There’s an old story of a man who finds some treasure hidden in a field. When he discovers it, he buries it again, sells everything he owns, and then buys that field. That’s the story. But what does it mean?
For the longest time, I thought this tale was about finding fulfillment. But really, it’s not. It’s about returning to fulfillment.
I meet a lot of people who are searching for meaning and purpose in life. They’re chasing religions and fads and diets — and coming up empty-handed. They get tired and jaded, but still they keep searching.
Maybe you’re one of them. (I know I was.)
“What do I want to be when I grow up?”
I was recently talking with a friend about how many people are looking for what my friend calls “the scripted life.” It’s like a recipe, this type of life — a series of steps and ingredients that, when you mix it altogether, makes something beautiful. It’s a wonderful concept.
Except that it’s a myth.
My friend’s teenage daughter asked him, “Daddy, did you know what you wanted to be when you grew up, when you were my age?”
He said, “Of course not.”
She replied, “Do I need to?”
My friend laughed and then sobered, saying, “No, baby. You just need to go live your life.”
Our lives are not scripts or plans; they’re not recipes. They are stories. And as someone once said, if you want to know what your dream is, don’t look forward. Look backward. Examine how your story began; this will tell you how it ends.
The stories we live and listen to
The best stories I’ve lived were not anticipated. I never planned to be on Italian TV in front of a live audience of three million people. But I was. I never expected to get a book deal eight months after starting a new blog. But I did.
Think back to every movie you’ve enjoyed, every great book you’ve read. And ask yourself, “Did the heroes plan to be heroes? Or did it just happen to them?”
Most of the time, great stories are nothing but happy accidents. This should tell us something about how we plan our life’s work.
Finding your purpose
So many people are searching and striving for a calling. They think it’s “out there” somewhere in the universe, waiting to be discovered. Maybe it’s in grad school or down another career track. Maybe it’s with another spouse or in another country.
Most people are waiting for a recipe, the seven steps to success and happiness. But the truth is many discovered their treasure years ago. It’s sitting in the backyard, waiting to be uncovered.
This is the secret of the parable: Most people aren’t willing to sell everything and return to the field. They’re greedily looking for something better. But, of course, there isn’t anything that compares.
Maybe it didn’t look like someone else’s treasure, so you didn’t recognize it. And as a result, you’re still searching. Still waiting. All the while, your treasure sits in the ground, decaying.
Isn’t it time you dug it up?
Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure. You’ve got to find the treasure, so that everything you have learned along the way can make sense.
—Paulo Coehlo, The Alchemist
What do you think is your life’s “treasure”? The gift you were meant to give to the world? Share in the comments.
*Photo credit: Liz West (Creative Commons)