Life is Not a Constant Trajectory of Upward Expansion. Deal with It.

We’re taught that life is a series of graduated stages. With each passing grade we take leaps to the next level of learning—through primary, middle, high school and college. In our careers, we are given promotions and more responsibility over time. We are expected to date-marry-have kids, and to rent-then own, buy a compact-car then a luxury vehicle, etc. etc. Society tends to lean on the notion of a constant trajectory of upward expansion. We’re told we should have a “life plan”—a direction; a series of expectations of how our life should be. It’s the idea that you’ll never achieve your goals if you don’t have any.

But the reality of life is far different. Life is far more a series of ups and downs; rises and falls; high climbs and plateaus. And the farther we get in life, the harder it becomes to know when to keep climbing, and when to acknowledge success, failure, and acceptance that it is time to move on to something else.

Life is hard. But we make it harder on ourselves when we resist change, and stick to what we thought was the expected course. The reality is, any well-planned life is just waiting to be crushed if you stick rigidly to goals laid out too far in advance.

If you can accept the notion that the only constant in life is change, then the unpredictability in life comes far easier. If every day you can wake up and know that each day is as unpredictable as the next, and be aware and accepting of what life gives you, you may find many more happy days than one’s filled with anxiety.

Yes, anxiety often comes attached with the fear of the unknown—of change, of success and failure. But if we accept all of the above as inevitable, then anxiety levels decrease—and so does our blood pressure.

A few years ago I owned a great house that I designed and built in the woods as a weekend house. It clearly was an extravagance, but it seemed appropriate to the notion of upward expansion and growth in my life. But over time, the house began to not serve its purpose anymore. It was expensive to maintain, and took me away from the City and my friends, at a time when I really enjoyed both. Still, I hung on, and on, and on to the notion of achievement and growth, rather than constant change. Then one day I literally woke up with an epiphany—really an acceptance of something I knew deep down, that it was time to give up the house, and all of the ideals of growth that it contained, and move back into my flat in the City—closer to my friends, and the life that I enjoyed leading. With that decision, a huge weight was lifted off my shoulder, and I have been happy with that decision ever since.

Sometimes decisions to give up relationships are harder than to give up tangible things. I will always remember the day I decided that my 20-year relationship with my best friend was no longer serving purpose, or helping me grow and learn. Or how crushed I felt when the love of my life broke it off and smashed my heart. But all in all, these are the ups and downs of life. If I wallowed in the failure of any of these, and did anything but learn from them, and love them for what they were, I feel I might be in a constant state of depression.

So I try to live my life with eyes wide open—constantly scanning for change. I consider myself a pragmatic optimist—constantly observing and processing and considering. I write my goals in pencil, not pen.

Here’s five things you might consider incorporating into your set of life expectations:

  1. Accept that everything in life is constantly changing—moving up and down, and from side to side. Don’t fight change. Wallow in it.
  2. Write your life-plan in pencil, and add and change things on it, on a daily basis.
  3. Understand that most things in life are not as we expect. And that’s OK.
  4. Celebrate change as milestones, and accept the learnings that both success and failure give us.
  5. Embrace serendipity in life—the chance meeting, the unexpected opportunity. Even if it is not part of “the plan,” as that’s where life’s greatest joys can be found.

Image of man in front of two roads, courtesy of Shutterstock

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