How can I be of service?
According to Carl Jung, there are four stages of one’s life:
- The Athlete
- The Warrior
- The Statement
- The Spirit
These stages have nothing to do with how old you are, what you have achieved or what possessions you have attained. Also, these stages are not necessarily linear either, so you could alternate between different phases at different points in your life, a pattern that I have seen in my own life over the years.
The definitions of these stages are as follows:
The athlete is the phase in our lives when we are at our most self-absorbed. There are people in our lives that have never made it out of this phase, or often revert back to it. Of the 4 stages, it tends to be the least mature. It is characterized by being obsessed with our physical bodies and appearance. The athlete phase can be narcissistic, critical, or even both.
Moving forward in our lives, we reach the warrior phase. This is where we begin to take on responsibilities and get the desire to conquer the world. We start to formulate objectives that we want to accomplish and the vanity of the athlete phase begins to fade.
The warrior phase is really characterized by the struggles in our lives that early adulthood can throw at us. The warrior phase is also the most common phase that people revert back to throughout their lives as they “re-invent” themselves.
When the warrior phase in our lives is coming to an end, we find ourselves asking: “what have I done for others?” Your focus shifts from your personal achievements to accomplishing goals based on improving other people’s lives. This stage is often correlated with parenting because your focus is to provide a better life for your children, and whatever you need to do in order to accomplish this.
The statement phase is a time to reflect on what you have accomplished, and how you can continue moving forward – not just for you, but for the other people in your life.
The final stage of life is the spirit stage. In this stage, we realize that we are more than what we have accumulated – be it money, friends, possessions, good deeds, or milestones in life. We are spiritual beings. We realize that we are divine beings in a journey of life that has no real beginning and no end.
The spirit phase is characterized by a sense of “getting out of your own mind” and focusing on what is waiting for us beyond our physical beings. The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu proposed a question over 2500 years ago that perfectly describes the spirit phase:
“Can you step back from your own mind and thus understand all things? Giving birth and nourishing, having without possessing, acting with no expectations, leading and not trying to control: this is the supreme virtue.”
Ben The Athlete
The Athlete phase commenced in my teenage years, and I think it is safe to say that a lot of people initially go through the athlete phase during their teenage years, due to the high amount of biological and psychological changes that they are undergoing at the time. However, due to my long-term, on again off again battle with acne, I don’t think I had much time to fully embrace my inner athlete. I was definitely obsessed with my appearance, but for the most part, I was never completely proud of my appearance, at least not for consistent periods of time. I used to look at the mirror a lot, but it was often either with the lights off or only at certain angles and only at certain times of the day, in order to give myself a false sense of security. I have always had intentions of gyming, gaining weight and looking more like a “man’s man” from a physical perspective, and I always start off very well, making a lot of progress initially, but over time I eventually fall off the wagon, either because I get so caught up in life/work, or because my ill-health gets in the way and forces me to divert my focus, my money, my time and my attention.
Ben The Warrior Part 1 – High School
Grade 8, 2005 end of the first quarter, was the first time I received a high school report card. My results were great, I excelled in all my subjects, I was top of the class for the first time in my entire life and I received recognition in assembly, in front of the entire school. This was one of the greatest feelings ever. I had achieved something, my parents were proud of me, the teachers were proud of me, my friends and peers respected me and they were all made aware of my – relative – intelligence. My parents even bought me a new phone, I got a blue Nokia 1100, still one of the most popular phones of all time.
From this moment onwards I realized that education could serve as a platform for me to compete with my peers and exert my academic dominance. From this moment onwards I was Ben The Warrior. In hindsight, I realize that I wasn’t actually concerned about what I was learning, or why I was learning it because my main aim was just to get the best results. I did enjoy Maths, Physics, Technical Drawing, Accounting and I.T, so I naturally excelled in these subjects, but I was not nearly as stimulated by subjects like English, History, Biology, French, Geology, Chemistry and the extremely misleading Life `Orientation`. So I compensated for my lack of genuine interest in these fields, with hard work and lots of studying – in order to get the best marks in the class.
My warrior phase lasted throughout my high school years and I am extremely grateful for it, because without this ambition and drive I probably wouldn’t have achieved the results that I needed to get me into my institution of choice, The University of Cape Town, in order to study my degree of choice, Computer Science.
