Do you know why a dog likes a walk in the morning and evening? And chase balls? And why it hates to be left alone?
Yep, it has innate inclinations. Canines evolved the need to hunt at dawn and dusk, chase prey, and be in a pack, and those inclinations manifest as the need to have morning and evening walks, chase balls and want company. They also like explore and play with other dogs. So, if you just stick a dog in a backyard all day you will have a bored and unhappy dog. It’s not satisfying its innate inclinations.
Imagine a tribe that existed more than 100,000 years ago. If everyone in that tribe wanted to weave baskets, and no one wanted to hunt, that tribe would struggle. It would also struggle if everyone in the tribe hunted, and no-one felt inclined to weave baskets.
But what if some members of the tribe were inclined to hunt while others wanted to weave? What if someone else found seasonal fruit and shellfish because she liked finding patterns in the seasons and the tides? And what if someone felt compelled to work with wood, and invented the canoe? What if a would-be arsonist worked out how to make fire?
That tribe would do well. Any tribe with those skills would function considerably better than a tribe with no diversity.
I claim we evolved to have diverse inclinations. It’s one big reason why we differ so much from one another. It’s why some of us sign up for dangerous missions, or marry the Eiffel Tower, want children, don’t want children, eat light globes, become serial killers, collect matchbox labels, build empires . . . We all know of the nerd who can plot the course of a space probe but can’t change a spark plug, and the boofhead who can’t spell ‘adequate’ but can reassemble a car. The diversity in our interests, skills, appearance, behaviours, sexuality, inclinations . . . is extraordinary.
Some of us get lucky and our talent benefits the tribe. Others, not so lucky. Those of us born with propensities not wanted by society tend to inhibit them, or ignore them. Or are labelled eccentric. Evolution is a loose cannon that doesn’t care about the ‘collateral damage’ it causes because in the long run, diversity works for our species.
When people say ‘he’s not normal’ the irony is he isn’t supposed to be. Our species isn’t meant to be composed of ‘normal’ people. Diversity helps the tribe. ‘Normal’ people are an aberration. Thankfully, normal people are few and far between!
The Iraqi bomb squad often had to defuse an improvised exploding device:
In his book, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, A photographer’s chronicle of the Iraq war”, Ashley Gilbertson writes: ‘ . . . Lieutenant Majid Mahdi and Lieutenant Hazim Kadhem of the Iraqi police used the one tool at their disposal: speed. Their procedure was simple. They drove to the site, got out of their beaten up pickup truck, and sprinted toward the bomb. The trick, they explained, was to cut the wires before the insurgent responsible for placing the device had a chance to press the button and blow them up.’
Those two extraordinary men were not not inclined to have this job, obviously, but somewhere in their makeup they had the capacity to do it. They are an astonishing example of our species’ seemingly boundless diversity. Can you imagine? (Ashley writes: ‘Both Majid and Hazim were eventually killed in separate incidents while the bombs they were trying to defuse exploded.’)
I suspect that each one of us is born with at least one inclination, and a lucky few of us can make a vocation out of it. Others may not discover their inclinations – someone born in the centre of a continent may never discover she was born for the sea. Someone born in a tribal society won’t discover that photography is ‘their thing’.
Even if we know our inclination, we might be thwarted from following it. For millennia, how many women could not explore their interest in a field because they lived in a patriarchal society? How many people were made for a profession but could not afford the education for it?
And, sometimes we have the inclination to do something, but not the talent. Let’s hope André the Giant’s secret passion was not to be a jockey.
Am I suggesting you follow your heart? No. I’m suggesting you listen to it and follow it a little bit. That will be enough. Collecting blowflies might not help the world, but it will feed the collector’s soul. Why? Because logic doesn’t play a big part. If we have the inclination to do something it means we are ‘wired’ to think it’s important. And that’s why when we do it, we feel we are contributing. That’s the important bit.
However, we aren’t necessarily contributing. The world doesn’t need blowfly collectors. People who have inclinations – and that’s all of us – should think carefully before trying to make it their day job. If you feel inclined to follow a path, and have clear job prospects in that field, go ahead. But otherwise, be careful!
An excerpt from a speech given by the late Steve Jobs to the graduating class of Stanford University on June 12, 2005: ‘Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.’
That’s easy for Steve Jobs to say, because he succeeded. But for every successful person who followed their heart, there are countless people who went nowhere. Countless would-be rock stars live in poverty and have no real chance of getting a satisfying job. Countless would-be writers have given up their job to follow their passion and ended up unpublished, poor and disillusioned. Countless would-be sports stars have become never-was-beens, wondering what to do with their lives and wishing they had trained for a ‘proper job’. Countless would-be dancers and singers never made the stage, and ended up, at best, teaching the craft. Teaching is fine, but it was not what they wanted.
When we follow our inclinations we may end up with a blowfly collection, or an invention that shapes the world. Or anything in between. It’s a cosmic lucky dip and it explains the world we see. But we have to be careful.
What can we do?
No one is born with a propensity to reassemble cars. Cars are not part of our evolutionary history. However, we might be born with the propensity to solve puzzles, which can manifest as a propensity to reassemble cars. No one is born with genes prompting them to gaze at the stars, but they might be born with genes that prompt them to look for patterns, and that propensity can manifest in the study of stars, or of the seasons, tides or strategies. We are not born with a propensity to weave baskets, but we might be born with the inclination to work with our hands, which can manifest as basket weaving, or as model making or calligraphy, or a hundred other vocations.
I’m suggesting you find your basic inclinations and examine them. And look for a realistic job that will make use of your inclinations. Don’t blindly follow your heart and focus on becoming a rock star, sports star or celebrated poet. Focus on discovering the root inclination itself, and figure out ways you can make it pay.
