“Time [is] our only real commodity” Rolf Potts, Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel
I sat on the tall curb in front of the 7-11 and stared down at what I’d written. The pocket-sized Moleskine notebook lay open in my hands, bathed in the soft green-yellow glow of the store’s neon sign. Motorbikes and taxis hummed by every few seconds on the street in front of me. Their headlights reflected off the fresh black ink and illuminated the self-reflective tumble of words I had etched on the page moments before:
“I can think of no situation in which I consistently find myself with greater mental clarity, self-assurance, and contentment than when I am writing.”
I paused momentarily to gaze at the passing traffic before reflexively putting my pen to paper once more.
“Upon writing the above, I am forced to admit that I would be lying to myself if I said that writing wasn’t my greatest passion.”
I gaped at the pronouncement, wondering how a statement could appear so surprising and so completely obvious at the same time. The words washed over me and through me until their significance reached full saturation in my consciousness, and at that moment, I felt lighter. A layer of anxiety I didn’t even know existed evaporated in an instant, and I was left feeling decidedly closer to…me.
I’d been wandering the canal-lined perimeter of the Old City in Chiang Mai, Thailand for almost two hours before I found myself outside that convenience store. Observations and self-analyzing anecdotes had been flowing through my pen with unprecedented ease over the course of the late-November evening, culminating finally in the zenith of self-fulfillment described above.
Until that moment, I regarded “fate” — the idea that our paths through life are predetermined and unalterable — as antithetical to my belief system. When a cornerstone of my philosophy about self-improvement is that we are each solely responsible for our own happiness and success, it seemed disempowering to believe that the future was in any way fixed.
Over the past several months, I’ve talked to numerous people (ranging from close friends back home to newly-met backpackers on the road) about their directions in life and the nature of their true passions. The end result of these conversations has been an alteration in my conception of fate and its significance in our lives.
Rather than thinking of “destiny” as an externally-imposed arrangement of our past, present and future, I see it now as something quite different: an internal, uniquely-generated “natural frequency.” Your frequency arises from an infinitely complex combination of genetics, brain chemistry, upbringing, and present circumstances, and at any particular moment, the absolute center of your natural frequency is your true calling. The closer we get to perfect attunement with our calling — what Paul Coelho, author of The Alchemist, calls our “personal legend” — the less unease and general anxiety we should feel.
Anxiety and unease are categorically negative emotions. These feelings suck, so it behooves us to minimize their presence in our lives. By that reasoning, if a certain action causes your overall anxiety to decrease (for example, you pick up a hobby or side-project which you find more fulfilling than your normal work), you should be inclined to repeat that action. In theory, this internal mechanism should guide us continuously closer to our perfect frequencies as we figure out which activities are personally satisfying and which ones aren’t.
It’s in this sense that I believe in fate — if you listen to yourself and explore your options and progress towards your center, you’ll be following a path dictated by your natural frequency.
The main problem here, and the reason why I don’t believe in “absolute” fate, is that relatively few people ever find their calling. There are many possible reasons for this, including an assumed shortage of the resources needed to explore other options, an absence of support from our family, friends or culture, or a lack of belief that we deserve to be happy and anxiety-free.
The obstacles we face are varied and abundant. There is, however, one behavioral pattern that’s common among the vast majority of those who never find their frequency: inaction.
When I think about the shortness of our lives, few notions sound as appealing as being able to declare on my deathbed that I’ve enjoyed a meaningful existence with minimal regret. If you have a similar desire in terms of your personal legacy, then your course of action is clear:
Incessantly pursue your natural frequency to the best of your ability — starting now.
It may seem like an overwhelming challenge at first, and sacrifices will likely be necessary. But if the alternative is a working life characterized by mediocrity and dissatisfaction (which is liable to spill over and effect your personal life as well), don’t you owe it to yourself and the people around you to strive for more?
If you have no idea what your natural frequency is or where to begin your search, now is the time for inner listening, trial and error, and recognition of what puts you in flow. Make contact with as many domains as possible. Treat failure as a necessary investment. And if your inner voice has already told you what you should do (and if it has, it’s probably been telling you for a long time), listen to it.
Be honest with yourself about which activities make you feel the most engaged and present, and start making changes to your work and social environments if you think you could do better. Never underestimate how much a small change in your routines or assumptions can strengthen your self-awareness.
As your positive changes accumulate and become greater than the sum of their parts, you’ll gain a growing certainty that you’re on the right track. Talking about your pursuits will energize you. Your days will start to feel like individual contributions to a larger dream rather than a homogeneous slog. Unidentifiable worries or vague sensations of impending doom will occur with diminished frequency, replaced instead with confidence in your future and an invigorating sense of forward momentum. The small voice in the back of your head that’s been leading you along this path will grow more and more assertive. And one day, all the knowledge you’ve gained from countless missteps and adjustments to your trajectory will crystallize into a deep awareness, and that inner voice will become synonymous with who you are.
While that night in Chiang Mai was a significant step in the right direction, a lot of work still lies between me and my perfect natural frequency. My long-term plans are riddled with unknowns, and I expect quite a bit more fine tuning before I pin down my ever-evolving ideal niche.
One thing I’m sure of is this: in the time since I acknowledged writing as a passion I had to pursue, my anxiety has remained at an all-time low, and I’ve never been so excited about how I’ll apply my interests to my future endeavors. I also feel vindicated in the realization that, were it not for the major environmental changes I made after I recognized my incompatibility with my previous career path — i.e. quitting my job at an accounting firm and leaving the U.S. for Southeast Asia — my moment of clarity in Thailand may never have occurred at all.
So I’m going to chase this compulsion and see where it leads. With life so short, you should never settle for less than your destiny.