Watching Life Unfold

Learning to trust the process and enjoy the ride.

Posted Apr 18, 2011

As a kid, I read every child development book on my parents' bookshelf.  Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care. How to Talk to Your Child. Talking to Your Adolescent. Titles long gone to a yard sale after us kids flew the coop. What a nerd I was. Am. (!) Now my own bookshelves are lined with such delicious tomes as these.    

I've always been fascinated by human development. What makes each of us tick? How do we grow, mature, and find our way through life? What determines the path each individual takes?  What experiences tend to be transformative, and why?

Back in my "tween" years, I thought of "development" as something that babies and children did. We start out as helpless infants who know very little, and throughout childhood, we learn more and more about navigating through our world. In my innocence, I figured that perhaps during high school or certainly in college, we figure out who we are, what our purpose is, and what the heck we are supposed to do with our lives. Surely, I thought, the finishing touches of self-discovery would happen in adolescence and most people were polished products by young adulthood.  As a self-satisfied thirteen-year-old, I was supremely confident of my own precocious polish. My epiphany was, "This is it. I have arrived. I know everything there is to know." Ah, the vicissitudes of the wildly developing adolescent brain. Have you ever faced down a teenager who's absolutely certain of knowing more than you ever will?

As I glided through adolescence, new questions emerged but they were unaccompanied by easy answers. The mirage of my polished veneer faded. I entered my twenties without clear direction, but certain that this was the decade in which I would discover exactly who I was and precisely where I was going. In my thirties, the more I learned about life, the more I realized how much I didn't know. Now that I'm (ahem) middle-aged, I've thrown in the towel. Life is a process. It's a journey that will never be mastered.

At first, this dawning awareness was disconcerting. Never mastered? Curses! Does this mean that I shall never reach the gold standard of perfection? That I am doomed to enduring unexpected twists, taking wrong turns, and making a fool of myself? That I am denied the ability to determine or even predict how life will turn out? There's no map? I must sail through rough seas? I have to keep learning as I go? There is no finishing polish??? Blast it!

But now that I've lived through a number of adventures big and small, I revel in the fact that Life Unfolds. Rather than trying to solve the puzzle of it, I'm more accepting that there is much about me and my path, that simply cannot be known, or controlled, or planned in advance. Solutions aren't revealed until It's Time.  Patience is key. Doors open when and where you least expect. Take one day at a time. Enjoy the mystery. Trust the process.

These are my mantras.

As I've learned to accept What Is and go with the flow, I've found solace in the thought that my Soul luxuriates in the twists and turns of fate. I feel a sense of wonder at the unfathomable vastness of how much more there is to learn about life and living it. When I'm in my 90's I'm sure I'll look back at my 80's and think, "What an immature twit I was. Still am!"  (Insert old-lady cackle here.)

Our development is an ongoing daily quest until the day after we die. And what a fascinating journey! Yes there are bumps and bruises, amputations even. But each of us has a built-in resilience. What might appear daunting can also be thrilling. And calamities yield precious lessons and gifts, which we get to discover as we cope, adjust, and heal.

Perhaps the secret to living well is learning to enjoy the ride, all the while trusting the old Portuguese saying, "It will all be okay in the end. And if it's not okay, it's not the end!"

What are your mantras or favorite sayings that help you stay afloat?