Connecting the dots backwards

Photo credit David DeHetre // Flickr Creative Commons
Photo credit David DeHetre // Flickr Creative Commons

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” – Steve Jobs

Hindsight is a weird yet wonderful thing. Do you ever have moments when you feel an overwhelming gratitude towards your past hardships? When you’re actually thankful you went through a shitty situation because it’s added value to your life in some way?

I find these moments both infuriating and inspiring. Infuriating, because they challenge my perception of the past. Inspiring, because they offer an alternative story to the doom & gloom I’ve built up in my mind.

I had a moment like this recently. I realised one of my closest friends wouldn’t be in my life if we hadn’t both been in the same challenging job. I used to think of my time in this job with regret and frustration – it was a tough role – and see it in purely negative terms.

But this way of thinking gets you nowhere. Negativity wins. When you allow yourself to get bogged down in the negative details, you miss the silver lining.

There’s a difference between being aware that a situation is less-than-ideal and allowing it to consume you. I think I’m finally beginning to understand what it means to make the most of opportunities, no matter how far-from-perfect they may seem on the surface.

Most experiences will lead to greater self-knowledge and a better understanding of the world. You never know when you might need the knowledge you acquire today, but you can almost guarantee you’ll use it at some point in your life.

The trick is knowing when to accept a challenging situation, and when to make a change.

Trust in momentum

A mantra I often repeat to myself is “something is better than nothing”. I tell myself this when I only have a 20-minute window to exercise, or half an hour to catch up with a friend.

Small efforts can reap big rewards, if only you trust in momentum. In putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward, not backwards.

Like everyone, I often romanticise the past, especially times when life seemed simpler and easier. But when I ask myself, would you really like to rewind the clock? The answer is always no.

Look beyond the present moment

Sometimes I find myself looking at life through a black and white lens. Labelling situations as ‘wrong’ or ‘right’. Focusing on what I do or don’t like about something and failing to see the bigger picture.

But I am at my best when I live life in the grey areas. When I am able to take a step back and examine my present situation from all angles. This allows me to appreciate life for the complicated, layered, messy wonder that it is.

It also helps me to feel less tied to my choices. All you can do is make the best decision with the information you have available at the time. There is no right or wrong; only forward. It is better to take a step in any direction than let time stand still.

Celebrate at every chance you get

What does hindsight teach me, again and again? To celebrate the small wins. To pay attention to the silver linings. These are the moments you will remember later on.

There’s a part of me that craves perfection; the perfect job, the perfect home, the perfect relationship. But one thing I am realising is that I am always going to be exposed to less-than-ideal situations, no matter how hard I try to create harmony.

If we wait for everything to be perfect, we’ll be waiting a long time. So here’s to the present moment, and having faith that everything will turn out as it should.

We can always connect the dots backwards.

Finding faith in unexpected places

A sculpture made of silver ferns in Wellington, New Zealand // Flickr, Creative Commons
A sculpture made of silver ferns in Wellington, New Zealand // Flickr, Creative Commons

“None of us knows what might happen even the next minute, yet still we go forward. Because we trust. Because we have Faith.” – Paulo Coelho

Earlier this week, I experienced something new for the first time. I watched more than five minutes of a game of cricket, and I enjoyed it.

Up until that moment, I had always thought of cricket as The Most Boring Sport In The World. I have memories of childhood Sundays spent with Dad while he cradled a portable radio to his ear and listened to cricket commentary with near religious fervour. My sister and I would be forced to play quietly in hushed tones as he engaged in a heated one-way conversation with the commentators.

I remember one afternoon when I must have been about ten, the cricket was on the telly and Dad taught me the difference between scoring a 4 and a 6. That remains the extent of my knowledge of the sport today.

On Tuesday 24 March 2015, something changed. New Zealand played South Africa in a Cricket World Cup Semi-Final. I sat down to watch ten minutes out of a vague sense of patriotic duty, only to find myself glued to the screen for the next three hours.

I was mesmerised. My heart was racing with anticipation. I desperately wanted the Black Caps to win. I spent the final few overs peeping at the screen behind my hands, scared to watch in case New Zealand committed a final, irreversible error.

What was happening to me?

We’re all in this together

Big sporting events bring people together in a way that is both beautiful and also slightly odd. In what other situation do people experience similar (positive) emotions on such a large scale? There’s something delightful about feeling as though the entire country has stopped to watch the same thing.

In the back of my mind, a small voice wonders why sport has the power to engage people in a way other big issues fail to do so? Why do I get so emotionally invested in a game of cricket when there are ‘more important’ things happening in the world?

But I push that thought to the back of my mind, because – for the most part – I can’t find fault in something that encourages people to come together for a common cause.

