“So the life we all conduct from the narrow, biased lens of consciousness is a mistake, a necessary mistake. …We are here to meet our summons, our summons, on this road of personal brokenness, doubt, despair, defeat, cowardice and contradiction, with only scattered moments of luminosity.”
– James Hollis from Why Good People Do Bad Things
A blogger friend recently wrote about what she would say to her 20-year-old self, given the opportunity. I often think about that when I meet younger people, especially those trying to make crucial decisions or solve the riddle of what they want in their lives. I don’t think there is actually much of worth I could tell my 20-year old self that she would be able to understand or believe. She needed the time and space to learn through her own experiences. No one else could have taught her those lessons; she needed to learn them from her own soul.
We have a pervasive myth in our culture that successful people are those who know what they want early on, aim for it, and achieve it. But this is only true on a very broad level. Certainly it is good to know what we want, to have something to aim for, and it is good to feel the satisfaction that comes from being able to make those things happen for ourselves. But on another level, the ways in which we completely miss are what this life is all about.
My 20-year-old self thought she knew what she wanted, but even on the best of days, she was ill-prepared, lost and frightened. She missed plenty of opportunities, trusted people she shouldn’t have, and didn’t always give herself the best of chances. Somehow, remarkably, she also managed to make some excellent decisions that were wise beyond her years, to put herself exactly where she needed to be to flourish, and to be courageous in the face of the unknown. There is nothing I could tell her now that would improve upon that; I have no idea how she managed any of what she did, and I think she’s completely amazing for having done it.
My 20-year-old self would not have aimed for the life I have now. She would not even have known my life was a possibility. Often I think it is time for us to give up the myth that consistency and achievement, in the narrow sense we define them, are what we should be striving for. But then, perhaps it is that very myth that allows us to make these necessary and wonderful mistakes.