Most of us are well past laying the groundwork for who we’re going to be for the rest of our lives. We have forgotten how much there was to learn about the world when we first got here, and moved out of brains that are hungrily gathering information and into minds characterized by well-worn grooves. The very routines we couldn’t understand as children have become our reality as adults, and now it’s tough to imagine where a desire to play with toys for hours in a day ever came from.
We get programmed for adulthood, some of us more effectively than others; and once we cross that line, there really is no going back. Hopefully, we don’t wish we could; inhabiting our lives fully as adults is as important as engaging completely as a kid, and it’s best to be happy to be whatever it is you are. Even if we don’t have the kind of clearly defined rites of passage in our culture that others do, we still each give up the experience of childhood for the life of an adult.
It’s kind of a bunch of wasted training, when you look at it a certain way. All those years spent in school are largely teaching kids how to sit quietly and listen to people with very few real-life skills. As soon as you get past all that, you realize the folks you really need to pay attention to are often displaying a much different attitude than the people put there to teach you. Each of us has to decide what kind of examples we want to follow, and what kind of path we want to walk; for most of us, that means throwing out a bunch of old programming to put some better systems in place.
As complicated as that may sound, it is a gap that must be bridged if we are going to go about life with any level of self-reliance. Some people may be taken care of from day one, and end up in a role of perpetual adolescence; but that’s not really how we are designed, and the inner lives of people with such stunted growth are surely a lot more difficult to bear than they might look from the outside.
Most of us learn pretty quickly that life is very much about levels. If we can be realistic about our own place in the world, we can make it a point to see where we are living at any given time in relation to where we have been before and where we want to be. Leveling up comes with all kinds of biological rewards, as well as worldly ones; while stagnation or slipping sets off all manner of alarms inside us.
We can argue that this is by design, or by accident; either way, the list of things we need to do in order to be happy and fulfilled is not a short one by any measure. Not only that, the list is self-perpetuating; you check one item off, and three more appear to take its place. They were always there, needing your attention; but you didn’t even realize it until you decided to embark on a journey to discover or improve yourself.
In other words, the more we are determined to get our shit together, the more it becomes apparent that we are way more fucked up than we thought. Luckily, we don’t get to discover that the list is endless until we get in the habit of checking those items off; and becoming more today than you were yesterday is about the most rewarding endeavor we can undertake.
We all know twenty percent of our efforts supposedly create eighty percent of our results. Even when we shift things around, and get a way more productive routine in place, that just means it’s time to shake up the routine all over again. Nobody goes from learning the eighty-twenty rule to being one hundred percent effective overnight; you learn the rule, then apply the principle as best you can. As you explore the new boundaries you have put in place, you always find ways to redefine those borders. Like anything, this can be good or bad; as individuals, it is our job to decide which is which and keep tweaking the system while continuing to rely on it for results.
It all sounds kind of exhausting, especially when you consider that there is no end to the journey. You can run around telling people you’re perfect all day, or wear a shirt that says “My work here is done” on it; but all that proves is that you still have a bunch of issues to resolve, and being oblivious to your own shortcomings is a big one for you. We have to consider the alternative, though, if avoiding the process starts to sound more appealing than engaging in it.
Falling into a rut can feel like a kind of living death. Some people might make doing the same thing over and over for several decades look natural on them, but you can bet it’s taking a toll on their psyche if they aren’t engaging this process somehow within the framework of their lives. We are meant to set up challenges, knock them down and set up more; shrinking away from taking that next step is supposed to be a temporary state for us, a lesson we remember the next time we feel stymied.
Maybe that’s why we have to learn so much as children: we each need a storehouse of memories telling us we can learn to do something today that we couldn’t do yesterday. Some things take more time to learn, and the real juicy stuff might only reveal its greatest secrets when we devote a lifetime to studying it; but some things need people who are obsessed with them, so they can go on to serve the rest of humanity in the best possible way. Every generation needs its own team of scientists and educators, to challenge the findings of those who came before them while standing on the foundation they built.
If a child marks their transition into adulthood by beginning to work, that first day on the job can be a very disillusioning experience. Trying to translate the lessons taught in school into the skills needed to excel at a job can take some time and effort, but after a while they are bound to get good at what they do. They’ll learn to deal with people of all ages and backgrounds, with varying personalities and temperaments; and they might even become the best at whatever they were assigned to.
That will often lead to a new position, where it seems like all those skills our new worker just got good at are no longer relevant. What seems and what are can be two very different things, however; and amassing a number of varied abilities can benefit us a lot later on. At the very least, engaging different parts of our brains results in a better rounded individual; but even more often, learning one thing makes it easier to learn another. Once you learn a little bit about everything, you can look at anything with a more discerning eye; and once you learn everything about something, you can never really look at any other aspect of life quite the same way as you did before.
Part of the magic of life is that the mysteries go on forever, in every possible direction. The flip side to that is knowing someone is looking into each of those mysteries, and that you’ve looked into some of them yourself. All those things you learned on your first job might be things you’ll never do again; but learning them gave you the confidence to learn more, and they’re still with you as you climb the corporate ladder or start your own business.
At every stage of life, we must give up the old if we are to have any hope of embracing the new. These changes can be characterized by certain moments, like meeting that special someone or ascending into a new position; but really, they’re defined more by who we have to become in order to step up to the next great challenge. We learn over time what serves us and what doesn’t, and we bite off more than we can chew sometimes in order to develop stronger jaw muscles.
We can relate all manner of platitudes to this principle. Everyone knows what we call doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results; but most of us also know what it feels like to do just that for a period of time, in one aspect of our lives or another. Does that mean we’re all insane, or is a dash of crazy simply a required ingredient when you’re cooking up a human personality?
How about…if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always got? Lottery winners probably scoff at such nonsense, at least until the money runs out; but the rest of us had better take heed, and make sure we like getting what we’ve got. We’re bound to arrive wherever we’re headed, after all; and we need to make sure we will like the person we become along the way.
There may be countless ways to say it, but there’s really only one way to do it. Each of us needs to set up our own series of challenges, knock them down and set up a series of harder ones to follow. We need to step outside our comfort zones and up to the plate, over and over again; and keep on playing our hearts out whether we win or lose.
Otherwise, insanity awaits.
So…wish me luck on my journey, and I’ll wish you luck on yours; and don’t forget to remind me when you see me on the way to wherever I’m going…
What got you here won’t get you there!
Thanks for reading!
All the best,