Today is February 3 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “are you open to the life that is waiting for you?” One aspect of practicing the art of living well involves remaining open to a life that is waiting for you. Such a life is often different from the one you may have envisioned. As Joseph Campbell noted “We must be willing to let go of the life we've planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us." For today’s reflection think about what is involved with Campbell’s observation. First, one needs to ‘let go’ which in and of itself it extremely difficult for anyone to do. Letting go of anything presents one of humanity’s biggest challenges. Second, and a continuation of the first ‘let go of the life we have planned.’ If you have planned your life you are one of the fortunate ones as most people lack any sense of how or what to plan. But know that you have created a life plan, you need to let go of it. Finally, you need to remain ‘open to the life that is waiting for you.’ So, this last idea involves three different elements: a belief that a better life is even possible for you, an understanding that your current life situation could be improved, and an acceptance that your plans can evolve over time. Richard George Adams let go of his planned life and remained open to the one waiting for him.
Adams was born in 1920 and studied history in college and served England in World War II. Upon being released from the army in 1946, Adams returned to Worcester College to finish his degree. After graduation in 1948 Adams joined the British Civil Service, rising to the rank of Assistant Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, later part of the Department of the Environment. It was during this period that he began writing fiction in his spare time at 46 years of age. During a car trip Adams created a story about two young rabbits escaping from their doomed warren to entertain his daughters Juliet and Rosamond during long car journeys.
Watership Down was one of the first of these stories. As Alison Flood noted in a January 2015 article on Adams published in The Guardian “Adams was 52 and working for the civil service when his daughters began pleading with him to tell them a story on the drive to school.” As Adams told the story “I had been put on the spot and I started off, ‘Once there were two rabbits called Hazel and Fiver.’ And I just took it on from there.” Extraordinarily, he had never written a word of fiction before, but once he completed the story his daughters said it was “too good to waste, Daddy, you ought to write that down.”
Adams began writing in the evenings, and after two years he produced an exquisitely written story about a group of young rabbits escaping from their doomed warren. “It was rather difficult to start with. I was 52 when I discovered I could write. I wish I’d known a bit earlier. I never thought of myself as a writer until I became one.” And therein lies the critical point for today’s reflection. Adams never thought of himself as a writer until he became one. He remained open to his life as a writer, even though it was difficult work. Asked if he enjoyed writing his first book, his response was quick and pithy. "No, I hated it. To be frank writing is bloody hard work. But I did enjoy that I had the guts to persevere with it."
In 1972, after four publishers and three writers' agencies turned down the manuscript, Rex Collings agreed to publish Watership Down. The book gained international acclaim almost immediately for reinvigorating anthropomorphic fiction with naturalism and would win the annual Carnegie Medal (UK), annual Guardian Prize (UK), and other book awards. The backstory of Adams illustrates the possibilities life has in store if we remain open. To remain open, however, you should forgo developing or following some perfect plan. As Jeff Haden wrote in a January 2019 Inc article “One of the biggest reasons most of us don't set out to achieve a huge goal is that we think we first need to develop a comprehensively detailed grand plan, one where every step is charted, every milestone identified -- where success is pre-ordained.” For so many people who navigate the chaos they had no plan. If you are waiting to develop your life plan Haden argues “it is basically impossible, so people never start.”
Adams practiced the art of living well because he tried two things he had never done. First, he made up a story to tell his daughters and second, he spent two years writing it down into book form. The writing was difficult and frustrating once completed since he had to overcome several rejections. In the end, what separates those who navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well from those who do not is, in Haden’s words “the ability to seize and at times even create their own opportunities to advance themselves.” Remember, you can, at any moment, decide to change the direction of your life. Adams did. He never intended to be a writer and he certainly never thought he would be an international best seller. He remained open to the life that was waiting for him. Are you?