Everyone feels that they have a special talent or ability to achieve something unique, something great. Yet there is no doubt that practically all individuals find in their waning days that they have failed to achieve what they thought they were capable of. Whether due to internal forces (fear, insecurity etc.) or external impediments (social/familial expectations and responsibilities), most people do not chase their passion and thus do not realize their inner potential.

In the passage below Arthur Schopenhauer describes in beautiful detail the individual who struggles to find his special vocation and to realize his inner potential amidst internal and external obstacles. And he offers us advice regarding the importance of being true to our self and of chasing after our natural passion with vigor and courage.

The passage is lengthy but well worth it for anyone who feels an internal tension as to whether to pursue a passion or to choose a path in life solely for the sake of comfort and security.

“…he is hampered in his insight into what he alone out of all, by virtue of his individuality, is willing and can do. He finds himself dispositions for all so various human endeavors and powers; but without experience he will be unclear as to their various degrees in his individual case. And when he in fact seizes upon endeavors that accord with his character alone, he still feels, especially in particular moments and moods, aroused to those that are exactly the opposite and incompatible with them, which, were he to pursue the former undisturbed, would have to be entirely suppressed. For, just as our physical path on earth is always only a line, not a surface, so in life, if we would seize upon and possess one thing, we must leave countless others lying, right and left, renouncing them. If we cannot make the decision to do that, but grab like childrenSchopenhauer at the fair after everything that stimulates us in passing, then this is the perverse endeavor to transform the line of our path into a surface; we then run a zigzag course, flit here and there like a will-o’-the-wisp, and attain to nothing…

For this reason, mere willing and even abilities are in themselves still insufficient, but a person must also know what he wills, and know his abilities; only thus will he show character, and only then can he really accomplish something. Before he attains to this…he is still without character, and although he must stay on the whole true to himself and run his course to the end, drawn by his guiding spirit, he will yet trace not a perfectly straight line, but a shaky unsteady one, vacillate, deviate, reverse, afford himself regret and pain: all of this because, in matters great and small, he sees so much before him as possible and attainable by a human being, and does not yet know what among it accords with him alone and can be carried out by him alone, or is even enjoyable only by him. He will thus envy many a person for situations and relations that are yet suited only to their characters, not to his, and in which he would feel unhappy, indeed not be able to survive at all. For just as fish do well only in water, birds only in air, moles only under the earth, so every human being does well only in the atmosphere that is suited to him; the air of the court, for example, cannot be breathed by everybody. From a lack of sufficient insight into all of this, many a person will engage in all sorts of failed efforts, will do violence to his character in particular details, and yet again on the whole have to yield to it; and what he so laboriously attains, contrary to his nature, will give him no enjoyment, what he learns in this way  will remain dead…

But when we finally learned, then we have attained to what is familiarly known as character, acquired character…We know our will in general and do not allow ourselves to be misled by mood or external demands into individual decisions that are opposed to it on the whole. We know in just the same way the nature and the measure of our strengths and our weaknesses, and will thereby spare ourselves many pains. For there is really no other enjoyment than that of employing and feeling one’s own forces, and the greatest pain is a perceived lack of forces where one needs them. Having then undertaken an examination as to where our strengths and where our weaknesses lie, we will seek to develop, employ, in every manner to utilize our conspicuous natural dispositions, and always occupy ourselves where these are of use and applicable, but altogether and with self overcoming  avoid endeavors for which we have little natural disposition, will guard against attempting that which simply does not work for us. Only someone who has gotten this far will be entirely himself with constancy and complete thoughtful awareness, and will never be left in the lurch by himself, because he would always know what he was able to presume in his own regard. He will then frequently partake of the pleasure of feeling his strengths, and seldom experience the pain of being reminded of his weaknesses. The latter is a humiliation that perhaps causes the greatest spiritual pain…

If we are completely familiar with our strengths and weaknesses, then, we will also not attempt to display forces that we do not have, will not play with counterfeit coin, because that sort of game of mirrors simply misses its target in the end…nothing could be more perverse than, proceeding on the basis of reflection, willing to be something other than one is… Imitating someone else’s qualities and peculiar features is much more deplorable than wearing someone else’s clothes; for it is judgment of one’s own worthlessness pronounced by oneself.” (Arthur Schopenhauer)

Further Readings