A Little Happier: Someone’s Casual Comment Can Show Us an Entirely New Path for Ourselves.

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I spend a lot of time thinking about how we can make our lives happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative. And one thing I believe very strongly is that to be happy, we have to build our lives on the foundation of our own nature, our own interests, our own temperament. There’s no magic, one-size-fits-all solution; we each must decide what’s true for us.

And because of that, I feel very strongly that we want to be purposeful about what we do. We don’t want to drift into a career or a life situation just because it’s the easiest path to follow. We don’t want to do what other people expect from us, without asking whether we want to expect it from ourselves. We don’t want to jump on other people’s suggestions, without reflection.

I’ve written several times about the problem of “drift”—the decision we make by not deciding, or by making a decision that unleashes consequences for which we don’t take responsibility.

However…

One of my aphorisms is “The opposite of a profound truth is also true.” On the one hand, I think, “Don’t drift. Be purposeful.” But I have to admit that I’ve witnessed, and also experienced, many examples of when someone takes action based on a passing comment, or a light-hearted suggestion, or a brief word—with enormous benefit.

Sometimes, someone throws out an idea, we follow it without giving it much thought, and it’s invaluable.

I thought of this aphorism when I was reading the brilliant memoir Broken Places & Outer Spaces by a writer whose work I love: Nnedi Okorafor. This book is very short, but so thought-provoking.

Nnedi Okorafor had finished her first year of college, she was a tennis star, she loved science, she was pre-med and also loved entomology. But after her freshman year, she had an operation on her spine that left her paralyzed for a time. Eventually, after tremendous effort, she regained the function of her legs, but her life as an athlete was over, and science no longer compelled her. She felt lost.

Then this happens.

She has a good friend Damani, to whom she’d been writing long letters, “epic letters,” she says. She writes about a conversation they had:

Then Damani said one of the most valuable things anyone has ever said to me. “Or, since you’re good at writing stories,” he said, waving the letter at me, “maybe you should take a creative writing class.”

I considered asking him, “What’s creative writing?” but I didn’t want to sound stupid, so I just said, “I’ll check it out.” I was so enamored with Mr. Damani Arnell Harris that the next semester I signed up for an introduction to creative writing class without really looking at the course description.

The result was immediate. That class aligned all the planets scattered about my shattered universe. As I sat there listening and learning and eventually writing, everything came into focus. It was my Big Bang. My singularity. I finally heard my calling.

A few pages later in her memoir, she writes, “By the time the semester was over, I’d stopped using my cane and I was writing my first novel.”

Nnedi Okorafor has gone on to immense success as a writer. She’s won numerous prizes, for her adult fiction and her young-adult fiction, and much of her work is being developed by HBO or for movies, and she’s also written comics for Marvel.

It seems like eventually she would’ve found her way to writing. But, as it happened, it was the casual suggestion by a friend that started her down the right path.

He was able to see something about her that she didn’t yet see for herself.

On the one hand, we don’t want to drift. But maybe sometimes a little drift is good.

Quote From the Podcast

The result was immediate. That class aligned all the planets scattered about my shattered universe.
Nnedi Okorafor

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