Do you find yourself too often shaking your fist at God and asking, “When, oh Lord, oh when? . . . When will I finally get published or called back? . . . When will I be able to quit my day job? . . . When will I have enough money to write or paint or design or dance full-time? . . . When will I meet that Someone who will support me in what I must do and share life’s joys with?” The answer to all such questions may seem illogical at best and barely palatable at worst. But it’s simple.
The Squirming Truth
Each of us, no matter how dire or sad or frustrating our circumstances, is where we want to be. Or rather: each of us is where we need to be.
We are where we are because we need to learn certain things. And we can’t get to the next place without learning them. This principle applies to everything in life.
What does this unpleasant statement really mean? After our reflexive cry of “Unfair!” it means that everything in our lives is connected. Each experience is in front of us to learn and make better choices. If we don’t learn, we repeat the experience in different guises and hair colors, as you may have noticed, until we do learn. If you keep setting the toaster to extra dark, you’ll keep burning most pieces. If you keep turning off the alarm and turning over, you’ll continue that frenzied rush to get to work every morning. If you keep going to auditions without continuous practice and study in acting, you’ll keep getting more silent phones and no texts than callbacks. If you keep treating everyone with a sarcastic leer, you won’t attract someone who’s really on your side.
As we learn—finally—from each experience, we’re led to the next. This is one of life’s inescapable causes and effects. Like me, you may chafe at its apparent injustice. When I get too exasperated, I return to a poem discovered during one of those black periods I railed at God. The poem is perfectly called “No Other Way” by Martha Smock (Fear Not! Unity Books):
Could we but see the pattern of our days,
We should discern how devious were the ways
By which we came to this, the present time . . . .
We should forget the hurts, the wanderings, the fears,
The wastelands of our life, and know
That we could come no other way or grow
Into our good without these steps our feet
Found hard to take, our faith found hard to meet.
Look hard at the last three lines. They mean that whatever is now in our lives, on our desks, in our inboxes and texts, however hard it is to take, it’s supposed to be here. We need to learn its lessons.
So we can stamp our feet, curse, and fling around doing our tasks with resentment and outright hate—or we can make another decision.
That is to accept what’s in front of us with grace and gratitude and invest ourselves fully in it. As we do, we’ll learn what we need to so we can get to the next step.
Every Experience Adds
When I was struggling to write regularly, I had an office job for survival. But I secretly felt it was beneath me. I scarcely talked to coworkers, did my work grudgingly, and found it ever more difficult to show up each morning. Then a friend, more enlightened than I, showed me a new way of looking at my job. I would never “graduate,” she said, until I began to put myself wholly—100% or more— into it. Only then, she said, would I learn as much from it as it had to teach me.
I was a recalcitrant student. But as I gradually followed my friend’s advice, the job became more bearable. Looking back, I see how much of what I learned in that office I use today. For example, I honed my typing and computer skills, and they immeasurably facilitated my editing and writing. My ability to interact with people improved, so I could more easily talk about my writing and eventually attract new business. Seeing the boss put in long hours after 5:00 o’clock spurred my discipline to write after a day’s work, and I became more motivated to write more. That disdained office job taught me some of the most crucial things I needed to learn to get closer to my dream.
But I still had a lot to learn. Often, what we so fervently crave right now we may be nowhere near ready for. Can you look at yourself honestly and admit this may be true for you? It certainly was so for me—during that time of agonizing over not writing and resenting my job, what I needed was a rigorous apprenticeship to learn discipline, practice skills, admit to my own talents, and simply keep at it.
Some unlikely examples from writer colleagues: a poet who edits cookbooks transfers her skills for condensing a recipe to her terse, haiku-like poems. A novelist who’s a tech writer applies his talents for telling people how to build engines to highly detailed descriptions of his settings and characters’ idiosyncrasies. A writer who enrolled in a vocational school realized her error and dropped out after a semester. She used the experience to sell an article to a career magazine about carefully assessing yourself and your interests.
I could cite many other examples, from famous to unfamous but highly successful people of all kinds. They’ve got one thing in common: their delays, mistakes, and apparent wrong turns turned out to be precisely the right preparation for what they later needed and wanted to do. When my resolve wavers, it has often been renewed by the words of spiritual counselor Catherine Ponder (Pray and Grow Rich, Parker):
Everything moves in cycles, both in time and space. Regardless of the number of breaks that appear in the lines of your life, growth is taking place. Never fight the darkness because through it, growth takes place. The more light you turn on in your life, the quicker will be your growth.
Now, think about something you’ve learned, seen, or heard, past or current, and in a situation you couldn’t get out of. Did you use it, surprisingly, later? How? How would you like to use it in the future?