Today I wanted to tell you a story about a student. A young man in college. Just like you and me once were, or still are. Not just a story of how we go through college, and the struggles we face. No, this one is about how we can learn to trust life. About the failures that will lead to success, the suffering that will lead to freedom, and the hardship that will lead to joy.
An Ice Cold Man
It was the boy’s first day in college. He was ready. He kissed his mom goodbye and then entered the building. He got to his room and met his roommate. Who didn’t seem to be the kind of friend the boy wanted to meet in college. He looked sloppy, didn’t do much homework in the first few weeks of college, and laid in his bed for a large portion of the day. The boy tried to ignore him, he was determined.
The few years of college went by fairly easily. Each year the boy struggled more and more with keeping up with his homework, and struggled with getting good grades. His mom called almost every week, and when she asked the boy about college, about his friends the boy would lie. He couldn’t. Friends weren’t important. He had to graduate, that was his goal. He wanted to be successful in life.
So most of his time in college he missed out on the parties, on the walks through the garden with others, on the road trips with friends, or the lunches in the school cantine. He missed the beauty of college. He focused on achieving his goal. On graduating, everything else had to waver.
He was now in his final year. The tension, the stress, and anxiety for his graduation were building up. He wasn’t doing as well as he did in the previous years. His grades were suffering, and his mental health was decreasing. His mom called, as usual, but at an unusual time. “Tim, your uncle has just died.” That was the first thing she said over the phone. The boy sank to the floor. Repressing his tears. He couldn’t. He couldn’t deal with this right now. He had a goal. Graduation was around the corner.
His response was ice cold, and his mom was shocked. The boy traveled across the country for a weekend to attend his uncle’s funeral. He didn’t shed a tear that entire weekend. He spent most of his time with his family on learning for graduation. Much to the distress of his family.
One evening his father sat next to him on the bed. “Boy, I think you should take some time off. I know graduation is only months away, but your life right now needs a bit of rest. You’ll wear yourself down if you’d continue.” He said to his son. The son didn’t listen. He even got angry with his dad. “You don’t get it, dad! I need to do this. There is more in this life than emotions, emotions will come later, I now need to focus on college. That’s something I can control right now.” He had said to his dad.
A Broken Ideal
The boy pushed on. Feeling that his body was giving in more and more. His mental health was decreasing. But his goal was in sight. The day had arrived on which he would hear if he’d graduated. It was late in the afternoon when he was called by one of his tutors. His face saddened, and when he hangs up the phone he gently placed it on his desk and went for a walk. He had failed. He was a failure. But he was determined to try again.
To no avail. The boy tried his best, but the loss of his uncle, the pressure he put on himself became too much. He was trying to hold onto all the lines at once. Trying to control the outcome of his life. His insatiable desire to control his life was taking a toll on him.
The boy dropped out of college and went back home to live with his parents. For the next year, the boy didn’t do much. He slipped into a deep depression. A broken ideal of himself. All his dreams of success, all the goals and ideals he had set for himself all vanished. He was left as a failure.
The boy starts to blame himself, hurt himself, break himself down. His body was slowly wearing down, and for most of the day, he stayed inside. He had no friends to talk to, no goal to work towards. His life was a failure. He was a failure. He was far from being a success because he didn’t have the backbone to control the outcome of his life. He was weak. At least that’s what the boy thought.
The Star High Up in the Sky
His parents tried everything to cheer him up. To help him out of this dark place, but nothing worked. The boy was trying so hard to get out of this dark place. He tried to control his thoughts and emotions. Forcing himself to be happy around family. All to try to speed up his recovery. The opposite happened. He drifted further and further down. The pain he had ignored, the loss of his uncle, the grief, and the stress he had endured during college all came out.
One day his dad came sitting next to him on his bed.
“You’re gonna tell me that I am a failure right? That you’re not proud of me?” The boy said, as his dad sat down.
His dad looked sad. “Why would I son? You’re not a failure to me. I am proud of what you did, of the choices you made. But now it is time to learn your lesson.” He said.
