Lines are great. I love lines. I love how they are the shortest distance between two points (and I don’t even teach math!). I love how they connect things, go from one place to another, without any unnecessary detours. I love how they are an easy way to measure distance and progress. I love how they can show how you make a plan and easily follow it to its conclusion.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m what you might call a linear thinker. But, sadly for me and people just like me everywhere; we are living in a non-linear world. So…how do we deal?
I love linear things because I like planning and problem solving. I love projects, and frequently engage in various self-improvement projects (sometimes at the expense of other areas of my life), often as a distraction or coping mechanism.
But the more life I live, I see that more of it falls outside the lines. The more I want to get right from point A to point B, the more I see that there are highs, lows, pitfalls, traps and all kinds of detours in between. Life looks less like a line and more like the peaks of a mountain range.
I am in a career that is the definition of non-linear (You try getting a classroom full of 30 adolescents to fall in line with your plan and have a neat and tidy little outcome, tell me how that works for you). I realized that awhile ago. What I’m realizing anew is just how much of my life doesn’t follow a straight line.
Let’s look at health and fitness. Wouldn’t it be great if your fitness only ever improved? That you just worked at it, put in the effort, and kept improving for the rest of your life? As is often the case, when I see those words typed out, it seems laughable. There are the inevitable curveballs, and other things that come up that get in the way of devoting the time that you want to your fitness pursuits. And it’s ok.
Speaking of fitness, wouldn’t it be great if physical progress inside and outside of your body were linear? Like you could get to a place where you’re both happy with how you looked on the outside and felt on the inside? And then keep going and never have to worry about it anymore? Yeah, nope. Curveballs galore, coming at you again.
Mental health? Nope. Pretty much the least linear thing ever. You can make amazing strides. You can make a ton of life changes. You can feel amazing for days, weeks, months or years. But then; bam! All of a sudden something comes along (with or without a good reason) and you’re right back where you started (or feeling even worse).
So what’s a linear girl to do?
I could try and keep ironing out that line. Trying to flatten those mountain ranges so that they fall flat and lay as more of a plain (can you tell I’m a geography teacher getting ready to go back to school?). But, to me, that seems like one of those “round peg, square hole” situations. One that is destined to be frustrating, fruitless, without the desired outcome.
So if I’ve established that life is decidedly non-linear, and I’m stuck with the mountains – now what? Well, just as if you’re facing real life mountains, you need to pack gear. When facing the mountains of a non-linear life and all the challenges it brings, you need to make sure you’re well-equipped.
This is the annoying thing – if you’re a linear thinker you like to plan and be prepared. By definition, if you are embracing non-linear life, you basically have to accept that you are preparing to be unprepared. You’re saying straight up that you don’t know what’s coming – SO HOW THE HECK DO YOU PLAN FOR THAT?
Embracing a non-linear life is by definition becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable – which I HATE DOING. I like being safe and comfortable. I like knowing exactly what is to come and being ready for it. Sorry kids – life’s not like that.
And I’ve found this really annoying thing as I’ve grown older and experienced more life – as much as stuff might be happening that you hate, or makes you crazy, or scares the living daylights about you – more often than not, it’s beyond your control. So you can fight it, ignore it, hide from it if you want. But in the end, it’s easier if you stop fighting and just embrace it. Want to know the other crazy/annoying thing about this embracing?
It doesn’t always feel good. In fact, often it doesn’t. But, it’s what they like to call a “growth opportunity” (that’s code for “it’s gonna kinda suck, but you’ll learn something during the process,” I’m not going to sugar-coat it).
Are you still following me? (Since this post is about how non-linear life is, I decided it would be ok to zig-zag and not exactly take a straight path writing here). The answer of how to live as a linear thinker in a non-linear world is that there is no answer. Straight-up, it’s just kinda hard.
(Uhh….no offense Hilary, but what kind of advice is that? No handy take-away for me here?)…not quite. Let’s keep going. I might not have all the answers, or infinite wisdom (shocking, I know, but you had to find out some time), but I do have advice – techniques, coping mechanisms, things that have worked for your fave linear lady over here (that would be me).
First of all, it would be to be adaptable. When life is decidedly not what you planned, prepared or hoped for, you can run away screaming (not actually. If that was an option, I totally would have gone for it by now). Or you can stop, reflect, then adapt. Ok, here’s where I’m at/here’s what I got. Wow, sure wasn’t what I was planning for. Yep, this kinda sucks, but I can roll with it. Better still, I can adapt and make something fantastic from it.
Two more key words: accept and embrace. Stop trying to flatten out your life into a straight line that it never will be. Accept the twists and turns; better still, embrace them. You will stop wasting energy on fighting and therefore will have so much more to put forth towards more important steps towards awesomeness.
Also – I’m a big believer of “fake it ’till you make it,” with one important *asterisk.* Don’t be a fake. Meaning yes it’s important to put your best foot forward and all that jazz, but don’t stop being who you are, and feeling what you’re feeling. There’s a place for us linear thinkers (aka problem-solvers, and we all know this linear world has LOTS of problems) in this non-linear world. So don’t try and pretend your way into being something you’re not.
Last piece of advice: laughter goes a long way. You’ve probably noticed that I tend to lean pretty heavily on my sense of humour in all circumstances (the good, the bad and the ugly). So when life takes an annoying, unexpected, non-linear detour – don’t be annoyed. Find the humour. You might not be getting stuff done that you wanted to, it might not be solving the problem, it can’t really change your circumstances, but it can make you smile – and that’s worth something.
For me, and for many out there, September is the start of a “new year.” Spoiler alert: it might not be the year you planned. In fact, it probably won’t. It might be better, worse, or just different. You’ll probably have to take a bumpy road to get there (wherever “there” is). But let’s not fight the detours. Instead of trying to stick to the straight and narrow, let’s embrace the journey and enjoy the scenery. After all, straight lines are for math class.