I assume, if you’re a believer—and perhaps, even if you aren’t—that you believe in purpose. I do. And although I can’t front like I know exactly what my purpose is in this bleak life, an educated guess tells me that if it exists, whatever it is, it’s deeply related to writing/storytelling/lexivism.
For anyone who believes in purpose, I think it would be natural to consider that this too has a purpose: that there’s a reason I’m only permitted to have a faint idea of my own purpose; like signs consistently pointing me in the right direction without ever telling me explicitly where I’m headed—and that maybe this is for my own good.
“Mystery is such a strange gift. The unknown is such a wonderful vegetable. It’s a good thing we can’t see the future. Because we’d ruin it every chance we get.”—Propaganda [Was It All Worth It?]
I think natural talents and abilities are, by definition, God-given gifts. I also think that too many of them in one vessel is dangerous—particularly for the vessels themselves. It may be as easy to be inspired by endless possibilities as to become crippled by them. But more importantly, too many gifts just might result in potentially endless confusion about one’s purpose because of one’s apparently endless potential; or, endless possibilities of ending up on a path which might not necessarily be in line with one’s purpose. For instance: If my purpose is to be Something, and yet I have the potential to be anything, the chances are that, without proper direction, I might easily end up being Another Thing instead of Something. And it might not even be my fault.
I’m starting to believe I have been, for a good part of my life, in exactly this kind of danger. I also believe I have been—am being—saved from it, albeit in ways that displease me greatly.
My childhood was saturated with activity and high achievement, inside and outside the classroom. I wrote briefly, in “Terror + Taking A Semester Off,” about my early academic success. Suffice it to say, there was not a single field of study that I could not excel in—and I was no less prolific with my extracurriculars. Ten years of dance classes and a couple awards from my Dance Academy; three or four years of roller-skating and roller-blading until I could do tricks backwards and forwards like nobody’s business; playing the piano from age three and composing my own music by age ten; picking up Mandarin Chinese to my level of Twi fluency within two years of biweekly lessons… You get the picture.
To put it another way: there really wasn’t a semblance of singular focus in my life.
Once, I found myself in a hall of many unlocked doors. I ran in and out of doors and rooms haphazardly, because I could, and I seemed to be full of boundless energy. I never got far enough beyond any door to explore the mansion-sized possibilities that could have lain within either. Consciously or unconsciously, I asked for direction—but instead of simply being told where to go, doors simply began to slam in my face, automatically limiting my possibilities. It wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but I can’t conclude that it wasn’t exactly what I needed.
The moment I began boarding school, at barely-fourteen, I was forced to let go of almost all of my beloved extracurricular activities. Tearing me away from ballet and hip-hop classes and the possibility of progressing from intermediate to advanced levels in my dance academy is something I have never forgiven boarding school for. Doors upon doors, slamming in my face.
I decided I wanted to be a writer at age ten. I liked books and stories; therefore, I wanted to make some of my own. This aspiration was non-exclusive—the way people preferred it. Just because I wanted to be a writer didn’t mean I refused to be anything else. After all, I was still good at everything else—especially the things people wanted me to be good at. i.e. STEM stuff… Until, high school, when my STEM talents began inexplicably deteriorating. Doors upon doors, slamming in my face.
Halfway through high school, I was honestly still entertaining thoughts of being an engineer or lawyer—although I’d thrown the doctor dream away years earlier, once I’d realized the toy stethoscope I’d been given for my one birthday was no match for my dislike for being exposed to the icky insides of human bodies. I mean, halfway through high school, I still had it; mathematics gave me my overall highest IGCSE grade, and my science and English grades pretty much levelled with each other.
When it came to time to choose my IB courses, I had already expressed my complete lack of interest in law. So, of the African’s Approved Careers™, only “engineer” was left on the table. My father and I selected my courses accordingly, but not long into the very first semester, during which I began encountering astonishing, successive failures, I entered a two-year-long season of “WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING?!” The answer? Doors upon doors, slamming in my face.
I am no longer the multitalented kid. Now, more than ever, it’s extremely obvious that writing is my thing. I have spent a lot of time resenting the “loss” of my multiple talents, but as my path gets narrower, it also seems to get clearer. I no longer resent my transformation (…as much), because I recognize that everything that I have gone through in this regard may be directing me towards fulfilling my intended purpose.
Fortunately or unfortunately, the transformation is still ongoing. I am now being forced to focus in a way that’s at least as uncomfortable and annoying as the limitation of my talents. Now, it’s the limitation of my physical capacity that’s doing the door-slamming.
If you’ll remember, I wrote about some of my physical struggles in these blog posts: My Faith + My Body and Self-Care: The Thing I Wish Was A Myth (But It Really, Really Isn’t). Although combinations of rest and medication are gradually and non-linearly making me more of a functional human being, the overall effect of my physical malfunctions is that I can usually only achieve a small fraction of what most people around me might be able to, in twenty-four hours. I have often thought of my physical malfunctions as purposeless suffering, but now I’m being led to believe that there is at least one specific purpose to them: focus.
I’ve observed the effect my limited functionality is having on my daily life. When your body severly limits your activity, you start becoming a lot more mindful of how you use your energy. If I only have 2.5 hours of productive potential each day, I naturally become a lot more conservative with each day’s quota. When it’s not discouraging the hell out of me, it makes me a lot more purposeful. Not to mention, my choices on how to use my energy quotas each day speak volumes about which work is most important to me.
Recently, a Bible story hit me like a pestle on a ball of fufu. Remember when Jesus visited Martha and Mary? And Mary was just based at Jesus’ feet, while Martha was at her wits’ end trying to do everything? My NIV translation calls her distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. The word “distracted” caught my attention because I ordinarily wouldn’t call work that seems necessary a “distraction.” But here’s how Jesus responded to Martha’s complaints about the situation:
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.” –Luke 10: 41-42
Are you serious? All this work to do, and you’re telling my sister that only one thing is needed? It’s hilarious, lowkey. See, Martha had to get pissed enough to come to the realization that she wasn’t focused enough on some one important thing. And I had to get tired enough to realize it. In the middle of murky, muddled thoughts and madness, I often have one clear thought ringing out in the background: “You need to focus on writing [this thing].” (Where [this thing] is often some specific project at any given time.) I am worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed, only one.
I am being forced to focus. And while I am enjoying neither the pain nor the process, I am finally seeing some sort of purpose in both. While this all sounds like I might be rationalizing, I do feel like I’m too pessimistic of a person to go looking for the bright sides in things. So, the fact that I’ve considered any positive purposes behind my suffering alone is more powerful to me than others may realize.
Also, I have little doubt that if I one day regain my full energy and start getting distracted again, some new or old weapon to get me to focus once more is going to attack me mercilessly.