There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically. “May be,” the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed. “May be,” replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “May be,” answered the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “Maybe” said the farmer.
I heard this story my first semester at Cal and haven’t forgotten it since. I like to think of my life as a story. I wonder what kind of character I am, what kind of story my life tells. I hope its a good one. I hope I’m the kinda character that people like. that is honest and ambitious, that accepts the plot and pursues her goals. the kind of character that remains resilient in the face of adversity and never sacrifices morals for men.
Just like the farmer, we need to understand that when life doesn’t turn out how we expected, do not grow weary, bitter, or disappointed. But understand, conflict is what causes our character to grow. We may not always understand why we are going through a particular season or what good could possibly come out of it, but thats not what matters. What matters is our perspective on the situation. A positive outlook is the defining characteristic of an optimist. That element of hope and of believing setbacks are temporary hurdles, not permanent curses. It is the ability to direct our thoughts that is as priceless as gold and as necessary as water. As one wise man puts it…
In order for any of this to make sense, you have to learn a hard, but important lesson about life: you aren’t the center of the universe. This is so counterintuitive to a capitalistic culture it may be a hard pill to swallow for some.
In other words, you’re not the main character. You are living in a deeper narrative than The Book of Me. And you have a role to play, an important one, but it has to do with more than just you.
This is why we invented the word “vocation” (which in Latin means “calling”). It represents this idea that your life is part of something bigger than what you want, that there is work that you don’t simply choose, but are called to. Yes, we have choices, but the story we’ve been given to live isn’t completely up to us.
What this means is that life doesn’t always look like we expected or even wanted. And our response to that? “Thank God.”