What is the purpose of my existence? That is the question I often asked myself while I was still a student in university. Surely, it cannot be that I am only here to serve as an extra body of labour. That is something I could never accept. I was brought here for a much higher purpose, so I told myself. Whether there is any veracity to such a pompous yet truthful statement, it remains to be seen. Thus, when you run into someone who informs you that it is alleged that you abandoned a ‘great career’ with a lucrative salary for something else less ‘impressive’, you begin to realise that as human beings, particularly those of us who are of African origin, we have imposed on ourselves a limited view of the world, if not of the universe. It cannot be that happiness is measured by a ‘great career’ that you hate and a lucrative salary. Surely, there is more to life. And surely, the universe has more secrets to offer, if not share beyond a ‘great career’ and a lucrative salary.
In November 1837, a nineteen-year-old Karl Marx, an intellectual par excellence, wrote a letter to his father to inform him that he was switching his major from Law to Philosophy. Marx had been studying then at Berlin University, having previously spent a rather rambunctious year at Bonn University. He wrote thus to his father, whom we have learned that he was not thrilled with his son’s decision: ‘There are moments in one’s life which are like frontier posts marking the completion of a period but at the same time clearly indicating a new direction. At such a moment of transition we feel compelled to view the past and the present with the eagle eye of thought in order to become conscious of our real position. Indeed, world history itself likes to look back in this way and take stock…’ Just a year shy of turning twenty, Marx could already sense that he was meant for something more than a highly paid tedious government job. In his inflated sense of self, which would turn out to be true, Karl Marx knew that he was meant for greatness.
We know that Karl Marx’s father, Heinrich, who himself was employed as a lawyer for the government of Prussia, was not happy with Karl’s decision because Marx’s biographer, Francis Wheen shares the following with us: ‘Heinrich was neither sympathetic nor merciful as he read, with rising horror, the full story of his son’s intellectual adventures. To have a Hegelian in the family was shaming enough; worse still was the realisation that the boy had been squandering his time and talents on philosophy when he should have been concentrating solely on obtaining a good law degree and a lucrative job. Had he no consideration for his long-suffering parents? No duty to God, who had blessed him with such magnificent natural gifts?’ As we all know, Karl Marx, the son of Heinrich Marx, went on to etch his name in the history books as one of the greatest philosophers to ever grace our planet. Proponents of capitalism, communism and socialism could disagree endlessly about the advantages and disadvantages of their respective theories, but one thing they can certainly never disagree on is the bristling intellect of the son of Trier.
At the conclusion of the year 2016 I walked away from the so called ‘great career’ on a personal quest to seek more of the secrets of the universe. I had decided earlier during the festive season of 2015, with that question about the purpose of my existence niggling at the back of my mind like a painful sore, that when the then new year of 2016 draws to a close, I would also step aside and embark on a personal journey in 2017. Multiple factors contributed to this decision – factors that I will one day have courage and words to share – to finally take a personal, fulfilling journey; but chief among those factors was the taxing question: what is the purpose of my existence?
I shared the brief story of Karl Marx above not because I equate myself to him nor do I imagine myself blessed with his intellectual gifts. That would be preposterous and tantamount to ridiculous self-aggrandisement of the highest order. I use the story of Karl Marx to highlight the importance of individual and personal journey that each one of us ought to take while we bide time here on earth; after all, re baeti lefatsheng – we live here on borrowed time. Man can never be truly happy unless he is content with himself. Thus, it rests upon all of us, individually, to seek that personal happiness so we can contribute immensely, if not productively, to our communities. Had he followed his father’s advice and chosen law as a career, who knows if we would have ever learned of Karl Marx? Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of reading the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Buonaparte would probably take you outside for a hard beating if you dared to insinuate that Karl Marx would have turned out greater than he is had he become a lawyer. Perhaps the ghost of his dear friend, Friedrich Engels, a man whose intellectual gifts and generosity can never be questioned, would be the first to pounce on you.
While in corporate, slaving away like a migrant miner for pennies, which in a sense I was, it dawned on me that my talents were being wasted by hateful mongrels who prey on the metaphorical flesh of their fellow man. It was a sign that I had to move on. During my internship in 2012 it had begun to dawn on me that personal contentment meant more than a ‘great career’ and a lucrative salary. As I grew and matured as a proud, young black man, I began to realise that there is more to life than allowing resentful nonentities to trample all over me. If that is someone’s purpose it was definitely not my purpose. After all it was the Holly actress, Bette Davis, who had long ago observed that: ‘To fulfill a dream, to be allowed to sweat over lonely labour, to be given a chance to create, is the meat and potatoes of life. The money is the gravy.’
Presently, I cannot claim that life is easy, but I can say without a doubt that I am happier than I was when I was a ‘great career’ man. No one knows what tomorrow has in store for each of us; maybe I will find myself back in corporate begging for crumbs, being stalked minute by minute by misery, pain and frustration, while fat cats sit atop everyone else, enjoying fresh, steaming hot loaves of bread. However, such negative speak delays and distracts one from realising their true potential. The focus should be solely targeted at unlocking that potential that makes man exclaim, ‘Indeed, it is true. Eternal happiness is possible, and it resides here.’ Thus, the question that bothered me all those years like a stubborn pain that refuses to be lulled by tablets, is automatically answered. The purpose of my existence – and yours – is to ensure that you are happy wherever you are. Unlike me, you could be meant for a ‘great career’ and a lucrative salary, and that is fine. What is important is that a ‘great career’ and a lucrative salary come not at the expense of your personal happiness.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have said what I needed to say at this moment. The new year of 2018 is five days old; and like any other year before it, it is bound to bring its own unique challenges, personal losses, misery and pain; but it is also bound to bring its own unique triumphs, personal gains, upliftment and joy. I would counsel that in this great of year of the gentlemen – and not idiots – that you choose to exercise the latter statement even if the former threatens to derail you. On that note, bagaetsho, I wish you all a 2018 that is brimming with hope, light, prosperity and most importantly, happiness. Pula!