brown and white stallions running in a field

As individuals we are often tempted to define ourselves concretely; thinking the better we will be able to define ourselves, the more certain we will feel, about who we are and our role in this world. We seek to have a sense of stability by visualizing our ‘form’ and connect with the purpose of our existence. Our thoughts and ideas that come in our consciousness, influenced by what we see, hear, learn and unlearn in the process of experiencing life, exert its impact on the ‘form’ we are able to conceive and pursue. Defining a ‘form’ for the self may bring a sense of security, but life, unlike the stone, is fluid, dynamic and uncertain.

A sculptor was working on a large block of granite. He hacks away at the formless block each day. One day a little boy comes by and says, ‘what are you working for?’

‘Wait and see,’ the sculptor says.

After a few days, the sculptor has carved a beautiful granite horse. Staring it in sheer amazement the boy utters, ‘how do you know it was there?’

‘Well, I had seen the horse’s ‘form’ in the block of granite, because that particular block had the potentiality to be formed into the shape of a horse,’ the sculptor replies.

While the little boy’s eyes saw a stone as a stone, the eyes of the sculptor could visualize his artwork -the ‘form’ of a horse in that stone. Reading this short anecdote left me thinking, as to how our vision is greatly affected by our learnings, interests, experiences and background; influencing how we see a given person, situation, event and even ourselves.

Let’s say if we use this stone as a metaphor for our life. Where do you find yourself currently, in the position of the boy or the sculptor? Are you in sync with the movements or undercurrents in your life giving you a sense of identity? Do you have an image of yourself in mind (your desired form) of what and how you will be, based on how you are evolving each day?

As individuals we are often tempted to define ourselves concretely; thinking the better we will be able to define ourselves, the more certain we will feel, about who we are and our role in this world. We seek to have a sense of stability by visualizing our ‘form’ and connect with the purpose of our existence. Our thoughts and ideas that come in our consciousness, influenced by what we see, hear, learn and unlearn in the process of experiencing life, exert its impact on the ‘form’ we are able to conceive and pursue. Defining a ‘form’ for the self may bring a sense of security, but life, unlike the stone, is fluid, dynamic and uncertain. So, there is a possibility that one has reached an advanced age but is still in the position of that little boy, unable to visualize when, how and in what ways they want to carve their life. Another possibility is like the sculptor one has figured out the picture of ones’ desired self (form) and is now striving to construct it best. Having a picture of one’s ‘form’ can be a blessing as the journey of working towards it, can be gratifying and fulfilling; but what if you come across roadblocks. For instance, Sheila had foreseen herself in a leadership position with a reputed company but meeting the needs of her special needs’ child took her off the track. Rajesh wanted to pursue a career in music, but breadwinning for a big family had to be prioritized. At work, everyone desires for, ‘do what you love and love what you do,’ but it doesn’t always turn out that way.

The sculptor in the anecdote is relatively fortunate. He has high control over when and how he wants to strike the stone with his hammer. With skill, practice and experience, he is quite likely to carve the horse (form) that he had visualized in the substance (stone). In life, however, we are sometimes thrust with chisel marks that we never wished for. Some people embrace those chisel marks like artwork while some enter into a cycle of self-victimization. How we respond to the unexpected blows of life significantly affect our outcomes. Sometimes unwanted and grievous blows lead us to explore a part of our ‘self’ that would have otherwise remained unknown. But we can fathom it only if we work towards expanding our consciousness using our innate power of reason. Heightened awareness of our inner and outer world enables us to organize our sensory impressions and worldly experiences in a manner, that we focus more on optimizing our potential rather than being fixated on ‘one’ pre-conceived form.

Having a picture of ones’ desired ‘form’ in mind is not wrong. It motivates us to engage in goal-directed behavior and gives a sense of purpose. However, if the picture of that final piece of art (your ideal self and form), how you wish to see yourself or be seen by others is right before your eyes, but you cannot make it, then? Being fixated to it, when it can’t be achieved because of extraneous factors, personal or environmental challenges can be debilitating. A situation like this, leaves one with two choices, to complain and regress or adapt and progress.

Adapting and progressing seems a viable option. Outside forces may try to sculpt us, but in our journey of connecting with ourselves and realizing our ‘form’, we are the key sculptor as well as the stone. While appreciating that the key agency still lies with us, one has to pragmatically take stock of factors within and outside our control. If one is gripped by factors outside one’s control currently, it’s better to consider being like a playdough. With an assessment of one’s ability, it’s best to optimize on flexibility and adaptability. Our ability to find happiness and satisfaction in life is sometimes greatly contingent on our ability to adapt. If life is not happening the way we please, choosing to adapt instead of regretting and sulking can help one stay afloat in times of adversity. The sculptor chose to sculpt the horse, but that doesn’t mean that the stone’s potential was limited to the ‘form’ of a horse only. Considering the fast changing and turbulent times we are living in, ‘adaptability’ is going to be one of the most demanded traits at workplace too; because of its importance for growth within a given role. Roadblocks can be challenging, but as humans, we are gifted with the power to optimize on the endless possibilities capitalizing on our competencies and the ability to adapt. By defining ourselves rigidly and creating boundaries, we not only kill our ability to adapt productively but also our chances of exploring other aspects to our personality. Eventually a fulfilling life is not always about achieving one’s preconceived or desired ‘form,’ but realizing our ‘potential’ by investing, exploring, accepting, and understanding our ‘self’.

The article has been published in Business World, 30 Jan 2021. Click on the link below to access it on Business World Website

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