/ Life

Life is not a linear progression.

Rather, it's a grand adventure. All too often during my college career, I find both my peers and myself under great pressure and stress trying to figure out what we want to do and how we want to live our lives. It's easy to find ourselves looking at life as if it is a linear progression, seeing as the formula for success in college is commonly presented as follows:

  1. Do well on your SAT in high school so that you can get into college.
  2. Keep a high GPA in college so you can be competitive for jobs or grad school.
  3. Get an internship.
  4. Graduate on time and get a job.
  5. And the list goes on...

This can lead to major breakdowns when things don't go according to plan, and things rarely go according to plan. In this article today, I'd like to propose an analogy for life, something easy to visualize, that we can look to as inspiration for when things get a little crazy: Life is a meandering river.

Taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture, our sometimes-linear viewpoint is only a result of a localized vision. Like a river, our lives are a meandering path changing by a few degrees at a time which sometimes leads to big sweeping changes. Rarely is a river linear for more than a few hundred feet. However, it's easy to feel otherwise. By extrapolating your vision based on your current status, it is easy to feel as if you're heading in a straight line. Simply, there's no way of knowing how the future unfolds so we give it our best guess based on our current situation.

Nature is very efficient, so why don't rivers just go straight from point A to point B? Wouldn't this be the most efficient path, due to the fact that water would have to travel the least distance? Moreover, why shouldn't we do our best to travel straight from point A to point B, wasting the least amount of time along the way? As rivers can teach us, there must be some value, some reason, to meander.

Well, for starters, where is your point B? What is your end goal? It's not always clear. Just like a river, our lives are an exploration - we live and we learn and we adjust our path as we gain new experiences. This is where the value lies in deviating from our "linear" path. In fact, this is what college is all about. With so many opportunities to learn about various disciplines and challenge ourselves, these years prove fruitful in discovering ourselves. Embrace this time of exploration, orient your direction, and work relentlessly towards that vision. Keep in mind: rivers may explore, but they also keep moving in the forward direction. Not knowing where you'll end up is no excuse for not developing a vision and working towards that general direction.

So next time you start to get stressed because something didn't go according to plan, relax. Remember life is like a meandering river; deviate from the path and seek out those experiences. Always be aware and intentional of the direction you are heading, but be comfortable with the fact that as you gain more experiences your directional orientation may change. Live life curious, and enjoy the adventure.

Disclaimer: this viewpoint is simply my own opinion, and I welcome a healthy discourse in the comments below. I tend to be biased towards this mindset as I am a huge proponent of lateral (read: cross-disciplinary) thinking. Thus, these explorations provide immense value in widening my perspective and connecting together seemingly unrelated ideas.

Update

I recently came across this video (below) which talks about the same concept with a slightly different analogy - the "Tarzan Method". The analogy starts at 24:34, although the whole video is worth watching.