Do you know where that minimalist book is?
Sixteen started the month of October declaring he wanted to accomplish three things: pass the test for his third-degree black belt, get hired as a page for the Iowa Senate, and put together a killer college application that will earn him a place at and a scholarship to Grinnell College.
October has leaked into November, but he’s well on his way, having succeeded at the first two. He rose to the first challenge from the depths of stomach flu, gaining strength and courage and, finally, color in his cheeks as the four-hour test wore on. When it came time to break his boards, he smashed through them with an intensity I couldn’t have predicted or imagined had he been perfectly well. Near the end of October, he found himself not just with a job offer from the Senate, but a choice of internships. Wending his way on a nontraditional path for a senior at his high school, he accepted the Senate position and started shopping for ties.
Grinnell College has been his first choice since he set foot on campus the summer before his junior year. He’s been back twice, after touring an array of excellent small liberal arts colleges in the Midwest. Tapped by his creative writing teacher to submit a short piece about where he’d like to go to college for the Des Moines Register, he wrote about his ambition to attend Grinnell. He’s applying early decision, so if all goes well, his third thing will be in the bag in mid-December. I’m his mother, but I’m not the only person I know who believes they’d be lucky to enroll him.
It was the other day when he asked me for the book by the Minimalists, Everything That Remains. I must have looked at him quizzically, because he explained: “I figure I reread fiction that’s important to me all the time; I might as well read the nonfiction that has shaped my core life philosophy.” He went on to name a few other books about investing and money management that he’s been reading again.
At sixteen I couldn’t have articulated anything that resembled a core life philosophy. I was academically inclined, boy crazy, and deeply committed to my friendships. I wrote long letters to my far-flung friends, listened to my favorite music over and over as loud as possible, and piled as many people as I could into my Jeep on football Fridays for pizza after the game. I drank Diet Pepsi and coffee; I loved movies and books and animals; I lived on very little and I laughed a lot.
Put that way, it doesn’t sound so very different than my world today. I’ve added adult beverages, of course, and I drink tea now rather than coffee and soda. Communication speeds have improved, but I still prefer snail mail when possible. My core life philosophy? Still evolving, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot of late.
This life journey makes sense to me pictured a little like a figure I learned about when I was sixteen, the Mobius strip. There’s the lifeline, but it bends back on itself all the time we’re alive; a trajectory with infinite variations but still somehow continuous, like a Mobius strip made on paper dark on one side, light on the other. We made these strips in high school, thrilled to run our fingers in and out of the curves, never lifting them, never having to stop to switch sides. Energetically, in life we come up against many of the same challenges, thus the repetitive nature of cruising around and around the strip. At the same time I believe two things: the edges of the strip are ever expanding, like the universe, and those challenges we encounter in new form are harder, different, or at the very least altered such that each iteration gives us the opportunity to navigate them more wisely. It’s taking that opportunity, being reflective and aiming at the best versions possible of ourselves that are the opportunities we have to really grow.
Often opposing forces are at work, creating a weighing of one thing against another—the dark at the light, the struggles and the ease, the work and the compensation (the root of compensation, the Latin compensare, literally, to weigh one against another). Navigating compensare requires finding something akin to balance at the same time as we understand that existing in a balanced place isn’t always a space of growth.
Launching forward to a new, exciting, larger trajectory on the Mobius strip takes moving beyond compensare to blast off.
I was thinking about Sixteen’s triple challenge when I realized I set forth three of my own professional life-enriching challenges in a relatively parallel timeline to his. And, like my son, I am excited about all of the opportunities even as they are a doable one, a reach-out one, and one I really, really want. All three offer growth opportunity and potential for income. Taken together, even if not all successful (although I’m feeling more and more optimistic that they will be), and even if not manifesting exactly as I imagined (because face it, what ever really does), these have the potential to blast me forward toward a new trajectory on that Mobius strip. These are big and exciting times.
These are also times when the monkeys and the circus are both very much mine, thus blog posting has taken a hit. I read on the all-knowing Internet the other day the idea that there’s no such thing as writer’s block, just writing the wrong story. I struggled with this post and I’m still not certain it’s going to make any sense to anyone but me; however, that may be an essential tenant of developing a core life philosophy. One day I’ll be able to express it clearly. For now I’m grateful to be living it and honored you made the effort to ride along. Namaste & big love, Rxo