answers exist for these questions. They are all known, but no one agrees. Today, I think it all very fine. Let there be a hundred answers with none of them entirely correct. The asking of the question is already enough.
– Deng Ming-Dao
I love these words because, in a world where there is so much pressure on us to plan and to succeed, they made me realize that it was ok to be uncertain, and imperfect. I bought the book immediately and have carried it with me for almost 10 years now as a reminder that I shouldn’t let the present pass me by, and that it’s ok to not have all the answers, all the time.
I know that I’m not the only one out there who is sometimes overwhelmed with figuring out what to do in life, so I wanted to share this with you in case it eases your mind a little bit.