What’s it all about, Alfie?

My friend Chris and I met for lunch today. As we reflected on the turns our lives have taken since we left the newspaper, our conversation meandered toward the topic of purpose.

He told me about an article he once read in Smithsonian by a man who studied Asian cranes. The author and ornithologist had devoted years of his life — and his entire career — to the study of a single species.

Chris also told me about a man who had decided early in life that he would one day go to China and cure polio. And that’s exactly what he did (with great success, by all accounts).

I suggested to Chris that there’s a price to be paid for everything; there’s always that yin and yang. If we want to study cranes or move to China, we give up time with our families. If we want the security of a stable corporate job with regular hours and good benefits, we give up the opportunity of one day answering the phone and hearing “Will you come work in Paris for six months?”

During the drive back to my office, I wondered: Why do some people have such a specific sense of calling, while others (like me) are perfectly happy to nibble on life’s smorgasbord? Are people with a strong innate sense of calling happier than those of us who float “accidental-like on a breeze”?

I suppose that those who get to fulfill their sense of purpose — exactly as they envision it — are probably among the happiest people on earth. But they’re probably also among the rarest.

The fact is, most people don’t get to do exactly what they truly love. Because of family obligations, economic need, or maybe even intense competition in a crowded field, they never quite fulfill their own sense of purpose.

I used to envy people who had a “true calling.” In hindsight, I’m grateful that I’ve never felt absolutely driven to make something specific of my life.

It’s been a rather aimless journey, but I’ve enjoyed the trip.

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