“Books can be dangerous. The best ones should be labeled ‘This could change your life.” – Helen Exley
I was in my early twenties and I had just ended another promising relationship. The quintessential puzzle pieces for courtship success were there, but I was too busy enjoying my self-centered life to complete the puzzle. Even if you are the heartbreaker, you can’t avoid the proverbial time vacuum that envelopes you when a large portion of your usual routine is turned on its head. I now had a mass of time in which I eagerly needed to fill.
I have always been an avid reader; it’s like Legos for adults, it cultivates the mind and ignites the imagination. I knew of a used bookstore downtown and decided to take a mid-afternoon trek to fill some of my abundant time. The shop was an eclectic mix of post-it notes directing consumer traffic and stale air unique only to old books and nursing homes. I wandered the aisles occasionally flipping through topics of interest, but soon realized this endeavor was not shaving off much of my day. Suddenly, I turned a corner and found myself in a U-shaped corridor brimming with self-help books. Help with divorce? Check. Should I spank my kids? Check. Conquer Stress-induced Depression? Check. It was a bookstore’s pharmacy for the modern-day self-help seeker. And since I was coming off a recent end to an otherwise healthy relationship I thought I may need to tweak my mindset…so I began to browse.
I stood in the section for quite awhile skimming chapters and digesting small bits of insight here and there. At the bottom of one shelf I happened upon a book on the topic of intimacy. Not a subject you talk about around the dinner table, so I was intrigued enough to give it a peek. I opened the book to the first chapter and began to skim, which then lead to actual reading and interest. After fully reading a few paragraphs into the book I slowly looked up from the pages and gazed around the room wondering if I was in the middle of a very, very elaborate ruse. The first chapter spoke to me as if the book was written just for me. The title should have just read “Written for Zachariah—you’re welcome.” I promptly bought the book and spent the rest of my day reading it cover to cover.
I can’t think of any other time in my life where a book had such an immediate impact. It changed my perspective on not only how I live my life, but how I treat others and plan for my own success. One of the overarching questions in the book is: What is the purpose of life? Not exactly a “softball” question. By this point I was more intrigued by every turning page, hoping that a golden goose would soon fly from the pages and set me on a course for excess happiness and purpose! Very short of that, the author answered the question by simply stating the purpose of life is to become the best-version-of-yourself…emotionally, spiritually, physically, and intellectually. Not an earth shattering concept, but I had never framed my life in the context of always making sure I was becoming the best-version-of-myself. I have talents, ambition, and an unquenchable thirst for getting the most out of life, but never really harnessed those life attributes into a devoted purpose.
Today, I always find myself thinking about how I can become the best-version-of-me. Be it learning a new hobby, reading a great book, volunteering for a cause I support, meeting new people, getting in a great workout, counseling a friend, laughing off some stress, or reflecting on how I can continue my own personal success, I always think about my purpose…my story.
I don’t feel like I really matured until my post-college years. Before you find true independence you grow up in a bubble of sorts, always having a structure to follow, be it high school, college, youth group, fraternity/sorority, interest club, or living at home. But you don’t fully understand what life is until that structure begins to fade and you transition into a life of full-time work weeks, bills, life drama, disappointments, missed opportunities, budget constraints, student loan payback, quarter-life dating, and every other detail that makes up your daily trek. Life can punch you square in the face if you aren’t prepared. What I love about my story of finding a simple purpose is that with all the “real” life struggles that make up my days, I always know every opportunity I encounter can help me become a better version of me. Traffic is terrible, work on patience. Work is unfulfilling, cultivate a new skill. Relationships are strained, reflect and reconcile. Short on cash, learn to budget. Life seems dull, find a passion. Weekend is free, enjoy a hobby. Loneliness creeping in, meet new people.
Life is a participatory activity, not a passive venture.
Update: when this post was originally published it didn’t contain the name of the book. Oops! Sorry about that. The book is “The Seven Levels of Intimacy” by Matthew Kelly.
Photo by the bbp