Ben The Warrior Part 2 – University
University was a major academic wake up call. I remember one of the first test results I got back was a 66% in Applied Mathematics. First of all, Ben The Warrior does not get 60s in mathematics and second of all, Ben The Warrior is not used to not being first in class, especially for mathematics. But needless to say, it didn’t take me long to realize that I was no longer the smartest person in the room. As soon as this fact dawned on me, I had to revise my strategy.
At some point, it stopped being about working hard, and it started being about working smart. I was still hell-bent on graduating with good marks and in minimum time, but I quickly accepted the fact that I was not going to excel in every single course that I took. Over my four years at UCT, my lowest course mark was 51% in first-year Economics, and my lowest test mark was 25% for Advanced Calculus in second-year mathematics (the dreaded MAM2000W) and I remember this test very well. I didn’t get 25% because 75% my answers were wrong, I got 25% because I didn’t even bother trying to answer the majority of the paper (I had no idea what was going on and I didn’t have the time to try and figure it out ahead of time). I went into this test knowing what the minimum I needed was, I did that to the best of my ability and after about 20 minutes I walked out of the test venue, in order to focus on my next priority. From my experience in University, the people that walk out early from tests are usually the ones who kicked ass, but no, in this case, I got my ass kicked, but as planned, I made up for it with the other modules and the end of year exam. This is one of the benefits that come with doing whole year courses.
Ben The Warrior Part 3 – Employment
I made it through three years of grueling UCT computer science, unscathed. I graduated with my BSc in 2012, I applied for honors in 2013, got accepted and breezed through that year, achieving a first class, with a cool 79% end of year mark. Ben The Academic Warrior was quite happy, extremely proud of himself and he felt very accomplished. But at the end of 2013 academia stopped, and at the beginning of 2014, real life began. However, things were not as rosy as I thought they would be.
By this time I had literally spent the last 9 years of my life working my ass off, first in a remote boarding school on the outskirts of Swaziland, and then at the best University in Africa. Yet here I was at 22, working at the Cape Town branch of an international corporate I.T consulting company, who was keeping track of my time, down to the very last minute, and I was spending the majority of my day in a support team fixing monotonous database bugs. This was not where Ben The Warrior had intended to be. Ben The Warrior wanted to change the world, Ben the Warrior wanted to make an impact on humanity. Ben the Warrior wanted to be the next Bill Gates, the next Steve Jobs, the next Herman Chinery-Hesse.
However, Ben The Warrior was stuck in a corporate job, commuting to work every day, working on a product that he had no interest in, and was being subjected to a strict set of corporate rules, corporate policies, and a corporate ladder that he had no interest in climbing whatsoever. So given the major difference in where he was and where he thought he would be, Ben the warrior eventually jumped ship and focused his efforts on building his ideal life, because it was pretty evident that the world was not going to hand it to him on a silver platter.
Ben The Warrior Part 4 – Entrepreneurship
Contrary to popular belief I am a foreigner (for some reason a lot of people initially think I’m Xhosa) and so I can only be in South Africa with a valid study/work/business permit, and at the time, I was on a work permit, which essentially ties you to the company that you are working at. Thus, if you leave the company, you essentially forgo the work permit, and by virtue your right to stay in the country. However, there was this ‘critical skills’ permit that one could apply for if they were in possession of one of the skills that were deemed critical to the South African economy. Naturally, Software development was on that list so as soon as I found out about this, I applied for it and as soon as I received it, I printed my resignation letter using the office printer and handed it in. Finally, I was free! Ben The Warrior had his independence, Ben the Warrior could forge his own path.
I made the leap in October 2015, and in hindsight, I was extremely unprepared, but the amount of excitement and ambition that I had was more than enough to compensate for my lack of preparation. If I had the chance to re-do it, I probably would have worked a bit longer in order to: gain a bit more experience, save a lot more money and make a lot more connections. But when you have such a strong desire to make something of your life, and such an overwhelming ambition to be successful, productive and useful, there is no time for rational and logic. Combine this with a bad first experience of the working world and you have yourself a ticking time bomb, just waiting to explode.
At this stage I had already been working on a few personal business ventures, so as impulsive as my decision may have been (as a lot of my decisions are), I still had some sort of plan, and this plan unfolded over the next 3 years as I swam in the vast, unsteady sea of self-employment, sometimes waving, sometimes drowning.
I have already written a fair amount about my experience of running a business in a number of previous posts and articles, and I will definitely be writing a book on this in the next few years. So without getting into too much detail on this phase of my life, the point that I would like to make here is that during this time I got completely caught up. I was so determined to make something of myself, to be someone, and to forge my own path, that:
- I assumed this was the only way I could live the life that I desired.
