Looking for a job is an interesting process: no, no, no, no… yes. Just the one yes, and we’re done. For many of us, that describes a lot of things: looking for a house, a job, a spouse. We’re trying to get to the one “yes”, and all the nos along the way feel like wasted time.
I’m reminded of going up stairs. Most of us consider time on the stairs “wasted”; the stairs themselves are just an impediment, an obstacle in the way of our being in the place we want to be (the second floor). We often don’t even notice them going by, because we’re focusing on what we plan to do when we arrive upstairs.
Ever see a toddler work the staircase? Both hands get planted on the next stair, twist to the side to get one foot up, the next foot up, repeat. And when they get to the top? They want you to take them down the stairs so they can do it again! Over and over again, it’s so fun!
Where did our joy of climbing stairs go?
And we drive much the same way. I just want to get there. Why are all these other drivers in my way? The red light is too long already! Can you remember when you first slipped behind the wheel, perhaps at fifteen? The thrill of the engine turning over, putting it in gear the first time?
My overall point here is that life is made up of many more “on the way” moments than “arrival” moments. And if we focus too much on the arrivals and ignore the way, we lose much of our life to auto-pilot.
As we enter in to the new Jewish year, this snare is very much on my mind in a general way, and as I look for work and experience the “no, no, no…” I am mindful of it in a specific way. I think there are two aspects here:
(a) repetition. Our brain is bombarded with enormous amounts of data flooding in moment to moment. To help us cope, the brain detects patterns in the data, and filters out whole sequences of input as “another climb up the stairs” or “another drive to work”. After ten seconds in a bakery, our mind loses awareness of the lovely aroma that delighted us when we first entered. We just stop noticing.
So if we want a fuller experience of the bakery, we sometimes need to step out, and then step back in. Clear the palate between experiences. Switch it up. Make it fresh.
In concrete terms? Drive a different way to work, change up the speed you take the stairs, do something left-handed (or other-handed), add a new spice to the recipe, wake up an hour earlier, listen to a genre of music you think you have no interest in. Or, with any activity, pretend this is the first time you’re doing this, or that this is the last time you’ll ever be able to.
(b) “bad” stuff. It’s easy to categorize things that happen to me in terms of “good” and “bad”. I got turned down for a job, that’s “bad”. But that’s a rather limited view. Ever regret having taken a job? Wished you’d never been hired for it?
I’m reminded of the old story (Zen?): a farmer’s horse disappears. They neighbors comisserate, “that’s terrible!” Farmer just says, “Is that so?”. The next day, the runaway horse returns with a whole herd of wild horses (which means the farmer is suddenly a wealthy man). The neighbors are exuberant, “that’s fantastic!” Farmer just says, “Is that so?” Next day, the farmer’s son breaks his leg trying to tame one of the horses. The neighbors are sympathetic, “such a shame!” Farmer: “Is that so?” Next day, the army sweeps through town, forcibly inducting all able-bodied young men. Farmer’s son is spared because his leg was broken…
You get the idea, of course. What appears “bad” in the moment may turn out to be incredibly good fortune when viewed in a larger context.
But our farmer has the equanimity to let go of the in-the-moment judgement and adopt a wait-and-see attitude. Or perhaps our farmer is just amused at the whole notion of evaluation in the first place.
For me, I find it helpful to see every event that I experience as something hand-picked for me by The Master. Exactly what I need at this time and place in my life. So I turn it over in my mind to see what I might learn from it. Is this “no” from a potential employer giving me feedback about my skill set, my job search technique or my path in life? Is it an aid to humility, perserverance, faith in G-d? These are the kinds of questions I ask myself when I get the “no”. I try to receive it fully instead of just racing past it in search of that “yes”.
And in this way, I try to make the most of the “negative” experience.
And sometimes, I can actually be grateful for the “no”, if not in the moment, then shortly thereafter.
And sometimes, I can’t, and I just smile at myself and say, “Shimon, I guess you have not yet arrived at the top stair in the insight and wisdom department– but let’s enjoy the climb.”
So, Gentle Reader, what do you do when “negative” things happen? Any strategies you care to share?
May you enjoy more and more of the moments with which you are blessed; may you discover joy wrapped in each one.