“The Offering […] requires discipline, not the discipline of slavery, but the discipline of free choice.” – Paulo Coelho, Manuscript Found in Accra.
Let me put into context what Paulo Coelho means in the above quote. As I understand it, he talks about the discipline to freely take the choice to love our job even if it’s not our dream job. This pouring of love into doing the job, he calls the Offering.
This specific concept of discipline struck me because, at first, it appeared to be in stark contrast to another concept from Coelho, “the good fight”(from The Pilgrimage). The good fight is the strive to live life to the fullest and the best of our abilities despite all the obstacles in the way. In one of my first posts, I described how learning about the good fight was an impetus for me to finally embark on the writer’s path.
And suddenly, here is Paulo Coelho talking about having the discipline to love what was allotted to us, and do our job well and with a heart as an offering to others. Had I had the capacity and, I guess, discipline to truly love research, I might have indeed found happiness and fulfillment in it, but in reality, I can’t imagine myself ever getting there. So, am I weak and undisciplined? Are people like me who decide to follow their dreams weak and undisciplined?
I don’t think that this is what Coelho meant and one doesn’t get this impression after reading the whole passage. I think what Coelho tried to offer is a path out when all the roads to change are blocked and there is no way to turn around one’s situation or job.
Then I wondered: Had I had absolutely no chance to change my path, would have I found the integrity to love research, or would have I crumbled into bitterness? And then I remembered a time years ago when a man I loved left me just as I was taking steps in the direction of writing. I was still doing my PhD but had signed up for a few extra courses in English. He left, and I suddenly felt alone in a country that was not my own (I wasn’t alone but I needed time to realize that). At the time, it was as if all that was stable had been pulled from under my feet, and so I decided not to rock the boat (my science studies) that kept me in the country. Because, ultimately, I knew that if I went back home, my life would change in a way I wouldn’t like.
So, I did what I had to do. I dropped the extra courses and focused on my PhD. And the thing is, I didn’t do it with hatred, nor even regret. I did what I had to do and even, for a while, I learned to love the research I was doing. For a time, I was marching together with the other scientists in the noble effort to figure out what the world around us is all about, and was one with my job.
So, in essence, I did what Coelho talked about: I had the discipline to take freely the choice I had to take. And I don’t think I’m special. I think when push comes to shove we all do what we have to do with integrity and even love. I think there are very few who succumb to utter bitterness. I truly believe that we all carry in us the capacity to be free despite it all.
I found my way back to writing only when I felt free to look in that direction again. The choice was not easy, and sacrifices and courage were required, but again, when push came to shove, I did what I had to do: I had the discipline to silence the fears (and there were and still are many) and take the first step.
Choosing to be free takes discipline, but so does freedom. Now that I have taken my free choice, I need discipline not to squander my newly won freedom. With no boss to be accountable to, I’m learning to show up for work still on time, to ignore all the chores and distractions of working at home, and to carry through with what I have to do despite the freedom to push it to the next day.
My free choice is a great adventure, and though I still have to fight the demons of fear and insecurity, it’s getting easier and easier. And in the end, if push comes to shove and I have to change direction, I know that I will do what has to be done and will still preserve my happiness. This is the great power we all have: we all carry our freedom insight of us.