Direction sometimes seems to be the only thing our society values. Just do it, orders the slogan of our times. Don’t vacillate. Everything you do must be planned, purposeful. Confusion and hesitation have no place. The problem is, our insistence on knowing where we’re going leads us to some pretty boring places. Because those are the only destinations we can be certain of.
In the world of business, one learns that the illusion that you can predict the future matters more than almost anything else. We give money to others in more or less direct proportion to how certain an outcome we believe they can produce. We demand proof that we’re buying “best practices.” The problem with that is that life isn’t predictable. It’s full of black swans and 100-year floods and unique situations, and we can neither accept nor promise guarantees.
People ask me what I’m doing these days. Sometimes that’s uncomfortable, because I don’t have an easy answer. I find myself wishing I could pull a card out of my wallet and say, Here–look what I’ve joined. I have validation. The truth is, I’ve done a whole bunch of things, few of which measure up by the conventional yardsticks. I’ve been down the conventional road. I got a master’s degree in business and mortgaged the remainder of my life to try to know where I was going with certainty. And at the end of it and years of killing myself in business, I still didn’t know.
So now I tell people I’ve been floating. The word seems to stop people; some facet of it catches them. It’s not what people usually respond to that question, but it’s more than that, because it seems to produce this thoughtfulness on the hearers’ part. Their reactions have made me think. Now I’m wondering what it means, too.
I’ll tell you the image that comes to mind when I talk about “floating.” It’s not dandelion seeds wafting on sunbeams. No, it’s more like the boat in “The Life of Pi”–in a world of forces and people and things, what we’re left with is the realization that our control is limited. Non-existent. All we get to choose is our reaction to our circumstances, and we’re lucky to have that chance.
I’m doing my best to choose to react with patience and creativity. I’ve been working on a book, for instance, which may or may not go anywhere but has been a great process nevertheless. I’ve helped friends and family with projects big and small. I’ve thought. I’ve enjoyed myself. More than I have in years. That element of playfulness factors into floating as I think about it. I’m not going to get stuck in anything I don’t care about if I can help it. Life is short. The past few years have taught me that, too.
That doesn’t mean it has been easy. The degree to which you can be attached to ideas of “success” is staggering. It keeps sneaking up on you when you least expect it. Having friends who are aware of the dangers helps. And when you’re strong enough, you find you can defy gravity. The protagonist of “The Life of Pi” simply refuses to interpret his events — horrible by almost any standard — as being so horrible that they must destroy him. He floats. He’s not pretending–he chooses to see the events as part of a bigger story. As Nietzsche once said: “And so I will tell myself the story of my life.”
So that’s my tale. I’m floating, but the story continues. Stay tuned!
Thanks, Rob Menaul, for inspiring this.