I like the Bell Curve. It's one of those universal principles that can be applied in millions of different ways throughout your life to help make sense of things. Along with the bell curve, I think there's another graph we should all internalize and use to understand life: the jagged upwards line.
Just as the Bell Curve describes distributions, the jagged upwards line describes forward progress. And just as the standard deviation can vary in width and amplitude, the jagged upwards line varies in it's jaggedness and its slope.
When we imagine our path to reach a goal, we see a non-jagged line, gently sloping up and to the right, showing how as we move step by step, we'll get closer and closer to our goal. But that's not how things really work. What happens when we actually start working towards our goal and we hit a setback? We decide we must not be on that smooth straight line afterwards, and we get discouraged. Sometimes we give up.
It's important to understand that progress always happens on a jagged line, and that to get to your goal you must follow that line. That means that you must endure setbacks, and you must temper yourself during those short but ephemeral bursts upwards. You must remain steady, because your path is anything but steady.
My poker winnings follow the jagged upwards curve. On those days where I make a thousand dollars in an hour, I have to remind myself that they players aren't that bad, and I'm not that good. I'm just on my path, and it bursts upwards sometimes. A couple months ago I sat down at a table and lost $750 in less than an hour and a half. I didn't quit and I didn't get upset, though, because I knew that the dip was just part of my path.
More abstract pursuits in life follow the jagged upward line. If you approach one hundred girls in the course of a few months, the first one may go better than the last one, but the last ten will almost certainly have averaged to be better than the first ten. Some days you'll feel like Cassanova's long lost twin, and others you'll feel like Gollum's long lost twin. But over the course of those hundred approaches, you'll get better at talking to women.
Understanding variance is important because it's a part of life. If you're scared of variance, then you're scared of life itself. You won't take the risks necessary to reach your goals, and you won't develop the character of someone who has reached their peaks and been humbled as they slid from them to the valleys. You won't enjoy the luxury of seeing that jagged but steady climb as you look examine the path you've walked.
Heading to Japan next week. If you'll be there in early April and are interested in a meetup, let me know...
One of the more helpful habits I've developed is taking responsibility for everything in my life. This is a strong contrast to the average victim / "things happen to me" mentality that a lot of people have.
Basically I assume that anything "bad" that happens in my life is a direct result of actions I took. If I lose money in the stock market I don't think, "Oh man... I'm so unlucky... the stocks went down."
Instead I think, "I bought those stocks and I lost money because of a decision I made."
My daughter has been touring colleges lately, and none of us can believe this is happening. Those of us who have watched her grow are shaking our heads in disbelief, because “it was only yesterday” that she was running around in overalls and pigtails, reciting the Madeline story by heart. She’s an expert at laughing through life, enjoying each moment, and we are all lucky to witness her milestones.
Milestones are an excuse for true connectivity. We embrace the chance to hold one another close, and dance to the music of shared experiences. We witness life happening. So often that simple act gets lost on us. Milestones give us a chance to stop, look around, take note, and give thanks. Some milestones feel as though we are crossing a line, panting… we made it. And gracefully, our beloved family and friends are there, stoking the fire, being the bellows we need to strengthen our flames for the next leg of the adventure.
About a week and a half ago, I passed by my own significant milestone. And the greatest gift that I received as I marked my 40th trip around the Sun, was the love that I felt having my own beloved friends and family witness this passage. Yes, we laughed. Yes, we danced, and boy did we eat! But we all witnessed life happening. Their presence said, “I am here for you. I am here because of your journey. And I love watching your life happen.” They were my “I-witnesses.”
Don’t underestimate the power and Goodness in being an "I-witness." Our hearts must be open enough to tell our own beloved, “I am an ‘I-witness’ to your Life. I am here to see your life unfold--the good, the bad, and the ugly.” That is more powerful than we realize. I-witness you.
If words are hard for you, start small. Send a text that says, “What’s important to you today?” Make an unexpected phone call that says, “I want to know what was the best part of your day today.” Do something small with great love that says,“I-witness” you. Purposefully knowing, celebrating, and watching life happen each day makes the milestones even sweeter.