I like to think schools help students in discovering their inclinations, and guide them into suitable vocations.
Smart employers, if they can, find niches that suit their employees’ strengths.
Discover your inclination, and with that inclination in mind get educated as an apprentice, or a student, or intern, or whatever. End result: you will satisfy your need to contribute AND provide yourself with a satisfactory job and income. You’re going to need money in life. Money is a wonderful thing provided it doesn’t corrupt you. It gives you food and shelter, it helps you find a partner and raise a family, it lets you have pleasures, and it helps you give yourself dignity.
Being a rock star is not part of our evolutionary history. You have an inclination and that inclination is manifesting as the need to be a rock star. Find a way to express that same inclination so that it pays.
Am I saying you can’t try to be a rock star? No, I’m saying: be in a rock band in your leisure time. If you end up as popular as AC/D or the Beatles, then think about giving up your day job. Not before.
Q. ‘I want to be a vet.’
That’s good. It’s a job that pays. Still, examine that inclination. What is it that you really want from being a vet? Write it in detail. Don’t settle for something glib like, ‘I want to help animals.’
By the way, when you find a way to express your inclination that pays, it can get scary. Collecting blowflies is easy because we succeed with every blowfly we find, but aiming to be a vet, for example, might be daunting. The journey down that road can stretch long into the distance. You may find reasons to stay in your comfort zone and avoid taking those steps. But if you want to be a vet, keep pushing. Persist.
Q. ‘What if we can’t find that special job that suits our inclination?’
We have within us other inclinations, and if we can satisfy them some of the time, that can be enough. An uninspiring job, for example, might make use of our other propensities just enough to make it palatable. There is even an expression for that: we make the best of it.
And, of course, we can set aside a few minutes each night to pursue our interest.
‘Mark, I want to climb mountains. I can’t do that every night for five minutes.’
You were not born to climb mountains. It just feels that way. You were born with an inclination, and climbing mountains is just one possible manifestation of that inclination. I suggest you find the deeper, more pervasive force that’s driving you. Who knows, you might find another, more practicable way to satisfy the feeling. One that pays, even!
‘I don’t have even five minutes. I have a family to support. I live in the real world.’
Being the person you are meant to be IS the real world. That’s when life becomes real.
Author Graham Greene fed his soul: ‘Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.’
Q. ‘Even if we follow our heart, that doesn’t mean we will be good at what we do.’
It’s the journey which matters. I wrote this book knowing I would struggle to find a publisher. But I needed to write it. The journey has been a significant contributor to my core happiness. The only way I could have failed was to have ignored my compulsion to write it.
‘When you do things from your soul you feel a river moving in you, a joy.’
13th century Persian philosopher, Mawlana Jalal-ad-Din Rumi.
Q. ‘My inclination is to play video games.’
Yes, you have an inclination to play. Focus on your inclination to DO. Create, don’t gawk at someone else’s creation. Be the doer, not the watcher. Don’t just play video games, design them.
Q. ‘My inclination is to sing.’
Ask yourself: is it the singing which appeals? Or is it the fame? The glamour? The attention?
Although we need to avoid being corralled into working in a career we don’t want, we also need to avoid fooling ourselves into choosing a profession for the wrong reasons. We need to know if our choice is based on novelty, or on jealousy, or on ego. We need to be aware of the difference between ‘that sounds like fun’ and our true vocation.
‘. . . any path is only a path, and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you to do. But your decision to keep on the path or to leave it must be free of fear or ambition. I warn you. Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself, and yourself alone, one question. This question is one that only a very old man asks. My benefactor told me about it when I was young, and my blood was too vigorous for me to understand it. I will tell you what it is: Does this path have a heart? All paths are the same: they lead nowhere. They are paths going through the bush, or into the bush. In my own life I could say that I have traversed long, long paths, but I am not anywhere. My benefactor’s question has meaning now. Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t, it is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere: but one has a heart, the other doesn’t. One makes a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. One makes you strong; the other weakens you.’
Carlos Castaneda, in his book, ‘The Teachings of Don Juan’.
Q. ‘I have interests I’d like to follow in my spare time, but people will think I’m eccentric.’
It’s the eccentric ones who change the world.
Anyway, no-one gives a damn. If someone thinks badly of you it’s for about two seconds, and then they’re thinking about something else. They become bored with the thought and move on.
Think about it: when you think badly of someone, do you dwell on the thought? Or do you quickly move on, not wanting to waste your thoughts on the person?
It works the other way, too. If someone thinks highly of you it’s only for a few seconds, and then they think their next thought.
Instead of worrying about what people think of you, remind yourself that people spend mere seconds evaluating you and then ‘poof’, it’s gone. It’s so transitory it’s not worth worrying about. You have the freedom to focus on satisfying your inclinations, to be the person you are meant to be.
To discover your inclinations, follow the thread of what you like. Someone who works in a bank might find themselves drawn to customer relations, or accounting, or finance . . .
Do you have a hobby, an interest? Follow it.
And answer the following questions. You don’t need to be realistic with your answers. Be bold. If your answer seems absurd, don’t censor it. Look a little deeper. For example, if your answer is that you want to be an astronaut, acknowledge it and look deeply into why you want to be an astronaut. Then search for other ways to satisfy that inclination.
1. If you could meet a world expert, in what field would the expert be?
2. In which pleasurable activities do you concentrate so much you lose track of time?
3. If you knew for certain you would succeed, what would you attempt to do?
4. When do you feel passionate about what you are doing?
The book, ‘What Colour Is My Parachute?’ has helped many people answer the above questions. Most libraries have it.