I was recently invited to address over 100 Sixth Formers about motivation and their careers. It’s a wonderful opportunity and it’s great to not talk to business people sometimes, and have an entirely fresh audience – at 17 years old, very fresh!
As I scanned their ranks I could see the overwhelming problem: just how does an acorn become an oak? The process is so mysterious and impenetrable. At one level we know – or we think we know: it grows. It derives nourishment from the soil and the sun and it expands. But that simple, simplistic explanation – because it ‘explains’ – takes away the wonder, the sheer awe-someness, of what actually happens.
People long in the past, before the advent of science and our world of ‘explanations’, had a much deeper reverence and respect for these natural processes. Consider: the acorn in the palm of your hand, and then view the mighty oak – how one thing becomes another!
And so it is with babies and children: they are small and fragile and inconsequential almost, one day, and then the next – I blinked once – and they are Shakespeare or Michelangelo – or Hitler or Stalin. How does this happen?
One reality, I think, that it is crucial to understand is that the invisible world dominates the visible; in other words, what we do not see is more important than what we do. The ancient Egyptian Book of Heaven and Hell put it this way: “All the world which lies below has been set in order and filled in contents by the things which are placed above; for the things below have not the power to set in order the world above. The weaker mysteries must yield to the stronger; and the system of things on high is stronger than the things below.” This may seem arcane, but it has a profound truth. One aspect of its truth we know from our own experience: namely, what is invisible is more important than what is invisible. What is invisible? Our values, our courage, our truth, our love. Behaviour may – rather weakly (and we can fake behaviour anyway) – reflect these invisible things, but behaviour is not ‘them’.
So to return to my talk – how does the acorn become the oak? – I gave these youngsters three questions to get their heads round.
One, who are you? Stop identifying yourself with your name, your parents, your rank, your possessions, your future role – who are you in yourself? And if you have never thought about this, now is the time to start.
Two, what is your mission? Everybody is here to do something, but what? There is in fact no manual that comes when we are born, which is a problem; we have to figure it out. What were you designed to do? One clue is: it tends to be something you get a special buzz out of doing and always have.
Three, what motivates you? Clearly, mission and motivation need to be aligned. Over and above whatever qualifications you get at school and college, you need to do work that motivates you. Do not die with your music still inside you – that would be a waste.
And isn’t that, then, metaphorically, the answer to how an acorn becomes an oak? It plays its own internal music – and the sound reaches to the heavenly skies.