“What lesson dad!? I don’t get it. I’ve done everything wrong, there is nothing to learn for me. I am just a failure.” The boy said.
“My boy, sometimes, the process of our lives isn’t what we planned it to be. Sometimes things happen that we’d wished never happened. Things that came exactly at the wrong time. We then have two options. Control, or flow. Most people choose to control. Just like you did. You tried to control the rest of your life. You ignored the loss of your uncle, the grief it caused, and the pressure you put on yourself. Although the flow of your life went in a completely different direction, you choose to stay unwavered by it. You went against the current, and now you’re here.”
“So you do think I am a failure!” The son said.
“I don’t.” His father answered and paused for a moment. “I think you’ve made the best decisions you could. I’ve said that before. I would have done the same. Yet I do see now, that there is something you must learn.” His dad said.
“Which is?” The son asked with a slight bit of anger in his voice.
“That we can’t control the process of our lives. You did everything you could to control your life. To make sure everything happened as you’d like it to happen, but sometimes we can’t control what’s going to happen. Actually, we can never control what’s going to happen. Yet we convince ourselves we can. And when we believe that we can control our lives we lose out on all the natural beauty happening along the way.” The boy started crying.
“But how? I feel so lost, I have no control over anything and feel like a failure. How can I let go and trust that my life will go according to plan?” The boy asked.
“There is no how-to, no way of letting go. You let go or you don’t. You trust or you don’t. No practice will give you such things.” The father said.
“I have tried many years to let go of what I believed was a good life. I tried to trust the process of my life, but it didn’t work. Because anything we try, anything we want to achieve or become only moves further away from us. Just like you tried to control the outcome of college the further away it seemed to be. I know that sometimes in life we want to control the outcome, make sure everything goes according to plan. That will only make the outcome go further away from us. All we can focus on are the actions and the plan. Which go together. You see boy, we can only make a plan for our lives, see where we are going, not with a goal in our lives. Not as a specific route we need to follow, but as a guiding star high up in the sky. We follow that star but remain aware of where the road takes us. Sometimes the road requires us to go left, but the star remains visible. We waver of a straight line towards the star, but because we do the road will be easy and pleasant. If we wouldn’t have wavered off the path and followed the flow of life we would have had to make our way through jungles, or mountains. This will make our journey much harder than it needs to be. Right now you are on a path that seems to waver from your destination, but all you can do now is to follow that path. Trust that it will get back in the direction of your destination. But you cannot control the path, you cannot put in the effort to adjust it. It asks too much of a person alone to redirect roads and paths. So what you must do is follow this path you are on. Always. Not worrying about whether it is moving away from your destination, or going towards it. You have set your destination, you’ve made your plan. Now it is time to follow the roads and enjoy the journey. This is how it should be. For this is the process of life. It can’t be controlled, but it can have a destination, a plan. This is part of life.” The father said as he looked at his son. For the first time in months, he saw the boy smile again.
“Thank you” The boy softly whispered. The father smiled. “You have just made the first step on your new path.” The father got up and left the boy alone. But the boy didn’t feel alone anymore. He knew that life was alongside him.
As young adults, but also as grown-up adults, we tend to try and control our lives. I’ve seen it a lot around me. Trying to control the outcome, forgetting that the outcome can only come from action and a plan.
The moral of the story is to let go of our control on the process of life, yet that doesn’t mean we are useless, aimless. We all can make a plan for our lives. A roadmap. A North Star that guides us. We all of a unique plan, that shifts and molds as we do. Actions are the steps along with the roadmap. But the roads and paths we take, they will waver, they will change. That’s the way of life. If we try to control our lives we will not follow these paths, we will want to carve our own paths. Which will cost a lot of energy.
But the beauty of life lies within those paths we didn’t yet know. The paths that seem to waver from our plan. In truth, those paths only lead us further towards our destination. Making our journey easier. You can let go of control in this very moment, and trust the way your life flows. Start focusing on creating a plan, and actions to take. The goals, the results, the achievements, come naturally along the way. Those are not the things we need to focus on. It is the plan, the roadmap, and the actions we can take each day on that journey, that are the parts of life that we can control.