Sometimes, it feels as though life grants you with an opportunity, a glimmer of possibility that seems as though God himself is extending an olive branch through the chaos. These situations strike as though the stars have finally aligned, as if the world has seen your overwhelming, intense sacrifices and is finally willing to acknowledge, accept, and return the favor. These are moments that make the plans change, that make nihilism vanquish, and make you second guess what you thought you've previously known as truth.
Sometimes life grants you with people who break the cookie-cutter mold of traditionality, shake you to your core, and leave you better and worse at the same time. As if a gift and a curse, you fully understand that after knowing these people, after allowing them to sink their fangs into your heart, you’ll never be the same again. Sometimes, I see people living lives that force me to doubletake, that force me to take a step back, unable to understand how or why they would live how they live. I struggle to imagine how adults, with dreams, could ever let them go for a stereotypical family life. It was this question that I forced myself to answer when I scribed the first few lines of a poem I called “An Ode to the Ever-Loving”:
An ode to the ever-loving.
Maybe now I understand why
They fought the wars.
Why grown men with dreams
Apparently settled into a 9-5,
A life on the vine,
A cold, dark come up.
I get all of the missed planes,
The late nights
Maybe now I see what they all see.
The search led me to the understanding of these people, these opportunities and situations that life gift wraps to you, like the single present under the tree you can’t take your eyes off of. We have the propensity to create visions of our lives that we see as fulfilling, or absolute. I imagine lectures and degrees, and accept, wholeheartedly, that this is the path that I must follow. That if I don’t, if I don’t become the person that present-me envisions for future-me, that I’ll live a life floating in a sea of regret. I think I am wrong, and when we single-mindedly search for an outcome that we pre-decided was correct, we are all. This is why these grown men ‘settled’ into a life that wasn’t their initial dream. Life provided them with an opportunity that shook their plans, that flipped the whole game upside down, that was so good, so holy and pure, that their young hearts couldn’t even conceive of its possibility, and they took it.
These rare moments, these crossroads of should and must (as Elle Luna calls it) come strategically sprinkled throughout life, hitting you just in the moment where you thought you had everything figured out. They force you to reevaluate, as you draw down your old self, like a classic western shootout. I’ve had a few of these situations pop up in my life. The most prevalent in my mind was the moment I discovered Psychology and Philosophy. I was in a place where I knew what my life held: graduating the academy, working for the local Police Department, aiming for detective, settling down, and living in the same town I grew in. But then, I read a book on human potentiality, and like a earthquake, the ground split open, forcing me to stay where I was, or jump across the crevasse, understanding that whatever I choose, there was no going back. I jumped, and promised myself that I will always jump. (I witnessed my best friend jump, knowing that life granted him a very early handout, as he proposed to his now fiance.)
These are the unplanned for events, the “Won’t Say I’m in Love” (from Hercules…. Meg fought to deny she was in love with Hercules, because it was sudden and scary, and it wasn’t part of her life-plan), or “I can’t pass up this opportunity” moments. The people who seem like magnets of fulfillment, because you know your life will be better if they are in it. My sister is one of these people, as are friends I have been blessed to meet. These life-changing opportunities rarely can be seen coming, but, if you invest in them, can pay unforseen dividends.
The issue is though, when you see something this pure, this sweet, how do you not become attached to it? When you see a situation or an opportunity to work in a position that you have only imagined in your wildest dreams, or to be with a human being so overwhelmingly enthralling, with so much depth and potential fulfillment, how do you not focus on the most positive outcome possible? Isn’t this why men get nervous before they propose? Or interviewees become shaken before walking into the the interview for their dream job? Isn’t this why Ted could never let go of Robin (How I Met Your Mother)?
I don’t think we can blame anyone for this, as it seems like a natural response. This issue is, as with all desire, what happens when the script flips? What occurs when the job offers goes to a peer, or the potential mate changes their mind? How do we, if we felt such an intense attachment to the possibility of the outcome, then move on? Is this why Ted lived his whole life in love with Robin?
I asked these questions to my roommate, Bronco, as an empty can sat in front of him and the dim of the 2 am moonlit sky peered through the windows of the garage door. “Do you think that you can be present, put forth 100% effort into this endeavor, while still remaining outcome independent?” Sudden echos of Stoicism reigned down in our garage, as his words struck the chord I needed to play. It is possible to be completely devoted to a situation or person, so put as much effort into the process, but then to divorce dependence of whatever outcome occurs.
This means to understand that if you are rejected or accepted, if you are loved or hated, if you fail or succeed, that you are still independent of these outcomes. That the joy or pain that usually accompanies them is left behind. It means to be yourself, wholly and unforgivingly, without restraint for fear (of outcome), and then to accept that if you tried your best, and if you acted authentically and ethically, and the outcome still was not what one initially wanted, then it must not have been ‘meant to be’, so to say. It means having intense trust in yourself to put forth your best moment to moment, and then intense trust in the future you to handle whatever outcome is delivered.
It seems counterintuitive, as if saying that whatever happens will not affect me means that I am less devoted to this process. I understand that, and historically, I have struggled in this. The pendulum for me usually swings between: go all in on one desired outcome, or cut all ties and not care about any end result. This swinging had led to very few healthy and successful end goals. Outcome independence is the middleground, as if a balance where the pendulum doesn’t have to keep swinging. This means going all in with the complete intention of accomplishing, of achieving, what you sought out for, but, when failure, rejection, or dissatisfaction knocks on your door, you open it willingly, with acceptance and a firm handshake.
As Nietzsche told us when he coined the term Amor Fati (the love of fate), “My formula for human greatness is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not in the future, not in the past, not for all eternity. Not only to endure what is necessary, still less to conceal it... but to love it...” To love the fate that is presented to us. To, regardless of the outcome, have your mindset independent of it. To wish that nothing would be different, that nothing would change. Not to bear your teeth and grit out the darkness until you are over it, not to hide deep feelings of inadequacy, but to love whatever outcome comes from the process of fighting for these beautiful moments life gives you.
(Side Note: Like the metaphor of climbing a mountain, the beauty is, as Miley Cyrus tells us, in the climb. It is the process that we love, that striving for obtainment of these enriching possibilities, while living in each captivating moment to moment. Fearing the peak only ruins the climb. That gut-wrenching guillotine you feel in your bones, like the butterflies have flew back from a fifth grade self to haunt your insides again, tells you that you are on the right path. This is what is meant by the wisdom that “Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.” This is why Barry Michels and Phil Stutz state that fear, and nervousness, should be guiding paths to an enriching life. If you’re feeling fear, if you’re overthinking of the possible outcomes, and the reproduction cycle of the butterflies has increased tenfold, you’re going the right way. Never should we let the possibility of failure, of an inability to grasp and hold onto these moments, stop us from reaching out with all of our might.)
The quickest way to turn a blessing into a curse is to allow that blessing to determine how you feel, how you react to the world. The quickest way to ruin anything good is to fear the bad. When life hands you lemons, make lemonade, take these opportunities by the horns and run. When the crevasse opens in front of you, and you are faced with the choice, jump. Always jump, but understand that the beauty is in the jump itself, not in the landing. The single most way for “human greatness” (as the Daily Stoic called it) is to develop outcome independence, to live with a heart full of amor fati. To accept that whether this person loves you or not, this job hires you or not, this book sales or not, or people love your work or not, it doesn’t matter, because while one may be preferred over the other, you are not dependent on either outcome.