The Men Who Stare at Goats left something to be desired, but it managed to leave one scene stuck in my head. This scene suggests that we all have a destiny in the universe, and that trying to do anything you’re not destined to do is like swimming upstream. When a person stops struggling against their destiny and accepts their preordained path in the universe, everything falls into place and life is no longer a constant struggle.
In college, I was exposed to Catholic theology of vocation. The basic idea is that God has a plan for us all, and that our lives provide a natural roadmap to this calling. Rather than looking for an abstract idea that God “puts on the heart,” vocation seekers look to their past and recognize their happiest and most successful moments. These moments act as a compass, pointing the seeker toward the path God has suited them to fulfill.
Even the critical, secular parts of me are drawn to these ideas. Absent God, absent a divine concept of “The Universe,” the theories still seem practical. The basic theory: figure out where your joys and talents intersect, and a fulfilling life will naturally follow.
To use myself as an example, I loved getting good grades because I got a thrill out of hitting predetermined benchmarks. I loved sports mostly because I loved building camaraderie and being part of a team. I loved dance and performing arts because I get a natural high from constant improvement in pursuit of perfection. That is: my greatest thrill has been achieving a goal that my team had worked its asses off to attain. Is it really a surprise that I love management?
Whether it’s called “destiny” or just a “job that’s a great fit,” I think the idea that some of us get caught swimming upstream is dead-on accurate. That’s not to say that finding a good fit makes life challenge-free. That’s not the point. The point is that everyone has a path (or two, or six) that make them happier and more successful than any other path. At that point the challenges will be thrilling, not nausea-inducing.
Or, in the immortal words of Garden State: “Do what you love. Fuck the rest.”