Back when I was in high school, I was part of a test run where the school introduced a series of “advanced placement” classes. School had always come easy for me, but even still I remember feeling proud that I had been selected for a program for “smart kids” (what can I say, we all have egos).
In most of the cases I didn’t really notice a difference between the regular classes and the advanced placement ones. With one exception – math.
Math had always been one of my stronger subjects, but for some reason I started to struggle. We were dealing with concepts that I was having a hard time with, and before long I was feeling that I was in over my head. As someone who had always been able to just show up in class and do well, this was a new (and unpleasant experience). A few months (and tests) in, my math marks were suffering, and I started to worry about my grade.
Somewhere along the way though, things started to click. I finally started to understand what we were doing, and my marks improved. Even still, I worried about how my earlier struggles would impact my final grade. One day I mentioned that to the instructor, and he told me not to worry. To him, the early struggles didn’t matter. He told me that the concepts built upon each other, and even though it took me a while I had shown I had learned the concepts. Because of that he was willing to throw away the earlier marks. Normally the first half of a course is weighted for roughly half the final grade, and I had done poorly the first few months so I was ecstatic about this. Based on what he said, what I “heard” was that as long as I did well on the final, I could still finish with a good grade. To me, it was that final grade that mattered.
But I missed the point. It was never about the grade. The grade was a goal, or a destination. These goals are important as they give us something to strive towards. In many ways though that grade was just an empty number. What really mattered was the process, the journey of learning and gaining understanding.
As people, we do this all the time. We get caught up in focusing on the destination. We focus on what we want to have, or who we hope to be. And in the process we don’t appreciate the moment. We are focusing on what we feel we are missing or what we don’t have instead of focusing on what we do have, and who we are right now.
Imagine a photo album of your life. What would that look like?
Chances are your albums are full of your “highlights”, or your best times. Maybe it has baby pictures, and pictures from events such as graduations, birthdays, weddings, anniversaries (all of these are both yours and those of people in your life). Each of these moments is simply a snapshot – a window into a point in time in our life. These may be some of the things we remember most, but these images don’t do a very good job of representing who we are or the life we have. They show what we want to show.
Not all of our moments are highlights. We make mistakes, do stupid things, and hurt the people we love. And the same things happen to us. People come and go from our lives. People we care about hurt us and disappoint us. Tragedy happens. Those moments are just as much a part of us as the ones that make it into our photo albums. We are the sum of our experiences, and all of these moments are part of the journey of who we are.
In fact I think it is often these harder moments, and how we deal with them that has the greatest impact on who we are. When we are going through difficult times, I have to admit, it kind of sucks. But these harder moments are important. They shape us and they are how we grow. For good or bad, we wouldn’t be who we are without them.
Who Do You Want to be
I write mostly about relationships, and the struggles that are common to long term relationships. Couples often hit a point where they are struggling, and they aren’t sure if it’s worth it anymore. Sometimes the passion is gone, or they just aren’t happy anymore (with themself, their partner, or in the relationships). They look around at other people, other couples, and think “is this it”? If you are at that point, have you communicated it to you partner? If so, what was their response?
Something to remember is that each moment is simply a snapshot, a point in time. Where you are today as an individual or in a relationships doesn’t define you. It’s simply a view of where you are or how you feel right now. Another thing to remember is that when you look at other people, you aren’t truly seeing them. You are only seeing a snapshot of their life. And chances are, you are only seeing the parts they want you to see.
Everyone has hard times, everyone has moments where they struggle. But that’s part of the journey.
I think that “trying” is the most important thing of all. Having a vision of what you want is a positive as it gives you a goal to strive towards. But the goal is simply a snapshot of a future state. The important part is your process for getting there. And that process is based on effort. With effort, anything is possible.