Gotta have faith

Watching Tuesday’s game of cricket provided me with another unexpected comfort. It reminded me that it feels good to believe in something, no matter how small or trivial.

I realised it is the act of placing your faith in something, not what you place your faith in, that is most important.

Faith is such a big word with so many underlying connotations. It sparks different feelings for different people.

But for me, faith is simply choosing to believe in something – be it of momentous proportions, like an afterlife, or of seemingly irrelevant insignificance, like believing your local sports team is the best.

Faith has no rules. It doesn’t have to be tangible, it doesn’t have to be justifiable, it doesn’t have to be approved by someone else. It is yours to place where you wish.

And when placing your faith in something, you are saying to yourself and the world: “I believe. I have hope.”

Go the Black Caps!

On that note, I’m looking forward to feeling the faith of New Zealand as the Black Caps go into the final against Australia this afternoon. Yes, I have well and truly jumped on that bandwagon!

Black Caps captain Brendon McCullum wrote an open letter to fans, published in the Sunday Herald this morning. I particularly liked this part:

“Make no mistake, we’ve felt your belief. We’ve heard the chants, the cheers and the roars. We’ve seen the emotion in the faces of the children, in the faces of the mums and dads, and the grandfathers and grandmothers. We’ve seen grown men in tears; we’ve seen strangers hugging and we’ve seen the elderly dancing. I’m not how to say this but we’ve never felt quite so ‘New Zealand’ in all our lives.”

It’s a weird and wonderful world we live in, don’t you think?

One moment at a time

wasting time

“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” – Maya Angelou

A few days ago I realised one word sums up my biggest fear. That word is waste. The very concept makes my chest tight with anxiety. The idea of a wasted life, a wasted environment, a wasted career makes me feel as though I am stumbling through quicksand.

But it’s amazing how, when you articulate a fear, it becomes smaller. More manageable. Something you can begin to understand, as opposed to an abstract feeling that plunges you into darkness.

Waste. I am afraid of waste, in particular of wasting my life. Of wasting my precious time and energy. As I wrote recently, you only get one life: now is the time. I feel acutely aware of the fragility of the present moment. And I ask myself on a regular basis: am I living the life I want to lead?

The truth is, the answer is complicated. In some ways I believe I am living the life I want, because if I didn’t want this life, wouldn’t I be doing more to change it? But at the same time I am plagued by uncertainty and doubt, always wondering if the grass might be greener on the other side.

A common theme in my writing is that of choices. I often struggle with making decisions, out of concern that I will take a wrong turn, or worst-case-scenario, waste some of my time.

I don’t think this is a fear that will go away overnight, and I acknowledge that it can also be one of my strengths, as it constantly forces me to explore new options and challenge my surroundings.

But it is a fear that can spiral out of control if I let it, and cause me to be incredibly hard on myself. My fear of ensuring I get the most out of the present moment is self-defeating – I cannot get the most out of anything when I am afraid of it.

Fortunately, a colleague recently helped to put my mind at ease. I was telling him how I majored in French at university, and I found myself shrugging off this personal achievement because ‘I don’t use the language on a day-to-day basis’.

My colleague swiftly countered my self-depreciation. “Learning is never wasted,” he said. “You never know when you might need to draw on that knowledge.”

A simple truth, yet one I had failed to see beneath my own anxieties. His words completely shifted my perspective. I realised I have been impatient with the present moment. Sometimes what we are doing right now cannot be fully understood until the future. And that’s okay.

I can be prone to literal, black-and-white thinking. I can quickly jump to extreme conclusions when I am feeling unsettled or disillusioned. But I need to remember that, even if my present moment is uncomfortable or imperfect or less than ideal, that doesn’t mean I am wasting my life. That doesn’t mean I am doing something wrong. It just means I am on a journey, one moment at a time.

My little realisation might seem like an obvious truth to some. But I think it illustrates how fear can cloud our perceptions. I am passionate about learning – that is why I started this blog – yet my fear of wasting my time can sometimes stop me from covering new terrain.

What I need to remember is that I don’t always need an immediate reason for learning something. I don’t need to justify it at the time, rather I need to trust in the process. Every piece of knowledge I acquire adds to how I see and understand the world. Whether I draw on that knowledge now or 50 years in the future is irrelevant.

Waste is all around us, it is a modern burden. We throw things out as fast as we consume them. It is a very real fear, both philosophically and physically. But when it comes to learning, I believe we can all find some peace in the fact that no knowledge is a waste of time.

Make time to learn, invest in education, celebrate the mind’s infinite imagination. Trust in the process. It may not all make sense now, but hindsight can be a beautiful thing.