- I was extremely focused on me, myself and I.
While I am not extremely proud of this, I do understand it completely. To a certain extent, when you really desire something, you have to be stubborn about it, no matter how things look, no matter what people say and no matter how you feel. You need to put on your blinders, set your eyes on the prize and run towards it wholeheartedly, jumping over any obstacles and hurdles that come in your way. And this is exactly what I did, regardless of what it meant for my financial stability, career capital, physical health or relationships.
I have always had this ingrained desire to be productive, to work on something meaningful and to be on purpose, and over this period I channeled these emotions into my business 100% as one would expect when in such a situation. However, I have recently realized that there is more than one way to achieve these goals. And the more I think about it, the more that I realize that over the past few years, to an extent I have actually been quite selfish, self-centered and self-absorbed – as hard as that is to admit. In an attempt to build up my own path I have neglected the paths of those around me that I could have had an even bigger impact on. In my attempt to significantly change my own life and path, I completely overlooked my ability to improve the lives and paths of those around me.
Ben The Statement – Back to basics
Earlier this year, due to selection pressure enforced upon me by the current economic environment, I found myself on the hunt for a full-time job. And yes, Ben the Warrior was not too pleased about this decision at all. Ben The Warrior wanted to hunt on his own, build his own tools, and forge his own path. Ben the Warrior wanted to dominate his own land, but when push came to shove, Ben The Warrior realized that if he can’t do it on his own, then he might have to join another tribe. A tribe that has the same values as him, a tribe that offers the flexibility, independence, and autonomy that Ben The Warrior has been after his whole life. And to his surprise, Ben The Warrior found that tribe and what was initially a decision that came with a lot of reluctance and hesitation has now turned into one of the best decisions I have made in my entire adult life.
Again, this is another topic that deserves a whole post on its own, because there is just so much to expand on, but the point I want to make here is that in making this transition from focusing on myself, being self-employed and running my own business full-time to now being an employee and working at a company, despite the fact that this transition was essentially economically forced upon me, I have now been lead to asking the following question:
How can I be of service?
How can I be of service to the company that I work for? How can I be of service to the clients that we cater for? How can I be of service to the team that I am currently a part of? How can I be of service to my colleagues and fellow tribesmen?
And over and above finding out how I can be of service solely from a work perspective, now that I have a more well defined long-term focus (even though it may not always be set by me personally), a steady income and a more stable, predictable daily routine, I can also focus on finding out how I can be of service to those around me, like my family. The people that have been there from the beginning. So now instead of asking myself on a daily basis how I Ben The Entrepreneurial Warrior can get myself more clients, make myself more money or create the next viral mobile app or website. I now find myself asking how I, Ben The Statement can be of service to others.
How can I be of service to my mother, who owns Annadale, in building the best educational institution in Swaziland? How can I be of service to my sister Diane who has always supported and encouraged me despite being on a separate continent, more than 12,000km away? How can I be of service to my sister Irene, who used to carry me and change my diapers when I was still a little warrior baby? How can I be of service to my older brother, Walter, and his amazing music? How can I be of service to my sister, Amanda and her extremely insightful writing? How can I be of service to my younger brother, Isaac and all of his hilariously creative endeavors? How can I be of service to my ever expanding collection of nieces and nephews (9 at the time of writing, with two sets of fraternal twins. Yes we are a very fertile bunch)?
…how can I be of service?
Ben The Existentialist
Over the last decade or so I have spent a lot of time grappling with the notion of meaning, origin, and purpose when it comes to life and this is very evident in a lot of what I write about and in the type of material that I consume on a daily basis (books, podcasts, videos etc). But after going through these phases and looking back at my approach thus far, it is possible that while my intentions have always been sincere and positive, maybe I have been asking the wrong questions all this time? Maybe my focus was supposed to be outward instead of inward? Maybe I should have been trying to figure out what I can offer, instead of what I can gain?
In serving others, maybe I will find solace in my confusion. In helping others, maybe I will ultimately be helping myself.
“Thoroughly unprepared, we take the step into the afternoon of life. Worse still, we take this step with the false presupposition that our truths and our ideals will serve us as hitherto. But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning, for what was great in the morning will be little at evening and what in the morning was true, at evening will have become a lie.” – Carl G Jung