Learning to meander

Posted March 9, 2023 · 3 min read

Last week, on a video call with my friend RA, the topic turned to blogging. One of the things we discussed is the power of the draft: that even if you don't publish what you write, it's still helpful to write it out, and occasionally you end up reworking your idea into something you want to share.

This evening I went through my drafts and found four separate posts, all written within the last eight months, that all somehow circle around the same question: what am I doing?

When I look at those drafts, I think: This is something that I clearly need to write about. And so I shall.

Running a race… on a treadmill

I like to have goals and clear definitions of what it means to succeed at them. This served me well when I was in school, because it was clear to me that the goal was to learn and that getting good grades meant that I was succeeding. (Although as I've mentioned previously, it's easy to unintentionally equivocate the goal with the metric.)

When I graduated from university, I stepped into a world with which I was unfamiliar. It was suddenly difficult to know what I should do and if I was doing it well. In absence of a clear framework for success, I invented my own, full of initiatives that I thought would make it clear that I was "doing it right" — starting a full time job, improving my physical health, dating seriously, and eventually switching jobs and moving to a new city in a different country.

By the time the dust had settled on my move to Brooklyn, it had been three and a half years since I left school and entered what they affectionately called "the real world". Somehow, I found myself asking the same question as I had wondered when I left Hamilton: what do I do now?

You can't succeed at life

I've spent the last few months wondering about my life and my past. I feel like I've finally noticed the sensation of running a race, of trying to win, and it's dawning on me that there is nothing to win and no reason to rush.

I used to cope with my feelings of confusion and uncertainty about life by simply inventing new things for myself to achieve. I've purposefully tried to avoid doing that, and consequently I've spent the last few months oscillating between feeling aimless and prematurely fixating on future goals in an attempt to make myself feel better about the fact that I currently have none.

I don't think I'm going to give up goals forever, because I'm discovering that it's difficult for me to live without them. What I'm trying to do now is figure out why I need them so badly, and hopefully confront that before going back to having them.

Letting go of the notion of "succeeding" at life has been challenging for me, but it has a bright side: if I can't succeed, I also can't fail. All I can do is make choices and deal with their consequences, along with a hefty portion of whatever happens that's completely beyond my control or understanding.

Embracing serendipity

When my friends RG and AO came to visit last month, we spent a lot of time discussing serendipity. It's come up again in the book I'm currently reading, Taleb's "The Black Swan" — that amazing things are almost never planned.

There's a lyric in The Paper Kites' "On The Train Ride Home" that I love:

But still I was praying, on the train ride home

If I can't get the things I want, just give me what I need.

Singlemindedly chasing what I think I want will almost inevitably shut me off from all of the amazing things that are in store for me. The lesson that I'm learning this season: how to slow down and unclench my fists, and to instead meander with hands held open.


Julia Cooke © 2023